When I worked in college administration I would tell people that a typical student’s emotional health of their freshman year of college could be plotted like a “W.”
The beginning of the semester is an emotional high. In October, right before midterms, things drop to a LOW. After midterms things perk up a bit; but life gets awful again around Thanksgiving and before finals. Finally, in the last bits of the semester, with the euphoria of final exams complete, a student finishes their semester back at a pretty good high, just like at the beginning of the semester.
I also used to tell people who had recently broken up with a significant other that they should truly expect to feel the pangs of grief for at least half as long as they had been in the relationship with the person.
“You’ve been dating moody Melvin for four months and you just broke up? You’re probably going to sing “All By Myself” in the shower and cry for about two months.”
I would tell them that at the beginning it would hurt to breathe. That every turn of the head would bring a memory that could make your throat tight.
And then, one day, you’d realize it was dinner time and you hadn’t had a single thought that brought you back to the place of memory all day. That they might feel guilty for that but it was a sign of health and goodness.
Lots of times I’d listen and mostly just give those young people permission to be sad, remind them that in that time of loneliness and establishing a new normal… it’s right to have lows and highs. That we are emotional creatures with a wide spectrum of feelings that are ok to experience – we’d point to the Psalms as Biblical evidence that you can be in the depths of despair and call out to God and see His faithfulness.
Now that I’m out of the college administration world I realize that these same principles are relevant to everyday life. I talk to a friend who has retired and hear the truth in their struggle to create a new normal that doesn’t have the interactions and patterns that used to annoy them.
I see mama’s who are letting their kids fly solo and their unsettled feelings now that they aren’t needed to wipe behinds or provide meals.
I’m working on a new theory now, that the “W” of the first semester of college might actually be able to apply to the whole course of a lifetime. I’m somewhere in the middle right now, but I’m sure hoping that my theory proves true!