September has come and passed. (I will spare all of you and not quote Green Day). I’m upset about this passing because September is my favorite month of the year. For me, it is a month of change. I begin a new school year and I age one year on the 23rd. Last year, September marked a change that I had been looking forward to since middle school: I started college. I fled the nest and abandoned my suburban New Jersey home, my weird friends, my overprotective parents, and everything I’d ever known to begin the best four years of my life.
My friends and I had been fantasizing about college since we were 13. I had a particular obsession with the idea of college. I imagined myself walking among beautiful Gothic-style buildings and seeing frisbee-playing preppy boys occupying various patches of grass. I pictured myself sipping coffee and taking notes in classes that constantly piqued my interest, sitting outside on some sort of a quad while eating lunch and doing homework with the best people ever, and just generally feeling as though I was walking through the pages of a crisp college catalogue every single day.
When I was 17, college finally came. And as I stood outside of Alumni Stadium saying teary goodbyes to my parents on that fateful departing day in August 2011, it hit me: I was now able to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, with whoever I wanted without anybody stopping me. College was awesome. Freedom was here. I could literally taste it in the air. It tasted like the most delectable red velvet cupcake with the creamiest cream cheese frosting on top. Like a freshly baked batch of warm chocolate chip cookies sitting on your kitchen stove, their scent emanating throughout your whole house. It was that delicious.
But sadly, as I found out throughout the year, sometimes too much dessert can give you a stomach ache, and the freedoms that I thought I had acquired only made me irresponsible, messy, and … fat. There I was, a mere adolescent, alone and catapulted into this foreign environment where I was expected to excel scholastically, make my best friends in a month, and stay perfectly healthy and mentally organized. Naturally, I did what any normal angsty teenager would do when under pressure: I took it out on my parents. I never responded to their texts and took days to call them back, and when I did call I was resentful and mean. It got to the point where my parents refused to put their “BC Mom” and “BC Dad” bumper stickers on their respective cars until I pulled myself together. That’s when you know it’s bad, folks.
Anyway, all of this freedom to do what I wanted truly came at a cost that I was not prepared for. First of all, I was embarrassingly terrible at taking care of myself. I hardly ever made my bed or changed my sheets, and my poor roommate would often wake up to my side of the room looking like the aftermath of a clothing avalanche. I angrily called my mom at least five times asking how to separate clothes and what temperature corresponded to each color for washing. And to top it all off, I never slept. I’d stay up until three in the morning with a 9 a.m. class the next day just because I could, and just because nobody was telling me otherwise. I had gotten so used to weeknights in high school when my parents would knock on my door at 10:30 p.m. and tell me to go to bed. I ignored how sick I got (and remained for six months), how dark the circles under my eyes became, and how moody I was about everything.
Additionally, even though Dr. Oz is practically a deity in my house and uttering the words “white bread” and “salt” is the catastrophic equivalent of cursing off a nun, I just did not eat well. I had become so accustomed to not thinking twice about the nutritional value of my meals because for the 12 years I attended public school, my mother packed my lunch and cooked my family dinner every single night. Coming to a college equipped with a dining hall of my favorite snacks and a nightly choice of pasta and meatballs (my favorite meal in the world) meant that I was destined to gain weight. And I did. Ten pounds, to be exact. And if you’ve ever seen a girl panic, it’s when she steps on a scale for the first time in months and sees that she’s gained 10 pounds.
I was positively devastated. I insisted that this couldn’t be right, that the scale was definitely broken because I have always had a fast metabolism and it didn’t look like I gained weight, did it? The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that my pants did fit me a little tighter and my shirts didn’t look quite as nice on me as they used to. And all of those snacks were making my skin break out in ways it never had before. It took forever for my stupid brain to equate the weight gain and pimple problems with the 2 a.m. Late Night sessions I’d been indulging in. It was awful.
Despite the fact that my freshman year was a tumultuous balancing act of epic proportions, I would never take any of it back. It was as amazing as it was damaging to my health. I made incredible friends. I fell in love. I discovered my interests and my passions. I tried new things and learned a lot about my abilities, my limits, and my fears. And even though it came with doing a lot of foolish things that could have done permanent damage to my mind and body, I eventually learned how to take care of myself. So, I’d like to offer the following piece of advice to any freshmen that may be reading this: You are not invincible. Your mental and physical health always come first in college. Always. They come before thinking you’ll be able to handle eating that entire sleeve of Oreos at four in the morning without eventually gaining weight, before thinking you can stay out really late in the cold wearing just a skirt and a tank top without getting sick, and before thinking you are too cool to talk to your parents when they contact you. Because you won’t, you can’t, and you’re not.