On Getting Help and Talking About It
As I've alluded to in a couple of recent posts, this past semester was a difficult one. My classes were challenging, sure, but that's not extraordinary for a semester at Oberlin. What was extraordinary was that I constantly felt overwhelmed by my schoolwork and anxious that I wouldn't be able to get it done. I consistently woke up later than in previous semesters and still spent most days feeling tired. I cried all the time - not just in my apartment or in Mudd but while walking across campus, in bathrooms before class, and at a cappella rehearsals. I had (what I hesitate to call anxiety attacks because I haven't been diagnosed with a panic or anxiety disorder but what certainly seemed like) anxiety attacks on a weekly basis. To put it simply, anxiety has been a part of my life for a long time, but this semester, anxiety took control of my life.
All of this came to a head after a particularly stressful weekend in November. I was talking to my German lit professor, Robin, after class and trying to tell her why I hadn't yet finished the paper that was due the previous night. Then suddenly I was telling her about how anxious I was and how I felt like a failure for not being able to finish my work on time. My heartbeat quickened, tears rose to my eyes, my face reddened, and each breath came harder than the last. I could tell I was beginning to panic, on the second floor of the language building of all places, but I couldn't do anything to stop it. Luckily Robin said exactly the right thing, "Emily, we can talk about the paper later. Let's talk about your mental health." She took me to her office and we had a long conversation. By the end of it we had made a deal: I could have an extension for my paper if and only if I made an appointment at the counseling center. I called and made the appointment that afternoon. I had been considering seeing a counselor since the middle of October, but hadn't been able to bring myself to do it until Robin gave me the push I needed.
In other words, it took someone more or less forcing me to make an appointment at the counseling center for me to actually do it. I'm not proud of this.
I wish I could say that I came out of my first session with a counselor feeling better, or that it was easy for me to talk to a counselor. In reality I left my first session thinking that it was really hard to talk to someone about the source of my anxiety after spending a lot of time and energy trying not to talk or even think about just that. Even so, I appreciated having someone to talk to, who I could trust to ask the right questions. I only had a few appointments with my assigned counselor, but I definitely noticed the difference they made. Sure, finals week was frankly, pretty hellish, but in the week or two before that, I felt more like my normal self. I started to feel better.
So why am I writing this post? Well, the first reason is a selfish one: I want to get better at talking about my own mental health and writing is a slightly less scary version of talking. The second reason is the more important one, and it comes down to the following quotation from a pamphlet I picked up in the counseling center,
Did you know that roughly one in four Oberlin students seeks Counseling Center services every year?
Personally, no. I had no idea that so many Oberlin students sought help from the counseling center. If someone had asked me to guess a percentage, I would've guessed much lower than 25% because I can only think of one or two people I know ever talking about going to the counseling center. I get why this is. As the illustrious Ida recently wrote in an e-mail to me, "it's hard to talk about hard things!" Mental health is something a lot of people want to keep private, and talking about it is uncomfortable for a variety of reasons, ranging from the internal struggles I mentioned above to the societal misunderstanding and fear of mental illnesses. Particularly because of that stigma, I think it is so important to talk about it, especially in a challenging environment like Oberlin. So here I am, starting to talk about it. I'm not the first blogger to write about mental health, but the more voices in this conversation, the better, right? I hope this is a conversation we can continue having in person, on the blogs, and (I dare to hope) in the comments.