College is a stressful time, to say the least. There are exams, essays, presentations, club meetings, social activities and, of course, the existential process of figuring out who you are. With all this, not to mention the stresses of financing it all, it makes sense that college students tend to be one of the most vulnerable groups to anxiety and depression.
According to the JED Foundation, around 36 percent of men and 45 percent of women in college had reported feeling depressed to the point of inability to function within the academic year. Almost half of all students feel this way, and in some ways I find that comforting. In no way do I mean that the increase in mental health issues is a good thing. It is objectively not, but what I do think is that we can take comfort in knowing is that we’re not alone. Even in our own feelings of anxiety and loneliness, we aren’t alone. So why does it feel like we are?
I don’t even mean anything clinically diagnosable; I just mean that burden of feeling alone. Especially in college, where with finding new friends in a new city, all while juggling school, clubs, a job overwhelms you. Why can’t we just talk about it? I’m a freshman, and I’m not homesick. It’s more than that. It’s this pervasive feeling of not knowing.
Last term, I went to dinner with a couple of friends, one of whom mentioned “liminal spaces.” Liminal spaces are these places of in-betweenness. Like elevators, airport lobbies or empty parking lots. But they can also be non-physical spaces, periods of time or feelings of transition. That’s what it feels like right now.
Moving from high school to college is difficult, and successfully shifting isn’t as simple as developing time management skills. It’s about navigating the transition into carrying the burden of who you want to become all on your own. It’s hard, it’s messy, and it’s so confusing. And the thing is, it isn’t something that’s a once in a lifetime feeling. Life is full of liminal spaces, and they can be hard and uncomfortable to navigate.
Sometimes I question whether or not I’m being true to myself, but other times I wonder if I’m trying enough new things. And striking that balance between exploring outside your comfort zone and being who you are isn’t as straightforward as one might think. Worst of all, sometimes it feels like you’re the only one dealing with all of this. But take it from someone who feels the same way, you’re not.
The thing about liminal spaces is that it’s not just a time of confusion, and feeling lost, it’s also about growth and change. There’s so much potential in liminality, but the unease that surrounds it can make it hard to recognize. So, even when things feel confusing and just a little off, you just have to have patience and know that it’s okay to not know what’s next. And maybe even more importantly, know that you aren’t the only one feeling that way.