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If there was anyone ready to embark on her college career, it was me. As I walked into the entryway of my dormitory at Calvin College, I immediately began introducing myself to my new dorm mates. Many of my friends from high school that were also attending Calvin were apprehensive about living apart from their families. I had a twinge of nervousness too, but I always kept it buried at the back of my mind.

September changed to October and those nervous feelings surfaced and grew. Thoughts like these swirled in my brain: “Who are my friends here?” “What if I don’t make any close friends?” “What do people think of me? “Where do I really belong?”

When you pull weeds from a garden daily, the plants are able to flourish. However, when you allow the weeds to grow, they take over the garden. All you are left with is more weeds and choked plants. I tried to ignore those anxious thoughts that swirled around in my brain, but they grew bigger until it seemed that was all that permeated my brain—anxious thoughts. Normal routine activities like eating in the dining hall, going to Sunday night worship, or attending dorm events became terrifying.

What was happening to me? I used to be outgoing, social, and even funny. Now I was overly emotional and clingy. I longed for deep friendships like everyone else seemed to be finding, but I was repelling people away from me.

In January I realized I could not continue in this dark place in my brain. If I did, dropping out of college would be likely. I made the walk to the counseling center on the other side of campus, praying I would not run into anyone I knew. I was broken and ashamed. Yet I was thankful there was a center right on campus and it was free. After several sessions with an amazing counselor, it was confirmed I struggled with anxiety.

Learning what anxiety was and how my brain interpreted situations was the first step. Every college freshman went through an adjustment period. Some of my feelings of loneliness were normal. It was the panic and fear that was abnormal, and I had to find healthier ways to combat it.

Two years later I attended a cognitive therapy class at a Christian counseling center that gave me more tools to help me sort through all my anxious thoughts. Some of these exercises I still use today. I was able to graduate from college with a degree in youth ministry and work as a youth director until I became a stay-at-home mom.

I am forever thankful to God for leading me to the campus counseling center that January afternoon. I cannot emphasize enough to the young people I work with that dealing with mental health issues earlier will strengthen your adult years. I also am grateful for colleges like Calvin that offer free counseling and have “drop-in hours.” There were many other college students like me that were suffering from depression, anxiety, grieving over loved ones, and suffering from addictions. I am grateful for the help I received. It put years on my life, and I am able to deal with my anxiety today in healthy ways.

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