Often, colleges present themselves as microcosms of the real world, yet in many ways they do not resemble it.
The grades and accolades that we seek at college will not define our post-graduation selves as much as our perseverance through difficult times will. If we are too focused on the academic aspect of university, we can undermine this purpose.
As undergraduates, we have the opportunity to learn self-care practices in a place where we have an extensive support system that we will not always have. It is an opportunity we would be foolish not to take.
Last Wednesday, I was sitting on my therapist’s couch as I have done weekly for two years. My therapist always begins our sessions with a series of questions to gauge how I am doing. A few minutes into the appointment, though, my therapist surprised me with a new question — one that I knew she’d ask at some point but that I had never fully thought out the answer to.
“Do you think transferring to Georgetown was the right choice for you?”
I fell silent. My eyes wandered around the room as I thought.
Much of my Georgetown experience has been absolutely miserable. There were the hours on end when I could do nothing but stare at the ceiling, the monthly antidepressant changes with unpredictable side effects, the episodes of uncontrollable crying and the far too many days I had hoped to die. I had spent most of my life at Georgetown wishing I were dead.
Perhaps remaining at my previous university would have prevented my already fragile mental health from worsening. There, I could have succeeded academically no matter how I was feeling, stuck around with the friends I’d made my freshman year and still achieved tremendous intellectual growth.
Even this semester, going to class and doing well academically at Georgetown are still difficult. My brain doesn’t work the way it once did, so my goal each semester has become simply to pass my classes. And though I’ve been here for nearly two and half years, I still have no definite place socially.
My Georgetown experience has not been conventionally positive, but it has been incredibly worthwhile. Graduating from my first college, I still could become the intellectual I always thought I’d be. But I will graduate from Georgetown more fully human than my old university could have ever made me.
At Georgetown, I discovered the most about myself and, in doing so, figured out the self-care practices that work best for me. Along the way, I’ve become more compassionate and empathetic. Had I not experienced a tumultuous transition to Georgetown, I certainly would be a completely different person today, presumably for the worse.
One thing is for certain: At my previous university, I would still be ashamed of my mental illness. At Georgetown, I felt that I needed to tell a lot of people — my deans, my friends and my coaches — what was going on to prevent self-harm. Once I did, I was not ashamed anymore.
Letting people know about my depression at Georgetown has been integral to finding ways to improve my mental health. I’m not sure that I’d be prepared for the real world had I not needed to practice self-care and to figure out what that looks like for me. Staying at my previous institution would have delayed, if not prevented, these realizations — and that is frightening.
We can never be certain whether our decisions will be beneficial or harmful, but we can learn how to take care of ourselves if they end up being harmful. And once we discover the self-care practices that work for us, we will truly be prepared for anything that lies ahead.
I am grateful to be leaving college with these realizations. I will leave Georgetown much more prepared to deal with the challenges of the real world.
I was staring at a corner of the room, lost in thought, before I returned my gaze to my therapist.
“So, was coming here the right choice?” she asked again.
I laughed to myself in disbelief of the words I was about to say.
“You know what?” I said with a shrug and a half-smile. “I think it was.”
Brittany Rios is a senior in the College. This is the final installment of TRANSFERmations.