I am a sophomore in Columbia College, and I think I may be suffering from chronic depression. I perceive that I do not have any friends, or as many as I feel I need, or want, or should have. I spend much of my time alone in my room, or walking around campus alone, or eating alone. It is fairly typical for me to find myself holed up in my room on a Friday or Saturday evening, even though I hope and wish for something to do, for someone to call.
I find it extremely difficult to talk to people or to make new friends, and as a result, I imagine that people do not like me. This leads to feelings of self-loathing, low self-esteem, and a need for acceptance. I no longer have much interest in doing anything, I have no real enthusiasm for life, I can't sleep at night, and I often have violent nightmares. I want to change, and people offer me advice like, "Go out and meet people!", "Have courage!", or "Join a club!" I would like to do all of these things, but I feel that my problems are intrinsic, and I don't believe that I can change my personality. Do you have any relief for me?
One in the City of Eight Million Souls
Dear One in the City of Eight Million Souls,
Clearly you already do have courage; it can be a difficult thing to recognize and admit that you aren't happy with how you feel, and reach out for help, as you have with your letter. While simply writing and receiving a response will not spell immediate relief, you're definitely moving in the right direction, and with some support and exploration, you can begin to feel less alone.
Just about everyone goes through times of feeling sad, lonely, and even dejected. After a while, the exciting newness of college wears off; people are settling into a regular routine, including perhaps a closer circle of friends; and, many find a greater pressure to be "connected" socially and focused on academic goals. For you, it sounds as though your level of isolation and negative feelings about yourself are keeping you from building relationships and enjoying the things that you might otherwise. Your advice-giving peers are probably just trying to help with their band-aid suggestions, but you need — and deserve — to feel better about yourself first. With the many pressures of school, it might seem like a challenge, but setting aside some time to think about when you started to feel the way you do, what might be causing your nightmares, and how you can re-connect with people and your own interests is a worthy, perhaps essential, use of your time.
Symptoms such as yours are in fact some of the most common reasons people seek professional counseling. Talking with a skilled and caring person can help you to identify the underlying reasons for your feelings of self-loathing, as well as develop new coping mechanisms so that you are able to reach out to people, sleep better, and turn what are now only wishes into realistic, attainable goals. You might want to start by approaching someone who you trust — a relative, old friend, dean, program coordinator, or clergy member. Your health care provider might be someone to try, too.
Here at Columbia, you have a wealth of additional resources at your fingertips. Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) offers free, confidential counseling with a diverse staff. Remember, it might take a few tries to find someone with whom you "click." A therapist can help you assess how you're feeling, how it's affecting your life, and what you want to do about it. S/he can also provide you with referrals for on-going therapy and assess whether medication would help. Often, feelings such as yours are a result of both life experiences as well as a chemical imbalance that affects mood. CPS also offers a number of support groups, where you could meet other people who are struggling with some of the same issues, and develop a network of people with whom to check in. For example, you might find the Coping With Shyness Support Group helpful. You can find out more about all of CPS's groups and other services on the Health Services: Workshops, Groups, & Trainings website, or call x4-2878 for information or to make an appointment.
For lots of other resources, and to read about other readers' similar experiences, check out the related Q&As listed below.
You are not alone. It might sound cliché, but there really are many college students and other people who feel as you do. Through hard work and support, they begin to discover the gifts they have to offer and reach out to make connections with other people. It doesn't happen overnight, but it does happen. Though you can't totally change your personality (no need: it's what makes you a unique, special person), you can develop healthy coping skills and feel enthusiasm for life.