Welcome to our special section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.

Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face, Mike Tyson says.

I don’t think you’re supposed to leave tea steeping overnight, but when you’re going to bed at 2am and waking up four hours later, sometimes you need the extra little kick. I was supposed to go to bed on time, of course, if I had stuck to my plan.  

This always happens.

On Tuesday you run into this friend at the dining hall and she says come to her birthday party this weekend and you’re like ok, let me know when and where.

On Wednesday you send her a text: “Let me know the deets to the partee.” You’re trying to sound casual.

On Thursday you send another message. “Hey.” As in, “Hey, see above question, I need to know when and where your party is if I’m actually going to go.” But you’re trying to act casual so you just say “Hey.”

“What up” She replies without even bothering to punctuate and ignoring the question. If she’s not giving you the deets she obviously must not actually want you at her party.

This always happens. 

You’re not going to sit there all Friday night twiddling your thumbs (although you do sometimes) so you call a buddy to go to the bars. Of course, your friend gets back to you with details about the party precisely ten minutes after you get off the phone with your buddy.

“Wtf I thought you had agreed to come,” she says when you tell her you made other plans. What were you supposed to do, spend all evening writing in your blog while waiting to hear back?

So you get to the bar where you’re supposed to meet your buddy and you snag a table and he says he’s by the bar and you say you’re by the bar and you don’t see him and he says maybe you’re at the back bar and you say there is no back bar and then you realize: you’re at the wrong damn bar.

He said The Patio, which sounds nothing like The Rose and Crown, and they look nothing like each other on the inside or on the outside, but like a mindless canary that flies back into its open cage after it’s been set free, you fell back on the bar you’re used to going to — the only thing you knew. That’s when you realize: You have a party invitation insecurity.

There was a boy — maybe 9 years old, maybe 10, doesn’t really matter — who would sit alone at his desk during recess and read books — Jack London or C.S. Lewis or Robert Heinlein, doesn’t really matter — while the Greek kids kicked soccer balls around. They would ask him about the books, but all he could say in his limited Greek was “it has wolves” or “it has a closet” or “it’s in space.” 

The same boy would sit alone at this desk while party invitations were passed out at school. Little pieces of cardboard paper folded like mini Christmas cards. He would avoid making eye contact with whoever was passing them out as the stack would turn into a handful, the handful into a couple, the couple into none. The invitations were never for him.

Until one time they were. The folded card was light blue, decorated with balloons and cakes and presents, and he tucked it away into one of his notebooks to keep it safe until the magical day. But when he got to the party, he found himself sitting in a corner alone while the other kids laughed and chatted in Greek and played Twister and Cluedo and Spin the Bottle. He sat by himself and stuffed his fat little face (he was actually pretty skinny) with cake and pizza and chips thinking words in English he wished he could say in Greek. 

The same boy sat at his desk when he was thirty, avoiding eye contact with his unanswered messages, and made other plans when he told himself the invitation obviously wasn’t meant for him.

Ok so I just puked up all the tea. Definitely not supposed to leave it steeping for that long.

This always happens.

You stay out with your buddy long enough to be polite and then you go to the damn party and of course when you get there, everyone is happy to see you. Some friends hug you tightly with beer breath and sweat-matted hair. Some friends put drinks in your hand and sit you down for group photos. Some friends take you downstairs to a room that smells like vodka fumes and armpits and insist you dance with them until you remind them you just had knee surgery. One friend says you’ll be writing about this tomorrow. “That’s so gay, not that I would know,” her wife says with a wink.

As you prepare to leave, your birthday friend apologizes for the miscommunication — she wants to make sure you feel welcome. It’s not her fault, you tell her, and explain your party invitation insecurity. It’s something that needs work, you see that now. She appreciates you sharing the little boy’s story so you figure others might appreciate it too.

This always happens.

I don’t know how many more times I have to realize this before it stops surprising me, but I do have friends. They turned from none into a couple, from a handful into a stack. I don’t know when this happened, but my guess is when I started showing interest in others instead of waiting for them to be interested in me. What will never stop surprising me is that anyone wants to be my friend after all the embarrassing stuff I tell them.

I have friends who tell me listen to this song, come to this concert, let’s go to this night market. They give me blankets when I’m shivering on a couch in Kimball hall, they drive me to the hospital when I twist my knee in Jiu Jitsu, they bring ice bags to my dorm room when my knee is swollen in a brace.

I have little brothers who are friends and friends who are little brothers. I have friends who tell me when my writing is shit and friends who tell me to never stop writing. I have friends who tell me to start group projects and friends who tell me not to let a stupid project get in the way of our friendship. I have friends who forgive me for making plans on their birthday and friends who support me when I tell them my insecurities

I have so many friends now, almost too many, and it only took me thirty years. I should write an app that loans them out to people, like Uber for friends, except drivers wouldn’t have to bring their own because they’d all be mine. Then I’d make a lot of money and could finally pay for this wall I’ve been trying to build to keep people out of my head, protect my emotions, and shield my insecurities. That was my plan anyway, until life happened and I got punched in the face.

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More on Mental Health on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis