Five months ago, I arrived on Binghamton University’s campus for my first semester of college. With more than 12,000 undergrad students, the buzzing campus was already a daunting change from my cozy 800-person high school. And that’s before you consider the factors that come with having vitiligo in a new environment.
I quickly discovered some good news – and some not-so-great news. The good news is that people grow up after high school. While my spots may have been a thing of significance in high school, people seem to mostly move past it in college. Maybe they’re just too busy. The down side though, was that being surrounded by thousands of new people meant that I was always catching people staring at me. In high school, everyone knew me. Here, people were seeing me for the first time every day.
Going to college can be a big deal. Going to college as someone living with vitiligo can be an even bigger deal. Here are some of the tips and tricks I used to adjust to a college lifestyle with vitiligo.
Use music to lift your mood
If you’ve been on a college campus recently, you might notice that most students walk around with headphones in. I’m one of those students. Music can be a great way to get out of my own head. Sometimes having time to think – and too much time to think – can make me self-conscious or anxious. And especially when I’m walking to class and people might be staring, music is a great way to distract my mind. Try listening to music in-between classes or while studying to help boost your mood and stay focused.
Hang inspirational posters in your dorm room
I’ve always found a great sense of comfort in inspirational posters, words and books. I hung an inspirational poster in my dorm room as a reminder to be positive. Some of my favorite quotes on the poster are: Remember you are loved for the way you are; Don’t try to be different; If you can imagine it, you can achieve it, if you can dream it, you can become it. Try to surround yourself with love and positivity, even if it’s words on an oversized piece of paper.
Use drawing or journaling as an outlet
One thing I do to distract my mind and relieve stress is journaling and drawing. While I am most certainly not the world’s greatest artist, or remotely close, I like to grab a pencil and sketch here and there while listening to music. Since I love elephants and turtles, I find cool images on Google and try to sketch them. Writing in a journal is also a great way to get things my chest when I’m struggling with anxiety.
Find a fitness routine that works for you
Joining a dance club on campus has been one of the most rewarding experiences for me this past semester. I’ve made new friends, gotten to appreciate the cheers of the crowd, and found an exercise outlet that I actually enjoy. Exercising and feeling good about my body puts me in a better mindset and often lifts my mood. Try signing up for a gym membership on your campus or joining a club sport or team.
Have different friend groups as a support system
In college, it can be easy to get comfortable with a single friend group. But branching out and finding more than one group can not only help build your confidence, but also your support system. I always try to meet up with my different friend groups for dinner or invite them over for a movie night to relax and just talk. As someone living with vitiligo for over 16 years, having understanding friends is crucial for my mental health and gives me the security I need to live my best life.
Talk to counselors on campus
Most college campuses across the United States provide free counseling services that most students do not know about. I started going to therapy when I began to realize that occasionally the way people looked at me and my vitiligo bothered me. A counselor helped me focus on the positives of living with the condition, such as the confidence it gives me and how unique it really is. She also helped me learn how to deal with people making me feel that way. Though counseling or therapy may seem scary, it can be quite reassuring to talk to a third party that won’t judge you.
Stick to a schedule
In college, I found sticking to a schedule and planning out my week helped me manage my stress and allowed me to stay on top of my schoolwork. I was able to find a good balance between having fun and focusing on school by allotting time for each. One good piece of advice I have heard and applied is to think of college as a 9-5 job. If you can effectively work on school between the hours of 9 and 5, you should have ample time to enjoy college life.
Stay connected to family and friends back home
Going away to college can be hard, especially if you are close to your family and friends back home. I personally made a schedule to call my parents and friends every week. It helps to hear a familiar voice in a place that initially can feel very far from what I am used to.
Deepa Mistry is a college student from New York studying biochemistry and economics who finds her vitiligo to be a blessing in disguise. What used to be a burden has now become a pillar of strength and she hopes to inspire others to find content with their vitiligo. She enjoys writing and dancing.