I remember it like it was just yesterday. I started my freshman year at West Liberty University back in the August of 2015. I was very excited to see what college had in store for me.
When I stepped foot into my dorm room for the first time, I was absolutely struck with emotion. I felt happiness: I would be living with my best friend that I’ve known since preschool. I felt sadness: I would be living away from home for the first time. I felt scared: would I be able to make friends here? So many emotions washed over me in that moment, and I didn’t know if I wanted to cry, jump for joy, or both.
My freshman year was an admittedly hard time for me. It was a time in my life where I was still trying to figure out who I was. I was influenced by the wrong people, and it definitely showed. I’d constantly skip class and do the bare minimum when it came to assignments. I was also extremely depressed, but I didn’t want to do anything about it. “Whenever you were having a depressive episode, you’d just kind of brush me off and tell me not to worry about it,” observed Kalei Adkins, one of my closest friends. “You’d use the typical “I’m fine” excuse, when in reality, you were everything but.”
The following year, I realized I needed to put an end to this line of thinking. My sophomore year, I decided to start going to therapy. WLU offers free counseling, so I decided to take advantage of it. I was introduced to Lisa Witzberger, the counselor on campus. I was originally terrified of the idea of therapy, since I’m usually the type of person that likes to keep to myself. After a few sessions though, I eased into it.
My junior year was easily the hardest year of my life. Very early on in the fall semester, my mother passed away. My mom and I did everything together. We went to concerts together. We went on road trips together. We hung out whenever we could. She wasn’t just a parent, she was my friend. I never imagined that I would lose my best friend at the age of 20, but I did. My biggest nightmare was now a reality, and I didn’t know what to do.
While my junior year was a very rough time in my life, it was also the year I saw the biggest change in myself. After my mom passed, I tried being more positive; not just for me, but for her, too. I knew she was watching over me, and I didn’t want her to see me hurting. From that moment forth, I worked on my mental health more than I ever have before. “When your mom passed away, I instantly knew you would need some time to yourself for a while,” said Adkins. “But after a few weeks, I definitely saw you growing stronger. Death is never easy, and I respect you so much for learning and growing from such a difficult experience.”
Present day, I’m a senior and I’m getting ready to graduate this semester. It’s been a long, grueling journey, but I’m happy to say that it’s almost over. My mental health is probably the best it’s ever been. I’ve got an amazing support system in my friends and family, and I couldn’t be more thankful. “You’re a lot happier now than when I first met you,” said Carly Balog, a friend I met my sophomore year. “It took a while, but you finally realized your self-worth, and I think that’s one of the biggest components to your happiness.”
I started college as a very depressed and insecure human being. I kept to myself and never wanted to share what I was feeling. Now, three years later, I’m a lot happier, the most confident I’ve ever been, and I have no problem sharing my feelings with people. If I’ve learned anything while at WLU, it’s that you shouldn’t change for anyone but yourself. If it wasn’t for this college, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I may have had some hard times while in college, but I’m stronger for it. Witzberger would agree with me. “I think WLU has helped to shape Samantha into an independent young lady with confidence in herself, her academics, and her journey toward career development. It has been a great pleasure watching this student become an amazing young lady.”
Photo Credit: Samantha Stewart