The Mighty Logo

Seeking Therapy in College Pushed Me From Surviving to Thriving

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Before embarking on my freshman year of college, everyone made sure to tell me it was only natural to be nervous and excited. After all, there are bus and class schedules to memorize, professors to meet, friends to hopefully make and roommates to have drama with. I came into college confident I could meet the challenges I would have to face each day, but mentally I might not be at my best because stress is a part of being a student, right?

For someone who’s dealt with years of anxiety, I knew it might take longer to adjust. I got to campus and essentially didn’t think about anything besides grades for the first semester. By the end, I was exhausted, but hey, I was able to grit my teeth, sometimes grin and bear it! Because stress is a part of being a student, right?

Well, I didn’t realize it was taking a bigger toll on me mentally than I originally thought it would, but the A’s came in and I felt indestructible again. My kind sister, who’s had therapy, saw my situation and began to quietly suggest I see a therapist, but I refused (much more loudly). I knew she meant well and it usually is a beneficial process, but I didn’t think I was “there” yet.

Second semester started, and my classes hit me like a ton of bricks. I was constantly on my toes with homework, exams, quizzes and extremely difficult teachers, while trying to figure out what I should do over the summer and, of course, the rest of my life. I worked and worked and worked, while my sister kept telling me about therapy. Because stress is a part of being a student, right?

Then, my mental health started catching up to the rest of my body, and I could barely force down food at times. I couldn’t sleep at night. I had my first panic attack during a simple, three question quiz in math. Only when my body literally started working against me was I forced to come to terms with the fact that I was hurting myself tremendously for a couple of grades. I finally listened to my sister, swallowed my pride and went to therapy.

I felt weird about sharing my life with a complete stranger, but the moment the therapist asked about my life, everything came tumbling out. It was like I had been waiting for someone, like my therapist, to let me spill my guts out to without wondering what the consequences could be. In that office, I knew I was safe, secure and listened to. I started going every week.

We worked on my huge perfectionist tendencies, which in turn helped me get a handle on where my anxiety was stemming from. It was tough and sometimes uncomfortable, but it was also liberating to finally face myself, not hiding under school or stress. Also, my grades mostly improved, but even when they didn’t, I was learning to not let it determine my worth. My therapist taught me about combating anxiety through mindfulness, giving me a chance to finally sleep again.

I ate more and stressed less, which became my new college life. After my very first session, I decided to not keep it a secret or even avoid mentioning it. I was tired of the stigma and doubt surrounding therapy for college students. My own doubts and pride had kept me away from months of therapy, and I didn’t want that to happen to someone else. School is hard, it’s OK to admit it and seek out help.

I openly shared the fact that I was going to therapy. I had friends who were uncomfortable with the fact that I talked about it so candidly. Others were happy for me, but would say they didn’t “need it.” I always wanted to reply, “Who doesn’t need it?”

Sure, some students may be able to live life fine at a moderate level of stress, but there are always stories to tell, problems to face, doubts to combat and pain to heal. Who doesn’t want to or deserve to be listened to?

I wasn’t “healed,” but if anything therapy has taught me, it’s that being human means we are finite beings. We do not have the capacity to constantly work and strive to be perfect in this world without draining and hurting ourselves. Students are especially put under unrelenting standards, which tell us we have to get good grades if we want to get into grad school. We need to go to a grad school so we can get a good job. We need a good job to sustain ourselves and family, which means we need to be dating, which means we need to look our best, work out, eat flawlessly and maintain relationships. Oh by the way, enjoy yourself and be happy.

This isn’t living but surviving. In college, I wasn’t living, I was surviving. Thankfully, I’m slowly learning how to thrive, and I want you to thrive, too.

The Mighty is asking the following: What was the moment that made you realize it was time to face your mental illness? What was your next step? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: June 20, 2016
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home