The first few weeks of freshman year can be daunting. Everything moves so fast. It seems that everyone is adjusting faster than you: making friends, finding significant others, compartmentalizing their high school and college selves -- creating a home away from home. You start to feel like maybe you don't belong, and maybe you never will. It may seem like you are a rarity, the exception to that prideful, hyped-up crowd of freshmen you saw during Orientation. You are not.
Your isolation may feel permanent; it may become hard to imagine a future in which you've found your place. It may feel like cold comfort to hear that adjusting takes time, but it's the truth. I've been there. I've experienced the anxiety and loneliness that come with not immediately finding close friends and meaningful interactions. If you're where I was, there's very little I can say to make you feel better. However, you can gradually free yourself from isolation.
When you're isolated, you're slowly building a resistance to change. You can be completely miserable and find yourself incapable of doing the things that will make you feel better. You need to fight inertia.
The more time you spend inside your own head, the less available you are for others. As an introvert, I understand the need for solitude, but I also know that it is very easy to shut the world out completely.
Get out of your room. Freeing yourself from isolation means putting yourself out there. Yes, I know it's terrifying, but it's necessary.
Talk to people, but more importantly, listen to them. People feel safe and appreciated when others listen to them. They're more likely to share important parts of themselves. They'll also want to listen to you.
Open up. Share important parts of yourself; you can't form meaningful relationships without being vulnerable. Show appreciation toward them for listening. If they exhibit no interest in listening to you after you've listened to them, they aren't worth your time and effort.
Don't settle for convenience and proximity. Your roommate and hall mates may not always be the best people for you. They may not be the ones who love and respect you. Don't be afraid to seek new horizons. Talk to students in your classes and your professors. Join extracurricular clubs, activist organizations, intramural sports, religious groups -- anything. Most people you meet won't become your closest friends, but some will, and many of the rest will say hello to you whenever you pass them. Those brief interactions can make you feel recognized and valued on campus.
Finally, connect yourself inextricably to a community -- be it the campus as a whole or your Dungeons and Dragons group. Make sure the people in that community see you, but more importantly, that they expect things from you. Be loyal to them, and expect loyalty in return. Fight for them, comfort them, see them at their best and worst. When they are lost, help them find their way.
Help lead your community, and have a stake in it, which is greater than yourself. Succeed and fail as part of that community.
Rarely happy on our own, we are inherently social beings. We are at our best when we are connecting. To break through your isolation, you have to connect. If it is any consolation to those who feel lonely and haven't found their place, you are better connectors than you realize. Have faith in yourself -- that you are worth another person's connection -- and you'll find people who love you and who will make your college life meaningful.
Originally published in the The Flat Hat