In August of 2008, I started studying at the University of Iowa. And I'd chosen it partly for location--it was just within my requirement of a three hour's drive from home. Yes, you read that right. As a senior in high school, looking at colleges, I didn't want to be far from home. It was one of my most important criteria in my selection of schools I applied to. I remember the night my parents moved me in. I was nearly sick with the anxiety of being left alone, but rather than expressing this, I lashed out, short-tempered with them despite my father's offers for them to take me out to dinner before they left and my mother's willingness to climb onto my lofted bed to make it up for me. Instead, that anxiety led me to push them out the door nearly as soon as we'd finished unpacking the car. I think I thought the sooner they left, the easier it would get, but it didn't. I remember, over the next few days before school started, how incredibly anxious and scared and lonely I was. I remember trying to find my way around campus, and how it took me three tries to find the English and Philosophy Building, where most of my classes would be. On the second try, it turned out, I'd found the right street and just not walked far enough. I remember calling up a friend while walking back from finally finding it, walking across the Pentacrest, trying to sound calm and chipper as I joked with her about it, but really just needing to confide in her about how scared I really was to be on my own. I remember how some of the first few friends I'd made were through simply overcoming my anxiety and breaking the simplest social boundaries--something that seemed to be acceptable in those early days when everyone seemed as lost as the next person. I overheard two girls standing outside my residence hall talking about how to get downtown, and inserted myself into the conversation so that I could "show them", but really because I desperately didn't want to eat dinner on my own. Those girls and I were only really friends for the first few months, before we each found our own direction. But I also met one of my closest college friends, in that first week, by approaching her on a bus full of "newbies" on the way to a Welcome Week activity.
I remember going home fairly often during my first year at college. Home was safe and comfortable like it always had been, whereas college challenged me in ways I hadn't expected. Taking care of myself, something that seems so simple, seemed a lot harder when there were fewer people around who would notice if I didn't. I remember the same dread and anxiety from that first day filling me when it was time to return to Iowa after spring break. I was genuinely afraid that I couldn't "do" college, that I wasn't cut out for it, that the depression and anxiety were going to win. They almost did, too--I came very close to confessing these fears and begging my parents not to go back, but then, depression comes with a lot of guilt too, and that guilt and fear of letting them down won out. My mom came to visit me as a surprise during that spring semester, just for an afternoon. I don't remember what prompted her, but I do remember thinking, "I wonder how she knew how much I needed this." It was a simple afternoon, lunch, a bit of window shopping, and some ice cream, but there is something incredibly warm and healing about being able to spend time with a person who has loved you even in your most wretched moments.
I can't pinpoint exactly how or when it happened, but somewhere between that first summer of college, spent at home and unemployed, and my second summer, in my first apartment, my first summer away from home, something changed. Part of it was finding a medication and a therapist that worked to help me get better control of my mental health, which meant my confidence and sense of independence was no longer being undermined so much by my anxieties. Part of it was also in further developing deeper friendships to tie me to Iowa City, my new home, in addition to the deep ties I had in my hometown. But from there, somehow, I grew. And six years nearly to the day from that anxiety-ridden move to a college that, at one hundred and fifty miles from Peoria, was barely within my comfort zone, I picked up and moved nearly four thousand miles. And I wasn't held back by anxiety--in fact, I was thrilled. I know a huge part of this has to do with the fact that I knew Josh would be here to support me, and that's why I don't tend to see it as "a big deal". But when I look at it all written here, when I look at the big picture--I guess it is. So every once in a while, I let myself be proud of how far I've come.