I’m a little bit— okay, a lot— in love with Glennon Doyle these days. (Sorry, Abby Wambach). In search of some soul soup, I started listening to the Super Soul Sunday podcast. Every Sunday or so, Oprah Winfrey invites all these spiritual leaders and visionaries to her house under the oak trees and asks them scary questions like, “What does God mean to you?” and “Walk me through the most traumatic thing that’s ever happened to you so we can all learn how to be this Hulk strong,” etc. There’s researchers, comedians, priests, nuns, old presidents, TV anchors, the Office stars, and pretty much anyone who ever struck Oprah a certain way because when you’re rich and famous you can sap wisdom from anyone you want.
I was getting a lot from it. Most people say pain makes you stronger. I needed to hear that message, because pain causes me a lot of shame, which leads to more pain which leads to more shame which leads to me sitting in a puddle on the wet grass by my car at 11pm.
And Glennon’s interview? Glennon made my bones and guts vibrate the way your body shakes when you get a message from the universe and it feels personal but you look around and everyone else is shaking too. Even though I’ve never even experimented with forcing myself to throw up or even tried a drop of alcohol, I felt like Oprah and Glennon and I were in the same room and Oprah was holding a clipboard as Glennon narrated my life.
Glennon and I became self-conscious at a pretty young age— not so much in the “oops my shirt’s inside out I should probably do something about that lol” kind of way and more in the “oh my god they’re all looking at me thinking I’m an idiot right now and maybe I should just shut up and like slowly disappear from the world right now.” That wanting to disappear landed us both in the mental hospital when we were about 17— Glennon for the bulimia, me for the wanting to die.
For a long time, Glennon believed she was really, truly broken and incapable of feeling pain. Alcohol became the 100-pound shield she carried on her back to hide her vulnerability.
It would be presumptuous and hurtful and, well, incorrect of me to say I know exactly how that feels, but I will say that that resonated with me on a deep level. I am transported to my psychiatrist’s couch the day after the night I drank yucky glass cleaner when my mom and therapist decide no studying abroad next week for me. She says that suicidal ideation is the cage and Ghana is the garden and I want to play in the garden but I’m scared of getting hurt so I stay in the cage that really is hurting me. But I’m familiar with the cage, all its grooves and crevices. I’m familiar with the pain, and joy is so unpredictable. I don’t think I could handle being happy and losing it over and over again.
And yet. It’s a beautiful garden.
Instagram agitates me a lot. It’s the bane of my existence that I just can’t. Stop. Looking. At. I must have deleted it a million times, and reinstalled it a million and one. It’s full of happy people and things I didn’t go to because of my social anxiety and other people’s accomplishments and they have SO many friends and it’s just GREAT and PERFECT and BEAUTIFUL.
I do it too, of course, but that’s not the point. The point is that I felt like I was the only one who ever cried, because my tears were the only ones I could see. I thought I was uniquely broken because I couldn’t see anyone else’s cracks. That’s why I’m writing this letter to every future college first-year and every current first-year and everyone who has ever been a first-year and thought they were uniquely sick, or broken.
On page 113 of Love Warrior, Glennon has a spiritual awakening after she does the “25 Things” challenge on Facebook, telling 25 honest and unfiltered things about herself. It’s the first time she ever really allows the woman behind her “representative” to speak, and it’s pivotal.
We’ve spent our time talking about everything but what matters. We’ve never brought to each other the heavy things we were meant to help each other carry. We’ve only introduced each other to our representatives, while our real selves tried to live life alone. We thought that was safer. But as I read these messages, it becomes clear that we are all hurting anyway. And we think we are alone. At our cores, we are our tender selves peeking out at a world of shiny representatives, so shame has been layered on top of our pain. We’re suffocating underneath all the layers.
I’ll cut the BS: it’s going to be a hard year in some way. Maybe you’ll have the time of your life. Maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll find yourself on orientation day down the street staring at chickens while your eyes well up seemingly without end. And maybe in October, you’ll start your first antidepressant, go to your first college party, and ride in an ambulance for the first time all in the span of 24 hours.
Who knows what will happen? Being a first-year in college can feel like never knowing when and whether the glass floor will drop out beneath you. You’ll also feel more free and powerful than you ever have. Take care of yourself, of course. Don’t be one of those people who is all about self-care until the night before finals where you sleep for two hours and throw yourself into a zombie-like depression for a week. Don’t try to do it all, because you can’t. You’re awesome anyway. Stay connected with old friends and family, and put yourself out there. If it’s hard, try to find a friend to wade in with you. See a therapist— and when you do, look around the waiting room at all the lovely people and know that you’re totally normal.
Don’t ever, ever, ever try to go it alone. Maybe all you have is your mother— snuggle up with her and watch reruns together whenever you can. Ask a mentor or a friend to coffee or coloring even when your fear of rejection is sky-high. You deserve to be seen and heard. It’s why you’re here, after all.
Transitions are hard and sometimes even a little traumatic for lots of people. Most importantly, know that feeling this way doesn’t make you broken; just very, very human. Just because you feel sad sometimes, or a lot, doesn’t mean that you weren’t strong or hardworking enough. It just means that you’re feeling the feels you have to feel and that life is a never-ending process for everyone. Take your meds because science is real. Nothing comes in black and white, so watch out for the 3D rainbows you never saw coming.
Like they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, keep doing the Next Right Thing and take bigger and bigger steps until you become the person that was always inside there. You want to be extraordinary? That’s how.
If first-year ends and you’re a hot mess of vinegar and cold coffee and 1-inch margins and parking tickets, don’t add shame to the list of things you need to get through. Chances are, most people in the world can relate. Talk to me. Or someone. Preferably someone who won’t yell at you and call you a failure.
Oh, and have fun. That’s a huge one. Don’t get too crazy, but dance and make multicolored ice cream floats and eat crab cakes and, ya know, fall in love. I know you’re preparing for the Perfect Future, but real talk? You might get hit by a bus or develop cancer before you get there, so you might as well live life to the fullest right now JUST IN CASE. If there’s no time for actually living your life and being a person, then what are you even doing?