As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our struggles in the constant quest to appear perfect. Embracing our truths can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials and tribulations of being one’s authentic self at BC.
Matt Westhoff, A&S ’15
I still remember that feeling. There I was, sitting in the back of a rented Toyota Rav-4 smashed together with a new TV, my swivel chair, two pairs of sheets, and basically everything else that I owned, face pressed against the cool glass of the window. The nearly 800-mile drive from the suburbs of Illinois to Boston College gave me nothing but time to think; time to ruminate on the next chapter of life that I was about to begin. As my eyes followed closely to the contoured hills of Ohio, I drifted off into deep thought: what if I can’t make new friends? What if I can’t achieve at this university? What will happen to all the people I’ve left behind?
These thoughts and many others rattled around my head at the precise moment that my iPod demonstrated its ridiculously uncanny ability to shuffle to a song that exactly mirrors the mood. As “Landslide” filled my ears and negative thoughts filled my mind, I bit my lower lip, desperately hoping that my parents didn’t look in the rearview mirror to see me struggling to keep it together. My anxiety was creeping in, and college hadn’t even started yet. Truth be told, I have always struggled with anxiety and depression. Worrying about things that were out of my control was one of my favorite pastimes in high school, thus making the college admissions process my personal World Series of worry. When I got accepted to BC, I was excited to change my life and mental health status for the better, yet I was also nervous that I would be unable to do so. Enter freshman year.
There are definite thrills and charms of the inaugural year, such as being able to eat chicken fingers and mozz sticks at midnight and prowling around Boston looking for a cheap dive bar with newly minted acquaintances. But, there are definite obstacles and pitfalls as well. The pre-med track and I did not get along as well as I would have hoped, despite my inner voice demanding that I become a surgeon. I didn’t bond with my floormates as well as it seemed like every other freshman on campus had, which forced me to cling to my friends from home for friendship, consequently distracting me from meeting fellow Eagles. My time management skills were paltry at best, and I recall the miserable feeling of being trapped in the library staring down the challenge of reading 600 pages of American politics two days before the final.
Over time, it seemed like the negative aspects of college outweighed the positives. I sank back into a depressive state, eagerly counting down the days until breaks when I could fly home to escape the Heights and return to some sense of emotional normalcy. Towards the end of the year, I began to think that perhaps this isn’t how someone should feel during the college years, the quote/unquote “best” years of your life. I rationalized to myself that maybe BC wasn’t the right fit for me. Maybe it was the people I didn’t vibe with. I wasn’t quite the typical BC bro that permeates the culture and I couldn’t truly connect with many people. Maybe it was the academics that were giving me unneeded anxiety. My GPA was awful and it was demoralizing because it appeared that everyone around me was insanely intelligent almost without trying. As I handed in my final Chem Lab report of the year, I decided that if I came back for sophomore year and still felt anxious and depressed without relief, I would transfer. I didn’t know where I would go, but I wasn’t going to stay in a place that made me feel so negative.
I still remember that feeling. My mom had come with me to help move me into my new digs in Walsh Hall. She knew how I had been feeling for the past year, and once everything had been unpacked and it was time to say goodbye, there came a moment that I’ll never forget. She put her suitcase in the back of the cab on Comm Ave and turned to me, burst into heartfelt tears, and exclaimed, “I just want you to be happy!”
In that moment, I knew things had to change. For my mom to be brought to tears over my unhappiness was simply unacceptable to me and I couldn’t make her worry like that. As I stood unknowingly on the threshold of what was to be my greatest semester (in all aspects of collegiate life), I realized that for the first time in a long time, I believed in myself to change. I believed that my anxiety and depression could be changed if I changed my attitude and approach to college. I began not to care about what people thought about me, not in a selfish or pompous manner, but in the way that lent me to focus on myself and what I needed to accomplish to pull myself out of my rut. I established a study schedule and kept to it, inhabiting O’Neill like nobody’s business. The friendships I had made improved tenfold and I continued to branch out and meet new friends by joining clubs and activities. Instead of the classic freshman plight of trying to rush into an open Mod door on a Friday night, I was actually getting invited to enter those sacred pieces of property. Just like Walter White (spoiler alert for all you Bad fans out there not caught up yet [sidenote: tsk, tsk]), I made these changes for me; I did it for me.
They say a rising tide raises all boats. What they don’t tell you, however, is that sometimes the tide doesn’t rise until after freshman year. Gone were the days of paralyzing anxiety and smoldering depression on the Heights, in fact, BC has thus given me two of the happiest years of my life. This is why I believe in the power of positive thinking and how it is possible to change negative circumstances into positive ones just by changing one’s outlook. As the internship application cycle heats up and the real world/grad school looms on the horizon, I have some anxiety, but nothing close to the irrational thoughts that once manifested my mind. Somehow, someway, I think everything is going to work out. I didn’t use medication to straighten out my thoughts, however tempting that approach was at one point. I realized that the change needed to come from within me, and as cliché as it sounds, I believe anyone who is willing to be happy can be.
I still remember that feeling. But some memories can easily be forgotten.