Finding a Place to Land: Mental Health, Wellness, and Being a Late Bloomer in College

By: Emily Foley

I hated college.

Correction: I used to hate college.

From my freshman to my sophomore year, there was not a day that I did not dread waking up. I pretty much cried every day, and when I found myself running out of things to cry about, I would force myself to watch sad movies or videos where children are surprised with a new puppy (those really got to me). I tended to eat most of my daily meals alone or in my room. I was not a part of any extracurricular clubs or committees. The college party scene scared me…a lot. I also had very few school friends. This pretty much led to me spending most of my weekends back at home. Along with all of this, I learned how to balance life as a student-athlete on the women’s track and cross-country teams. As you can see, I did not like where I was. I felt out of place, as well as out of touch with myself.

Now, you may be thinking: how can someone hate college so much?

I asked myself this question many times, and I never could give a clear answer. Was it because I was not ‘cut-out’ for college? Was I not a ‘likable’ person? Do I need to transfer? Am I incapable of being a student AND an athlete? HOWEVER, as I look back, a lot of it had less to do with where I was physically or who I was as a person and more to do with where I was mentally.

Since the beginning of high school, I have had diagnosed depression, anxiety, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). These three aspects of my life have a lot of control over me and have also made it incredibly hard to undergo life changes, both big and small (i.e., my transition to Marquette). To paint a clear picture of how I felt during my freshman and sophomore years, my brain made a lot of ‘noise’ that I could not turn-off or tune-out. It was a loud two years, and I simply did not have the tools to feel okay with where I was at and who I was as a person.

Flash-forward two years, and I began to hate Marquette a little bit less. I am not sure what clicked, but it was almost as if I started my Marquette experience over again. I began utilizing counseling services at the on-campus counseling center, reached out to close friends and family about my struggles, took-up daily journaling and self-care practices, and found pockets throughout the day to be honest, and kind to myself. I was given the opportunity to work as a site coordinator for Midnight Run (I love my MR people); I am on the board for various committees and happily work as a Wellness Peer Educator (WPE). In the midst of it all, I continued to succeed as a student-athlete both in the classroom and on the track and cross-country course. Throughout it all, I met some pretty dang cool people, engaged with both the Marquette and Milwaukee communities, and made some forever friends along the way.

Photo by Liana Mikah on Unsplash

In addition to the things I listed above, there are so many flexible and accessible ways to practice self-care and wellness both on and off-campus:

  • Utilizing the counseling center and talking to a professional
  • Taking meditating walks down by the lake
  • Engaging in a daily yoga routine
  • Create a fun study/workout/walking playlist
  • Taking up daily journaling
  • Planning one super fun activity to do during the week, either by yourself or with a friend
  • Finding a cute coffee shop to study at
  • Calling a friend or family member
  • Writing down five things, you are grateful for every day
  • Setting-up a study or coffee date with a friend
  • Locating a local and/or on-campus volunteer opportunity
  • Joining a new club or committee (a great way to make new friends!)

These things are not the cure for major mental health concerns, nor are they the only answers for practicing self-care and wellness. Still, they are jumping-off points toward creating a college environment that is both accessible, personalized, and comfortable.

As a senior, I continue to struggle with anxiety, depression, and OCD, but I now know how to manage these aspects of my life in a healthy and productive way. I can now temporarily turn-down and tune-out the noise in my head. I also carved a space out of Marquette to make my own, and that is the one thing that my freshman self wished for every day for two years.

I still cry and watch sad movies and videos about puppies, but it is not a daily thing anymore. I still miss home and love seeing my parents during my free weekends; I just do not go home every weekend like freshman and sophomore year. I still eat alone most days, but not because I am lonely; rather, I would prefer to eat my frozen pizza and watch Say Yes to the Dress reruns in complete peace and quiet.

Sure, I’m a bit of a late bloomer and started my college experience, which would be considered ‘two years too late,’ but I think I was just on-time. I took the pieces of my life that did not necessarily work together and helped them find their perfect fit, and it is my hope that other students facing the same obstacles are inspired to do the same. There are people and places out there that can aid in finding well-being and mindfulness in our everyday lives. Sometimes they are there waiting to catch us while we fall, and sometimes we have to fall flat on our faces before finding a pair of arms to fall into.