When most students think of a “Dean of Students,” they typically focus solely on the “Dean” title: a person who is in a high administrative position, constantly in meetings and unapproachable. And if a student does meet with the Dean of Students, they feel as though they are being sent to the principal’s office, like they’ve done something wrong. It’s as if students forget their job is to focus on a campus’ students.
I have gotten to know our Dean of Students, Nicole*, quite well. Since it is a small school, that is not the only hat she wears. She’s a professor, program coordinator, advisor and my internship supervisor, among other positions she holds on campus. I know she is in a high administrative position and she frequently has meetings. I also know she’s not only highly approachable and available to students — but ready for this one?
I’ve experienced first-hand that Nicole is not like many I’ve interacted with, regardless of her job, when it comes to concerns regarding mental health and illnesses. A few weeks into the beginning of our semester, I became manic. At first, I liked it, as I always do. I was getting my work done quickly, everything was super clean and organized, I was extra hilarious, sarcastic and fun to hang out with, no filter in the classroom and I was always on the go.
Then it wasn’t going away: my body constantly moving, mind racing, talking fast and excessively, driving recklessly, jumping out of my skin, had thoughts to harm myself and I could barely eat or sleep, if at all. After much trial and error with medications to help, eventually we found a combination that worked and I came down from the mania. But then, all of a sudden, I crashed. I became gravely depressed and suicidal. After having therapy four out of the five days during one week, I made the decision to go inpatient to get stabilized.
Approximately 17 hours before I went for my evaluation, I met with Nicole as both my supervisor and advisor since it would affect my internship and academics. Though I wasn’t surprised, she was so kind and supportive and asked questions about inpatient. I was thankful for that conversation because most people don’t want to talk about it.
Despite the fact that she was surprised to learn it was going to be my seventh time inpatient since 2011, she still believed in me.
Throughout our conversation, she kept saying, “when you go for your PhD…” I said “Nicole you’re killing me with this doctorate thing! I don’t even have my masters!”
She looked me in the eyes and seriously said, “You’re very smart and have a lot of good insights. You know you have a lot of potential…you do know that, right?” I answered back, “Sometimes.” Considering the circumstances, she replied, “Fair enough.”
I didn’t tell Nicole the full reason why I was going inpatient.
I didn’t tell her that if my psychologist didn’t call the second she did, I was planning on killing myself, and how the next morning in our session, she was nervous and scared because I was that hopeless.
I didn’t tell her that my counselor on campus did a risk assessment and almost didn’t let me leave her office.
I didn’t tell her that I wanted to kill myself, not because of depression, but because I was tired of fighting; my mind and body haven’t belonged to me since I was raped and it was time to end The 100 Year’s War.
I didn’t tell her I was thankful for our meeting and conversation that day because it went well and was something positive she would have to remember me by.
About two months have gone by since I was discharged.
I haven’t told her that our conversation could have been our last one. Now, I’m glad it wasn’t.
I haven’t told her that her willingness to listen, ask questions and converse with me was inspirational.
I haven’t told her that our meeting, approximately 17 hours before my evaluation, helped me to be even more determined to graduate in May, making that day less anxiety provoking, as that day marks the 10 year anniversary of my trauma — a day I never thought I’d make it to.
To Nicole, my campus’s Dean of Students, here is what I am telling you: Thank you for seeing me when I couldn’t and didn’t want to see myself. Thank you for breaking the barriers of stigma, and having an honest conversation instead of a judgmental one. Thank you for not feeling sorry for me and seeing my strength and resiliency. Thank you for giving me a reason to continue on and be able to envision a future…a future I now want.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for giving me hope.
*Name has been changed.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.
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Image via Christina Marie