Freshman year has just ended and I find myself grinning inside with how it turned out for me. As I write this, I am experiencing the same feeling as when I'm in a play that I'm convinced will turn out horribly come the performance dates (for whatever reason), but then, to my surprise, it miraculously comes together at the very last minute and is a complete success.
I'm going to make a Marvel reference, which has kind of become a weird recurring trend in my blog posts, for the purposes of illustrating the essence of this first year. In the inaugural X-Men film, Wolverine starts off as a solitary dude with no plans of being otherwise, and ends the movie as a devoted member of the X-Men team, albeit a little rough around the edges. I once again find myself comparing my emotional journey to that of a very masculine character in a movie, but maybe that isn't too bad considering I'm doing so in a much happier context. But as you'll soon read, this development didn't occur over a running time of 104 minutes, but over the entire school year, and didn't come easily.
My first year at Oberlin can be split into two different parts. Because I am a quietly dramatic lady who thinks about movies all the time, I look at it as The Revenant (yeah, the movie that Leo DiCaprio just won an Oscar for) followed by something way lighter and featuring an ensemble cast, like the first X-Men movie. I'd like to point out that I love The Revenant, so comparing the first part of my year to it is not an actively disparaging remark, but more a respectful observation.
To put it plainly, The Revenant was the most psychologically grueling period of my life. For one, I was trying my best to resist the first semester freshman-year things that I had heard so much about for so many years. And perhaps due to this crusade, I was doing great in several ways. I was immune to the "freshman fifteen" due to a metabolism that could compete in the Olympics, I wasn't homesick, I was finding success in all my classes except for Organismal Biology, I had become involved with numerous activities on campus, I hadn't done anything to warrant a hospital visit, and I wasn't feeling super lonely. But despite all of this, I was dealing with a psychological condition called an adjustment disorder, which was something I couldn't actively prevent myself from falling into. It was this thing that really put a damper on my otherwise successful first semester.
An adjustment disorder is defined as a kind of situational depression, where the cause of it isn't due to a chemical imbalance in the brain, but rather an outside stressor that overwhelms the brain's coping mechanisms. As a result, the person can't fully manage the effects of the stressor, and thus experiences symptoms comparable to depression.
The thing is that I didn't know what an adjustment disorder was then or that there even was a name for the psychic discord I was experiencing until I stumbled across a definition of it in my psychology textbook last month. What I did know was that I was not myself: I would all of a sudden become tearful and would have to stop myself from crying in public at unexpected moments, I'd forget to go eat dinner (which meant that I only had one meal that day, breakfast), and my thoughts were frequently consumed by the event of the stressor which caused me to zone out in class and feel very, very sad. I had to focus a significant portion of my energy to just keeping myself together, and that was something I never had to think about doing ever before. For someone like myself, dealing with an adjustment disorder was like having all my fingers broken and unable to play violin (or any other instrument I play besides voice) ever again.
I call this part of the year The Revenant not because Alejandro González Iñárritu is one of my favorite directors, but because it pretty much felt like I was in a wilderness survival story set in the 1830s American West the whole time. In the first part of the film, things just keep getting worse and worse for DiCaprio's Hugh Glass. So, in the wake of the stressor, I was essentially DiCaprio as Hugh Glass, sans beard and (some of) the good looks, and I spent the rest of the semester fielding what felt like a series of bad things thrown in front of me. I was determined to not let a breakup define the beginning of my college experience because that would be a really dumb thing to let happen, at least in my case.
What I learned during this period was how to better take care of myself and look out for my own wellbeing. I have this tendency which I have previously dubbed the "grandma worries" where I get concerned about whether or not my friends (as well as Keanu Reeves, for some reason) are feeling hungry or if they remembered to take their vitamins this morning. With my forgetting to eat dinner on several occasions, I realized that I needed to start making sure that I was taking care of myself too. I recognized that I was dealing with something pretty major, and I grew to be much more at peace with the person that I was. Though I would still lapse into sadness every once in a while, it was once that I reached this point of inner calm that I was able to go forward with my goal of doing the best that I could in every way possible (*cue "All I Do is Win" by DJ Khaled*).
So, yeah, that was my first semester. But stay with me, because it gets better.
The spring semester was lovely in so many dimensions that it makes everything I previously went through all the more rewarding. Besides my radio show moving into its second season, being in great classes again, and proving to myself that I'm actually good at a science, I decided to jump into the world of student theater at Oberlin. In mid-February, I saw on Facebook that OSTA, the Oberlin Student Theater Association, was having a meeting with free pizza that was open to everyone. I decided to go mostly because of the free pizza part, but I say that not to diminish my love of theatre--theatre is like my work spouse to my real-life spouse that's cinema--but my affinity for pizza runs as deep as the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean. Just under 7 miles.
In a surprising turn of events, I walked out of the meeting as the newly elected Co-Technical Coordinator on the OSTA board. Then a couple weeks later, I saw an audition flyer for a production of Caryl Churchill's Love and Information (produced by OSTA), which I decided to go for as well. I hadn't auditioned for anything in a year, so I walked out of the room feeling like my performance resembled an actual train wreck--not the Amy Schumer kind--but to my surprise, I was still cast in the show, and I had A LOT of lines.
Essentially, the two best things that happened to me outside of class this semester and academic year have been my snap decisions to go to that preliminary OSTA meeting and then to audition for Love and Information. My experiences of being on the OSTA board and acting in the play have reminded me of the things I most love about theatre: working with and being around other people to create and/or facilitate something larger. I think just getting regular social interaction with more or less the same people every week offered a sense of balance in the activities that I had become involved with on campus. The experiences of being a photographer for The Oberlin Review, a DJ on WOBC-FM, and a blogger for the Oberlin Blogs (how meta) are all pretty solitary, I've realized, and though there's varying degrees of social interaction that come with each, they're not nearly on the same level as being on the OSTA board or being in a play with an ensemble cast. And that's great, because I got to meet and become friends with people I wouldn't have otherwise crossed paths with.
I firmly believe that there's no one way to "do" freshman year. Some people find their friends right away, but I didn't until my second semester. For those incoming First Years reading this, be patient with how your freshman year unfolds for you, and remember to take care of yourselves when you need to. My adjustment disorder was something unforeseeable, but the experience of overcoming it has only made me hardier and better experienced. More importantly, it gave me an incredibly powerful motivation to succeed in everything that I do, which I don't think I will ever lose. And I think that it's these triumphs along the way that make life all the more compelling, just like many of the stories we see onscreen.