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What Happened When I Went to My University's Counseling Center

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For the many years I’ve been aware of having “something wrong” with me, I’ve never really been someone to seek professional help. Last June my anxiety and panic attacks became far too unbearable to deal with on my own, so I finally decided it was time to visit my doctor.

The last 11 months have been spent going back and forth to the doctors, chopping and changing medications, enduring distressing side effects and hoping to see some kind of improvement. Today, however, was my first time accessing support services provided by my university, after being encouraged by friends on multiple occasions. Today, I opened up to a complete stranger about personal feelings. Feelings of anxiety, lack of self-worth, feelings of guilt and low self esteem, as well as suicidal thoughts.

I walked into that room a sweaty, nervous, shaking wreck. I was apprehensive about what to expect. I was terrified I’d be told that school wasn’t for me, and that I should drop out. I was greeted by a petite smiley young woman, probably not much older than myself. This set my mind racing again. What if she thinks I’m being dramatic? An attention seeker? Through the first half of the appointment I stuttered and avoided eye contact. I shook my legs and fiddled with my sleeves. This wasn’t even the most “personal” part of the meeting and I didn’t think I’d make it to the end.

Around halfway through my allotted time, she turned to me and said, “I can see this is hard for you, but if it’s OK I’d like to explore some of the things you wrote on your referral form. If it’s too hard for you though please tell me to mind my own business.” This sentence made my heart pound and my thoughts erratic. I knew what was coming and I felt judged already.

“You stated on your form that you’ve had thoughts of suicide. How often do you have these thoughts?” I considered lying and saying I’d ticked the wrong box by accident, but then I realized I couldn’t expect someone to be able to help me if I didn’t answer truthfully. But how do you tell someone that you think about ending your life every day? Especially when you only met them 25 minutes ago. How do you answer the questions that follow?

After this first question I expected the usual everlasting list of questions that usually follow from any professional you confide in: “Have you thought about ending your life?” “Have you ever tried to end your life?” “How many times have you tried to end your life?” “Do you have thoughts of hurting yourself?” “How often do you think about hurting yourself?”“ Would you act on these thoughts?” “What stops you?” “Have you got a plan in place?” “If not; why not?” “When was the last time you hurt yourself?” “What did you do?” “Have you ever needed medical assistance after hurting yourself?”

I was dreading this list of questions, but that’s not what followed. What followed was a brief and understanding conversation about these thoughts. I was not judged, I was not interrogated. I was not made to feel small or worthless. I did, however, have my feelings validated and my thoughts accepted. This was something I had never had before, something that had always seemed an impossible idea; to have someone who isn’t in my head and doesn’t know my thoughts be willing to listen and acknowledge and openly discuss some difficult parts of my life, without expecting me to have answers or reasons behind these feelings.

I walked into that appointment a quivering wreck. I won’t say I walked out a “strong independent woman” because 45 minutes with a complete stranger can not solve all of your problems instantaneously. What I did walk out with was confidence in the support services available to me, with a wide range of resources, exercises and ways for me to try and improve my mood when alone, and a future appointment to start work on continuous well-being. I walked out with more of an open mind about how other people really can be there for you, you don’t have to go through it all alone.

In the words of Jamie Tworkowski: “People need other people… You are not alone.”

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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Thinkstock photo via Stockbyte

Originally published: August 15, 2017
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