Ask The Therapist: “I started college this year and I have started getting sadder…it feels like I have lost my identity…”

In 2016, the number of people estimated to be suffering from mental health issues like depression and anxiety amounted to roughly 1.1 billion. Since then, numbers have likely continued to rise. Moreover, studies have also shown women especially on average are a) more likely to suffer from mental health issues, and b) less likely to talk about them. The taboo in Pakistan surrounding depression and anxiety disorders only serve to aggravate the individuals suffering even more. For the women who cannot seek out full time therapy, we’ve enlisted the help of a trained therapist. You sent us in your questions – here are the answers!

“I started college this year and it has resulted in me feeling very differently. I feel like I have started feeling sadder – I was never this girl when I was in school, but I feel like I have lost my identity. I get affected by very small things. I try my best to go out, meet people, interact and experience new things, but I do all this to distract myself. I am not that sweet and interesting girl I was before, I have even lost my sense of humour. I can do small talk, but I am not able to make friends or connect with people more deeply – I want to be myself and make new friends. Also, I feel very left out and have developed a fear of missing out! I was also noting the behaviour of people towards me. They have misconceptions about me and sometimes say offensive things and I am not able to give them a shut up call which I was able to do in the past. Please help. I don’t want to go through this during my prime teenage years.”

Shahrukh’s Response

Dear Anon,

I imagine there must be all kinds of questions running through your mind right, bundled up with a plethora of emotions. Feeling like you’ve lost touch with the person you once were can be really distressing, I hear you on that. Change, as a concept, usually comes with some repercussions. I believe that we’ve all experienced it in some form or another, and what most of us don’t realise is that change comes with loss. As life progresses, and as we shed different layers and skins that we once wore, we also may find ourselves being different versions of ourselves, or feeling a sense of grief towards a time in our lives that is no more. Let’s look into this a little bit more, and see what might be happening here.

Change: It’s A Process

As stated before, change is something that we all experience, yet what we may not always see is the impact that it has in subtle ways, ones that may catch on and before we know it, we begin to feel, act and just be different – and that’s okay. I believe that more than anything, this might be the perfect time to reflect and see what might be happening. A starting point would be to acknowledge and recognize the change that’s taken place – starting college can be a huge change for some people. Of course, there might be other things that might be contributing to what you’re experiencing, but focusing on the information here; it’s a change of environment, a whole new set of people, as well as a new chapter in your life. It means the shift of a routine and space that was once familiar to one that is not, and that can bring about a whole set of emotions and thoughts. It’s worth reflecting on this by asking yourself the following questions:

  • When did I first begin to notice the changes in myself?
  • How did I feel in my old school environment vs. what I feel now, in my college environment?
  • What are the parts of my identity that I feel distant from?
  • What are the parts of my identity that I feel connected to?
  • When others say things that are offensive/hurtful, what’s standing in the way of me speaking my mind the way I used to?
  • In the here and now, how would I describe myself?
  • What does my ideal self look like, and what are some of the things that might be standing in the way of me attaining that ideal self?

Human Connection: A Universal Need

What I’m hearing in your message, Anon, more than anything, is that there seems to be a sense of disconnect between you and those around you. While I’m not sure of your circumstances, I imagine that there aren’t a lot of familiar faces in college? If that’s the case, I can only imagine how daunting it must be to connect with a whole new set of people, especially when you’ve been used to the familiarity and comfort of those that used to be with you in school. Connecting with others is an in-built human need that dates back to the very beginning of our existence, and it’s something that we all naturally crave and seek out. 

It sounds like you are really finding it challenging to connect with the people in your college, and that’s okay. Sometimes it does take some time to build friendships, especially with those who are new in your life. While things do tend to happen organically when it comes to relationships, it’s also important to recognise what might be hindering that ability to connect with others. 

  • How do you feel when you’re around others? 
  • Do you feel like you’re being more of your true self, or do you feel like you can’t fully be yourself? If so, what are you afraid would happen if you were to be yourself and be honest?
  • What are the obstacles to your ability to connect?

Anon, I know it can be frustrating, and even upsetting to see the person you once were changed. However, this isn’t to say that those parts of you that you feel distant from aren’t still there. Give yourself some time to adjust to the new environment and the new space. Until then, do reach out to the people in your life that you feel safe around, and maybe even confide in them about what’s happening. Stay with whatever it is you’re feeling, and be patient with yourself – you’re doing the best that you can right now. I hope that you are able to give yourself the space to feel whatever you feel, and that you are able to reconnect with certain parts of yourself soon. Best of luck, Anon, and stay in your power!

The above article is written by Shahrukh Shahbaz Malik who is trained in humanistic integrative counselling at CPDD in the UK and currently has her own private practice in Karachi. The views expressed in this article are those of one expert. They do not necessarily represent the views of Mashion, nor do they represent the complete picture of the topic at hand. This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment or therapy.

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