My freshman year of college… Can I have a redo please?

It is August, and around this time for the last 9 years, I think back to 2002 and getting ready to start my freshman year of college in a new state, new town, and not knowing a single soul. Little did I know how life changing or should I say life altering and an unforeseen disaster it would be. 

I looked at it as a fresh start, a chance to make my dreams come true, and an opportunity to make my family proud. Before applying, deciding to enroll, and leaving I did all the research I thought every high school student should do… find a college that fits the dream I had and would be away from home. Therefore, in my case, the college was in Pennsylvania and it used to be a teacher’s college. Therefore, I checked off both items on my list. Looking back now, I wish I had known what really goes into making a wise decision about college on all levels. 

Therefore, I made a list of my top three things I wish I would have known but, didn’t before going to college.

1) Ensure the campus has support services available.

The most important support services that need to be available and accessible are Disability Support Services, Counseling Services, and Learning Support Services. Even though it might seem as if every college would have all of these services, it is not a packaged deal for some colleges. The college I went to for my freshman year in Pennsylvania offered counseling services but not disability support services. Having cerebral palsy before attending and diagnosed with bipolar disorder during my freshman year, these services as a whole would have been extremely helpful and made a difference in the level of my success

2) Have knowledge of my own history and my family history.

This knowledge has been a valuable tool in my recovery from many things I discovered during that year. It is also something that looking back I understand how one exposure caused cravings, and a divine need for it. My family history has a long run of mental illness, drugs, alcohol, and body issues and food issues. Therefore, I have more of vulnerability. I know this now. However, I knew none of it when leaving for college in a way to be cautious. Therefore, a little drink turned into a craving 24-7 for alcohol. Bulimia became a coping skill and tool to feel control and heal my distorted perception of myself. Self-injury took hold as the ultimate lifesaver and tool for anything and everything related to thoughts, emotions, and situations I did not want to experience. Depression came swiftly and suicidal thoughts followed harshly. My history of internalizing everything did not help anything. Nor, did my desire to fit as it fueled inner turmoil and self-hatred as I abandoned more of what I had been growing up to fit in with the crowd that I know socialized with. 

3) Have an emergency plan even if you do not think you will need it.

My family and I planned for basic emergency as many do. However, a plan for the unexpected emergencies was not. A fine example is the unexpected event of my 5-day stay in the inpatient psychiatric ward following 1 month of counseling. During the entire spring semester, an actual official from the college nor my friends never notified my family at the time of my status or the events that had occurred. Even I didn’t plan for this one. Nevertheless, it would have been helpful for both my family and me to know what the emergency plan for the unexpected was before we parted ways.

So, the question can I have a redo please? Stems from if I would have been realistically fully prepared when starting my freshman year then the chance for more than regret and more devastations than I can count on my hand would have been avoidable. Nevertheless, I can’t have a redo. What I went through and having the opportunity to reflect every August for the last 8 years might be able to help an upcoming college student and/or families in one way or another. 

Starting college is a major change. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it or admit you would like to transfer to a different college if the one you initially chose is not a good fit. College should be enjoyable, it will be hard work, and the knowledge you learn and the experiences you gain will be invaluable.

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