A Message for College Freshmen

My freshman son called me, concerned about his friend Mark, a sophomore, who was depressed and thinking about dropping out. “Mom, You’ve got to talk to him.” “Tell him to go to counseling.” “He did. He’s worse.” “Okay. Put him on the phone.”

I told Mark that this is what’s happening:

In high school, people around you — your school, your family — defined you. Like it or not, you knew who you were. You applied to a college with people like you.

You get to college and discover that the students aren’t like you at all. You don’t even know who you are anymore.

When you go home for Christmas break, you discover that you’ve changed and that family and old friends don’t know you anymore either.

You’re spending a lot of time and money on this education, and you don’t know what you’re doing. Other students seem to know exactly who they are and what they’re doing.

It’s hard to concentrate. It’s stressful. It’s scary.

You’ve been hit with new experiences and a lot of change. Your brain is in chaos. In the industrial world, chaos is destruction leading to death. In the natural world chaos is the mess between the breakdown of the old and the emergence to a new level of complexity. Your brain’s “operating system” is upgrading itself to a higher level.

In high school relationships defined you. At this new level, roles will define you. Fortunately, you are a college student. That’s a pretty clear role.

So take it easy. Eat well. Get outside. Look around, and you’ll see that others are going through the same thing. When you understand the chaos and relax around it, your brain will organize faster.

This brain upgrade happened when you became a teenager. It can happen again in your twenties when you hit the real world. It can happen in your thirties and forties, and if you’re fortunate, through your entire life. Some transitions may be barely noticeable. Some may be stressful. Each transition involves letting go of old ways of being and stepping into a new way of being, and there’s always a risk to doing that.

You’re ahead of most people because you now see what this is.

Good luck!

Later I asked my son if Mark was okay. He answered, “Of course Mark’s okay — He talked to you, and you straightened him out, right?” It was the biggest compliment of my life.

P.S. After reading this, if you can’t sleep, if you’re in a black, hopeless depression, or if you’re hearing voices, get help NOW.