Sometime last year, I had a desire buried waaaay in the back of my head to visit all three major counseling centers our school had to offer: academic counseling, mental health counseling, career counseling. One, because they were free resources and I wanted to get my tuition money’s worth and two, because I knew I needed all the professional help I could get at that time and even now. Little by little, I mustered up the courage to make the right phone calls and schedule appointments and not cancel last minute (no matter how tempting it was). I collected pamphlets and flyers and worksheets as if they were precious tokens to a better place.
Below are snippets of my experiences, mainly written to calm my nerves in the waiting room. Experiences are different for everybody – you’ll never know what yours will be unless you go in for yourself. If you need help finding counseling centers at your school, just Google search “[School Name] counseling center” and information should pop up easily.
*Names are changed for privacy.
MENTAL HEALTH COUNSELING
4/10/18 2:30 PM
On my way back from the library, my stomach hurt from the nerves of knowing I had to make an appointment with the counseling center. So when I came face to face with the building, I kept walking. And I told myself I’d do it over the phone instead. I waited for all my roommates to leave before I made the phone call.
The earliest appointment I got was next Wednesday at 1:30. But like how am I going to function until then?
I think that’s what’s making me try the counseling center – the fact that I don’t go to class, I don’t work, I don’t eat, I don’t sleep, I don’t socialize. I can’t function properly anymore.
4/18/18 1:56 PM
Man, do they purposely hide the counseling office in the most secluded area of the student center so that you have to maintain the courage and shake away the embarrassment of asking, “Hi do you know where the counseling center is?”
There are so many eerie hallways and doors and elevators to get to this odd room. It’s as if every step you take solidifies that this is real. Your problems are real. You’re asking for real help. (Hopefully). As soon as you walk in, you’re enraptured in dim yellow lighting and artificial sounds of the ocean projecting from a tiny speaker under the “Group Services” pamphlets.
I can still hear the faint beat of Drake paying downstairs, where there’s a promotional event for on-campus elections going on, but honestly, it doesn’t feel like I’m at school anymore.
MY ASSESSMENT OF THE INITIAL ASSESSMENT
The therapist Dr. Meek* has a very calm demeanor. Soothing voice. Dazzling Middle eastern facial features: long eyelashes, bright hazel irises, sharply framed facial hair. Yes, he was nice. Yes, he asked me background questions and was completely understanding about everything I was going through. Yes, he debriefed every statement I confessed to make sure he was approaching it correctly. Yes, I already knew every tip he gave me about handling things better.
No, he didn’t solve all my problems. No, I didn’t walk out of there with a sparkling new tank of motivation. No, I shouldn’t have expected a full 180 by one visit to the counseling office.
But he was help. A resource that I knew I would have regretted not reaching out to when things get worse in the future. I guess I wanted him to diagnose me with something so that I could place a label on all my mistakes. I wanted him to tell me that it wasn’t me; I wanted him to give me a pill that could fix everything. I wanted him to carry all the weight that I don’t want to bear with anymore.
2ND APPOINTMENT / 1ST OFFICIAL THERAPY SESSION
Counseling is very much synonymous to questionnaires
- On a scale of 1 to 5, how lonely have you felt?
- Have you been eating well?
- Do you find that you are constantly stressed and sad?
- Do you have thoughts about ending your life?
And sometimes i wonder, does it have to come to suicide for someone to pay attention to me? Does my misery not count unless you’re at that point?
My therapist is an Indian lady with a delicate accent, her “t’s” and “r’s” stickier than the rest of the letters in the alphabet. She reminds me of Mrs. Patel (Anoushka’s mom). After a series of questions and rephrasing my answers, she lets her sympathetic demeanor dissipate a little bit and hands me what she knows.
[discussion/diagnosis omitted for privacy]
It’s very easy to underestimate therapists because not gonna lie, for a while during our session, she just kept saying such obvious, non-analytical statements that forced my eyes to squint in suspicion. But then! There was a point when she loosened the grip on her pen, lowered her glasses, and said, “Hmmm it seems like you’ve lost all structure.”
And for some reason, that stuck with me.
An “obvious” statement, true. But an obvious statement that I didn’t realize until now. Not everything has to be in my head. Structure is one thing that I can tangibly work on, right? Kind of like when your room is messy – little by little, you can put things in order until you feel at peace again. This for some reason, gives me hope. Little by little.
So she told me to do homework: 1) to make myself a planner even for the last weeks of the year, transferring the important exam/lab/assignment dates from my syllabi onto the calendar. Two days before each thing is due, i should note the reminder down “___ due in 2 days” like that. 2) to log everything that i do in a day. She gave me a chart broken down into 30 minutes and i have to note down what exactly i do every single day until our next appointment.
9/6/18 9:31 AM
I am TERRIFIED. Idk what to expect from this 30minute counseling session but I really hope I go home gaining something – whether it’s hope or a reality check. I’m actually really scared that she’s gonna scoff in my face or roll her eyes at another Asian American student wanting to be prehealth but knowing I don’t have the grades, extracurriculars, or guts to make it. I’m trying not to think about it too much. I’m just proud that I didn’t cancel this bc I was very close to doing so last night.
Okay I’m here. Just gotta keep my mind blank. Blank, blank, blank…..I really hope she’s nice….or at least…nevermind. I’m really lost I just hope she can help me a little with that. There’s construction going on in here – every once in a while, the shriek of metal against metal resonates throughout the whole first floor. The walls vary from brown to beige and there are abstract anteaters on the throw pillows in the lobby
Annie* is a cute Asian lady with rosy cheeks and a slight lisp. Yes she’s nice. I realized that the whole reason I came here was to hear the words,”You’re not too late, you can still get into grad school” but she didn’t give me that. Instead, she told me to explore and self reflect on what I truly want as a career and then we can discuss on the follow up appointment. It was very helpful and I’m glad I went because I don’t know how to help myself at this point.
There is this unanimous rehearsed tone of sympathy across all the counseling centers I’ve been to- their voices get a little airy, almost afraid to give me a reality check on what little chance I have with obtaining my goals. (Except Connie* – Connie just kind of plays with the ends of her hair and tells me to go to a community college for math and physics bc it’s too hard here). So in a sense, I’m scared that they’re not telling me the truth: like will I get better, do I still have a chance to get back on track, are-you-just-saying-all-this-because-you-have-to sort of thing.
9/27/18 9:51 AM
(I DID ACTUALLY FAIL A CLASS THIS TIME BUT THAT’S FOR ANOTHER STORY) SORRY I CAN’T THINK OF ANOTHER TITLE
It’s the first day of junior year. I went to the academic counselor because yesterday I got an email saying I was on Academic Probation for Spring 2018 (which I kind of expected). I saw one of the peer advisors and actually, we found out that I wasn’t actually on AP. My GPA – as bad as it was – was still barely above a 2.0 (AP is < 2.0), which doesn’t “qualify” me quite yet. It’s funny that sitting in the waiting room to discuss my standing on Academic Probation was the calmest I’d ever been. And after I talked to Sam* (who was super nice) I left the office feeling the most relieved I’d ever been compared to any other time I walked out of that office.
Funny how I’m more confident when I know I’m at the bottom and am barely excelling as opposed to all those times I went in to discuss how to be better, how to get into grad school, how to save my GPA, etc. When you’ve accepted that you failed, a certain weight kind of lifts off. You can’t do anything but go forward I guess and in some way, that’s very comforting.
Just to reiterate: it’s different for everybody! Don’t compare or anticipate your experiences with mine (I’ve done it before, it doesn’t lead you anywhere). Healing is a continuous journey and takes in the shape of so many different things. Whatever you do, whoever you talk to, whichever pathway you decide to take – I’m rooting for you! Good luck!