Depressed and Away at College

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

My issue has to deal with depression about college and feeling insecure about myself. To begin with, I was always the shy kid in school. At home I was different. I was outgoing and funny at home. My sister is my best friend, and when we’re together we joke about everything and anything. It’s a great atmosphere at my home and I’ve always loved it.

My family has moved 5 times since I was born in 1990, and I guess I’ve just learned to be very attached to them because sometimes they were all I had. I would call myself a homebody, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I hate going out. I love going to movies, malls, things like that, but if it ever came down to going to a party with my roommate or staying home and watching TV in my room, I’d rather stay home. I turn down outings all the time, and to some people I think I come off as incredibly boring. And it tears me up inside because I know I can be interesting and cool. I just wish they could know that.

I’ve played volleyball since the 7th grade, and my senior year of high school, I played a great high school season and even played on a club league that same year. That club season was probably the lowest point of my entire life. I had a very degrading coach and snobby teammates. I was the one that got screamed at the most, including a time where she yelled at me right in front of my family. The first time I had ever faked sick was to get out of one of those practices. It was so traumatic for me, and I seriously questioned whether I was adequate as a person.

Then, my club coach networked with a college in Florida, and I ended up getting the option to tryout for a scholarship. I felt like I should, given that the other seniors on my club team were already signed to play somewhere else, and I felt like a failure because I wasn’t signed anywhere. And also, my parents needed me to find a way to pay for school.

I tried out and eventually did make the team. This is where I am now. I am a freshman playing volleyball at a 2 year community college. And anybody else would think that was a wonderful thing, but, and I don’t know why, but I just hate it. I know I don’t want to continue playing after these two years.

I want to leave so bad. But I can’t stand the thought of my parents thinking I’m a quitter. Both of my parents played college sports all four years, and they love to tell me stories about the great times they had. I feel like I don’t have any good times to tell about. I feel dull, weighed down, and insignificant.

I’ve just come back from Christmas break a few days ago, and I know that a lot of this depression is spurring from the fact that I want to go back home, but I also feel like this is going to be a vicious cycle. Every time I go home I reminisce about how great I had it. How great my life was. I had a few great friends and of course always my family to fall back on. Here, I’m so alone, even though I see my teammates regularly. They’re all interested in living the true partying college life. I hate the hype around sex, drugs, and alcohol. I don’t understand how any of that can be fun. I hate the looks on my friend’s faces when I turn down going to a party which is sure to include those things, but I would so much rather stay home in my bed and feel sorry for myself. At least I’m safe and I can somewhat feel like myself.

I just long to feel free. I feel like everyone is judging me. I’m so insecure with myself. I’m not confident at all, I’ve never had a boyfriend, and I like to stay at home. And I think to myself all the time, “What kind of life is this?” But, I know I’m happy at home with my family. Unlike other kids, I never wanted to go to college to “get away.” I liked living at home. I felt comfortable in my own skin there. I knew I didn’t have to put on a pretense for anybody while I was there. A pretense of being happy, exciting, or in the know. The reality is, I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m scared all the time.

A. This problem can effectively be summarized in one short statement: you are not being true to yourself. You know what you want but because you fear what others will think of you, you go against what you know is right for you.

Let’s start with your senior year of high school. You ended up going to Florida on a scholarship not because you wanted to go but because you felt that you’d be a failure in the eyes of others if you didn’t. The bulk of your decision-making process was based on what the other girls had done, which was to sign on with an out-of-state team. In essence, you let your high school volleyball team determine where you’d go to college. I am sure that was not your intention but unfortunately it was the outcome.

Currently, you want to leave Florida because you realized that it might not be the right fit for you. But because you think you’ll disappoint your parents you’ve resigned yourself to staying, even if you do not want to. You stated that you feel more comfortable at home and from your perspective do not understand why going away to college is so great. You also feel like a failure because you do not have great “stories” to tell about your sports adventures like your parents did. In addition, you feel very insecure about the fact that you don’t like drinking and partying. You feel this way because you’re comparing yourself against what is considered “cool” and have concluded that there must be something wrong with you because you’re not into those activities.

I can understand why you’re feeling depressed. You are living your life based on how you think you “should” live and not based on what is right or good for you. You are essentially letting other people determine what you should do with your life.

You have to try to not compare yourself to other people. You are not other people. What is right for other people is not always going to be right for you.

You also have to try not to care what other people think of you. If you live your life worried about what other people will think of you or you make choices based on how you think you “should” behave, then you will remain unhappy. Why? Because you’ll be living an inauthentic existence.

To live authentically means that you make decisions about your life based on what is right for you. For instance it may have been okay for the other girls on the high school volleyball team to go out of state. But that does not mean it was the right move for you. The right move for you might have been to stay at home where you were happy and comfortable with your family.

You mentioned that your parents have great stories about their experiences as college athletes. Please understand that was their experience. It does not have to be your experience. You are not your parents nor are you an extension of your parents. You have your own goals, talents, thoughts and opinions. Maybe you’re a fantastic writer and are not cut out to be a college athlete. That’s okay. In this instance, try not to compare yourself against your parents and decide that because you did not replicate their college experience, you’re a failure. It’s an inappropriate comparison. Realize that you are own person who has your own talents and thus it’s expected that will have your own individual and unique life experiences.

As far as partying and drinking you are smart for not wanting to engage in these activities. Society minimizes the potential harmful effects of this practice. Partying can lead to many problems. Those people who do “party” and maintain that you’re “supposed” to do it in college are lucky if they make it through that part of the lives without any serious damage being done. It’s usually not a matter of if damage was done; it’s typically a matter of how much damage was done. For example some people starting drinking in college and find that their drinking leads them into hard core drug use. Be proud that you are wise enough to avoid these activities.

In summary, your main problem seems to be that you are ignoring your wants and needs against your better judgment and deciding how to live your life based upon how you think you “should” live. You need to stop doing this and focus only on what is good and right for you. Stop caring about what other people might think of you and be brave enough to follow what it is that you want. If you don’t pursue what is truly right for you then you risk remaining unhappy for the rest of your life.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 19 Jan 2009

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2009). Depressed and Away at College. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 21, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/01/19/depressed-and-away-at-college/