A few weeks ago I saw someone post a poll on their Instagram story that said “does the summer in between high school and college feel weird?” I honestly don’t remember what the results of the poll were, but I remember feeling an immense sense of relief in knowing that I wasn’t the only one who felt a sense of uneasiness about this chapter of life we incoming freshmen are experiencing.
I remember so many moments last summer during which I felt so free. So free of all the havoc that I went through the months prior. So free of any worries about my future. Yes, there were hard days, but for the most part, I was always able to let go of my fears and live in the moment when I was spending time with friends or family. This summer, I cannot fully live in the moment. It feels like there’s a wall keeping me from fully connecting with my friends, for in the back of my mind I know that in a few months, the majority of these moments will be distant memories. I knew ever since I committed to my school that I would have this worry within me, but I always thought I would work through it differently than I’m working through it now. I always assumed I would be an emotional mess in all my hang-outs this last month, but in reality, I’ve been almost emotionally disconnected during them. Maybe it’s my defense mechanism, or maybe I’ve just really accepted the fact that it’s time for all of us to move on. Either way, there’s only been a handful of days this summer in which I’ve felt as free, connected, and emotionally-driven as I have been in years past.
When I first started feeling this way, I thought something was wrong with me. I questioned my readiness for college, my mental health, and my friendships. Then I luckily saw the Instagram poll I mentioned earlier, leading a huge wave of relief to sweep over me. Then, doing what I do best, I started talking about this weird feeling with the people around me, and I quickly realized that we’re all in a similar boat of uneasiness.
The previous few summers, our lives revolved around summer reading, SAT prep, college applications, and other activities necessary to securing the success of our futures. We did all that work so that we could get accepted into the schools we’re entering in a few short weeks. We’re supposed to feel immense relief, for this is probably the only summer in which we’re not bombarded with the mandatory summer reading from our past or the internship ventures of our future. The only school-related work we have is to register for classes, take some placement tests, and go crazy on dorm shopping. On paper, it’s the easiest summer imaginable, so why doesn’t it feel like that in reality? Why do so many of us have this weird feeling in our chests about it all?
Maybe part of it is that we had such big expectations for this summer. We waited for this period of rest and fun for so long, but like anything else that we glorify in our minds, it isn’t living up to our expectations, solely because we idealized it.
Maybe it’s because packing up your life into little labeled boxes and shipping those boxes off to an address that you haven’t even lived in yet is terrifying. What if one day in the next month we realize we want to wear those shoes or that dress, but it’s already been delivered to a different state? We have so little time left, so we need to start packing, but packing makes it all seem a little too real.
Maybe the whole “adulting” thing is finally setting in. We’re in that weird period where many of us are legal adults, but our moms and dads still make us dinner, schedule our appointments, figure out how to accept our financial aid loans, and plan the transportation to get us to school on move-in day. We crave that sense of independence, but we also want to crawl back into the cocoon of having our parents do everything for us, for we realize that the responsibilities of the adult world will be in our hands now.
Maybe it’s because we waited so long to get out of this tiny town. Over the years, we’ve complained about the lack of stuff there is to do, and we’ve counted down the days until we were immersed in a new location with new places to explore, but maybe we’re slowly realizing that there’s a lot we’ll miss about this “nothing to do” town. Our families, whom we so badly wanted to get space from, are here. Our friends, our favorite coffee shops, our memories are mostly centered here, after all. Maybe our angst comes from the internal battle of wanting to dive into the new but also wanting to crawl back to the old.
But you know, I don’t think any of those are the sole reasons behind this common weird feeling. I think the real reason we feel so uneasy is because we don’t know how to process those worries in combination with our excitement. If I haven’t made it clear yet, there’s so much excitement in this phase too, and most of us want to hone in on the excitement rather than all the aforementioned worry. We want to save the crying or the detachment for that last week of summer, but it’s much easier said than done. We want to compartmentalize and not let our feelings of excitement and worry mix, but it doesn’t work like that. We can’t feel fully excited and free during this phase of life because the tough thoughts are in the back of our minds whether we like it or not. We want to control our emotions (or lack thereof), but often they control us, without our even being cognizant of it.
Not only is this summer “in-between” in terms of high school and college, but it’s also “in-between” anticipation and fear. We cannot fully escape the “in-between,” so we may as well embrace it. A lot of the times, embracing feelings means crying about them and letting your emotions out, but I think in this case, embracing them just means letting yourself feel the weirdness and realizing it’s a common feeling, even if everyone’s versions of it vary a little.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to make it sound like this common feeling is something that has to solely define our summers. We can surrender to the frustration without surrendering our summers. Whether it’s working out, baking cookies, or reading- I hope everyone has something that helps the worries become a little less potent. I also recognize that some people don’t feel and over-analyze this uneasiness as much as others, but nonetheless, I would strongly argue that it’s still there at least a little bit in all of us. And that’s more than okay.
Black and white emotions are easier to deal with. Feeling excited is easy, and feeling afraid is easy, in the sense that those emotions on their own are familiar to us. We know how to handle them when we feel them separately. Though they are powerful, they are easy to comprehend. The gray, “in-between” area where emotions mix- not so easy. But that’s what adulthood is…lots and lots of gray area, and this is our first real step in our new groutfits. The growing pains and prosperity will be plentiful (what a mouthful) but surrendering to them is the best baby step you can take.