by Sofia Rose ’22
Part 1. You have a terrible day. Then it turns into several terrible days. A bunch of awful things happen in a row, and you feel yourself spiraling. You start doubting everything you do. That wasn’t the right decision. That was mean. I shouldn’t have said that. Why didn’t I say anything? I’m a terrible person. I’m a terrible friend. I’m lazy. I could have done better. I’m not doing enough. I’m wasting time, and I’m wasting money. I shouldn’t be here. Everything is awful. You’re doing bad. Even when you’re sitting still, you have a constant, dreadful feeling like you’re walking down a staircase and you’ve missed a step. It’s uncomfortable, and it leaves you vulnerable. Everything is piling up so much that even little things set you off. You start crying in class and leave to go to the bathroom. Then you feel even worse because no one noticed you were upset.
Part 2. You are hit with a brilliant epiphany! You’ve been stupid! When you’re feeling bad, you should reach out for help! Obviously! You are a fully functioning person in control of your fate, so you make an appointment at the Stone Center for Monday. Although right now you’re still doing pretty bad, you focus on finishing your paper, and then you go to bed. You congratulate yourself for being proactive. Great! It’s great that resources are available with no judgement. And you don’t even have to pay to go! The last time you tried going to therapy you “got better” in two sessions because you felt so guilty about how much it cost. You’re certain that as soon as you go, you’ll feel better. You still have the missing-a-step feeling constricting your chest, but you tell yourself it will be over soon. Thank goodness!
Part 3. Your Stone Center appointment is cancelled because of the snow. They offer you another one, but you have a class you can’t miss because you have a quiz. Later that day, they offer you a slot from a cancelled appointment, and you can’t make that either because you have to work. It’s a doctor’s appointment, you tell yourself. It’s your health! It’s important! You can justify missing things for it. But you can’t make yourself do it. Going to class, going to work, writing your midterm paper––they’re all more important than making time to take care of yourself. There isn’t any time that works, and you find yourself apologizing to the counselor you had an appointment with. Why are you apologizing to them? Finally, you’re able to make an appointment later in the week that sort of fits in your schedule. You’ll only have to be a little late to class. But, you worry, what if by then you feel better? What if by then you lose the courage to go?
Part 4. The week creeps towards your appointment, and at first you’re aching for it to happen. You can’t wait to get everything off your chest. Then you deflate. You talk yourself out of your own pain. This problem isn’t that bad. None of these problems are that bad. You’re overreacting. You’ll be late to class. You’ll have to leave another meeting early. It’s not worth it. You’re taking up an appointment slot from someone who actually needs it. What are you even going to say? The thing that made you upset in the first place wasn’t even that big of a deal; you’re just being melodramatic. That feeling of constantly missing a step? That’s because you’re stressed. Everyone feels that way. You’re not special. You’re actually very privileged. This problem isn’t that bad. This problem isn’t that bad. Don’t go don’t go don’t go. These are your thoughts the days before. They get so repetitive and controlling, you find yourself once more in tears.
Part 5. The morning of. You could cancel. You don’t. Mostly you go because you told your friend you would and she was happy for you. You know, logically, you should go. You know, logically, that it could be helpful. That’s why the Stone Center is there, so you can reach out for help when you need it. You know it is good to go talk about what you’ve been feeling lately. But you can’t make yourself believe it. You get up from your meeting, self-conscious about leaving early, hoping no one will ask where you’re going. You feel like you have a flashing sign on your forehead as you trek across campus: I AM GOING TO THE STONE CENTER BECAUSE I HAVE BEEN HAVING A BAD TIME. Please, don’t let me see anyone I know. You cast your eyes down and step into the building.
Part 6. You examine the two dissonant truths you hold in your mind at the same time.
The first truth is that the Stone Center exists solely because you’re supposed to use it. That there is no shame in using any resources as much as you need them. You know this is true for everyone who goes to the Stone Center, or uses Disability Services, or uses off-campus counseling, or any other resources they need. You know, on some level, this is even true for you. You are allowed to reach out when you need to, even if you feel like your problems are not big enough.
The second truth is that you, personally, do feel shame going to the Stone Center. You’re uncomfortable opening the “Health Services” tab in Banner to make an appointment if you’re sitting in the dining hall. You’re uncomfortable sitting in the waiting room trying desperately not to make eye contact with the other people there. You’re uncomfortable walking to the Stone Center, worrying that someone you know is going to see you and ask you where you’re going and you’ll have to say, “The Stone Center” and then they’ll wonder why.
The Stone Center isn’t helpful for everyone or every situation. It isn’t always accessible. You said yes when they offered to schedule another appointment, but it was difficult to fit it into your packed schedule. On campus, there is so much rhetoric about taking care of your mental health, taking advantage of resources, reaching out when you need help, and that there is nothing wrong with any of that. At the same time, it is hard to reach out. It is hard to make time to take care of yourself. Sometimes the resources offered are not helpful at all. Going through the process of asking for help can be exhausting and daunting, especially for people who suffer from serious mental health issues. And the shame is no small element. Despite all the discourse about the importance of erasing the stigma around mental health issues, the stigma is not gone. It’s ingrained in you, making you feel guilty for going to the Stone Center, then making you feel guilty about feeling that guilt.
For now, you must be comfortable with these contradicting truths. And you also must go to your next appointment.
From the April 2019 issue.