College Confidential: A tale of two women

Melisa Soysal
Melisa Soysal/THE REVIEW
Christina Hamdan and Sarah discuss mental health, drinking culture and the lessons they’ve learned.

BY
MANAGING NEWS EDITOR

On Saturday nights there are scantily clad groups dancing, stumbling down Main Street and shouting, and casually dressed crowds thoughtfully nursing pints of ale. In Morris Library, students sit in silence studying. And, at Perkins Live, a crowd chuckles at a comedian’s punchline.

The student population is cleaved into sharply defined, yet largely unacknowledged factions that divide us by credo, activity and lifestyle. We are separated and confined by these lines we have carefully drawn for ourselves. Yet, despite this, there are common threads that weave even the most divided among us together: the struggles we face and lessons we learn about ourselves and our world.

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Christina Hamdan, a senior speech pathology major, had always known she liked the university because her older brother had gone here, and she saw how much he enjoyed it. She was excited for a fresh start.

But, Hamdan is a worrier. She finds herself anxious over school, over whether her friends are safe and over making close connections with people. She has had anxiety in social settings from a young age and started going to therapy in the first grade. Because of this, she had to push herself beyond her comfort zone when she came to the university.

“I love meeting people, I thrive with connection,” she said. “But, sometimes getting to the point of a support system and getting to the point of meeting people where you can have the important conversations is, like, terrifying.”

Hamdan, who admittedly does not give herself enough credit, said her demanding major has also contributed to anxiety. She’ll stay up all night preparing for presentations, or worrying about how she measures up to classmates.

“It’s like ‘oh my God I’m not enough. I didn’t do enough,’” she said about the stresses of school and applying to graduate programs. “This is the year I’m really learning to self-love, and self-care and not treat myself like s–t because it’s so easy to do that.”

This is the first time Hamdan, who is an active mental health advocate, has spoken publicly about her struggles. She allowed her full name to be used because she said she felt like a hypocrite advocating for openness and acceptance while not speaking about her own experiences.

While Hamdan has historically been hesitant to talk personally about mental health, class of 2018 member Sarah, whose name has been changed, has always been open about hers.

She doesn’t hesitate to talk because her high school was academically rigorous, and students were often hospitalized for mental health problems.

“I was kind of pretty open about it just because I thought it was very normal and I didn’t realize it wasn’t normal for other people,” she said. “Now I’m more hesitant about it now because I’m realizing out of college people aren’t as accepting.”

Sarah has anxiety, depression and Borderline Personality Disorder — she was hospitalized occasionally in high school. She said she doesn’t care if other people think of her as weird due to her mental illness, but she becomes heated when people don’t believe that mentall illness is real.Recently, she’s teetered back and forth between depression and anxiety, which she describes as feelings of “impending doom.”

“I very much go into a whirlpool of horrible thoughts,” she said. “I convinced myself I had AIDS the other day.”

She started her college career at another school, which she transferred from after deciding they handled mental health and a friend’s sexual assault “very poorly.”

When she got to the university during her sophomore year, Sarah found herself accepted into what students consider to be a top-tier sorority. During that semester, she said she drank more than she ever has.

“At the time I think I was having fun, but now when I look back … I’m like ‘that’s bad,’” she said. “I was way, way too drunk. It should not have been taking over my life. All I did was go to mixers.”

By her junior year, bullying within the sorority had caused girls to disaffiliate. The group’s obsession with status — who they held mixers with and what they wore — caused her to become disillusioned, despite having found friends who felt similarly. The only reason she didn’t disaffiliate was because of the money she had already paid to be a member of the chapter.

Hamdan, on the other hand, immediately knew that she did not want to be a member of Greek life and that she did not like partying as much as other students. She doesn’t like the “overwhelming” crowds of strangers, or the music. Her perfect night happens at a secluded bar table with a few good friends and many margaritas.

“I have learned to do what’s best for me,” she said. “And that, what makes me happy, might not make everyone else happy.”

Hamdan loves sports and found community throughout college through playing intramural soccer and softball, and through Friends4Friends, an organization on campus that advocates for mental health

Her senior year has been a nonstop lesson on loving herself more and comparing herself to others less. She said she’s learning that it’s okay to cheer for herself and wishes that society did not find public self-love to be “cocky” or “weird.”

Support from friends, family, coaches and professors, she said, has been integral in her conquering her anxiety and learning to be kinder to herself.

Sarah also feels that her support system was important. She said her friends talk her through breathing exercises when she panics in their presence, and professors were accommodating and understanding when she talked to them.

During her senior year, Sarah had a long depressive episode. She would go home most weekends and would struggle to get out of bed most days. She regrets not spending more time with friends and having fun.

The first installment of this series, “College Uncovered”

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Hamdan’s and Sarah’s histories, personalities and college careers could hardly be less similar. Hamdan is bubbly and deeply mindful — her bedroom is awash in soothing colors and inspirational quotes. Sarah, on the other hand, told her story with cutting humor and shocking candidness — she laughed throughout her tale at the absurdity of it all. Yet, despite their dissimilarities and different paths, they have both been led to the same conclusions.

“Be who you are and don’t think you need to adjust who you are,” Hamdan said.”If you love something, find it here. You can — it’s so easy….it’s just a matter of finding that group or those opportunities.”

Sarah echoed Hamdan.

“You’re always going to find your people, so reach out to them and talk to them and don’t conform to anyone else,” she said. “Because I would have had a f—ing miserable time if I acted like everyone else.”

College Uncovered is a platform to examine emotions, experiences and stories that cannot otherwise be disclosed. Through giving students the opportunity to speak anonymously about the parts of themselves they keep hidden, it digs deep into what it means to be on the edge of adulthood today. If you’re interested in telling your story, you can contact Katherine Nails through her email, knails@udel.edu.

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