Mental health and “Work Forest:” How I survived my freshman year

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I spent most of my first semester freshman year in my ‘Bostwick Lair,’ where my bed was my refuge from the pressures of college life. I made a few friends through campus groups, but from what every other freshman was posting on social media, I definitely felt like I was struggling socially. After a month, I was already falling behind academically, although I assumed everyone else was on top of it and I didn’t want anyone to think less of me, so I kept those struggles a secret too. I still went to class and attended my activities, but I spent the rest of my days laying in my bed watching TikToks. I didn’t feel like I was having a bad time; I just chalked it up to freshman year blues.

Flash forward to my first finals week of college. Overwhelmed by my to-do list, I broke down and went to the drop-in hours at the University Counseling Center (UCC). I sobbed as I confessed to the intern that I had 10 essays to complete by Friday and, if I didn’t, I would fail two of my classes. They helped me set up an appointment with the Learning Assistance Center (LAC) and made me email those two professors explaining my situation and asking for help. Both professors recommended I take an Incomplete (‘I’) in their courses, meaning I would have until mid-February to finish my work and get a grade for the class. I was afraid of what an ‘I’ would mean for my GPA and how I would explain that to my parents; however, with the help of the LAC, I ended up writing the essays for one class and taking an ‘I’ in the other. 

I didn’t tell my parents anything until they made me open my grades in front of them, but they were surprisingly understanding. They explained that both of my older sisters had experienced similar situations when they were in college and they were just glad I finally went to the UCC to talk to someone about it. My parents encouraged me to seek out other mental health resources, so I scheduled an appointment at the Wellbeing Center.

When I returned to campus in January I met with Brenda, a coach from the Wellbeing Center. She talked to me about different wellbeing goals I could set for the semester so I could work towards a holistically balanced lifestyle at college. The Office of Academic Advising (OAA) also encouraged me to utilize the UCC in light of my ‘I.’ I still didn’t talk to my friends about it until the deadline for my ‘I’ was coming up and I was experiencing severe stress again; when I did, they were also understanding and all had stories about how they or their friends had taken ‘I’ at one point.

Looking back, I wish I had talked to someone about what I was experiencing sooner. There are so many resources on campus available for students to take advantage of because the university wants to see us succeed. Especially in an academic environment like Wake Forest, where it seems like everyone has it together and is doing it all, it’s important to talk to your peers about where you’re at. If I had opened up sooner, I would have learned that at some point in college, most people experience mishaps like mine; and especially freshman year, these are not mistakes that define us. I can laugh about it now because I’ve worked hard with the Wellbeing Center, LAC and UCC to ensure I can manage my time better and have a more healthy outlook on my academics and life in general. Having this framework also set me up for the intense changes brought about by COVID-19 that overshadowed the end of my freshman year.

This is a unique year to enter college and it will come with its own challenges, but it can be easier if you know what resources are available for you. I loved having a Wellbeing Coach but you can also schedule counseling at the UCC or get academic guidance from the LAC. You don’t need a reason to use any of the services I mentioned, so take advantage of them as much as possible while they’re free. Talk to your professors and ask for help when you need it, communicate with your friends and family, and get involved so you can make those friends that will understand the ‘Work Forest’ struggles.