Hi, my name is Adriane and I just completed my first therapy session last week. My journey to the big comfy couch with my therapist probably started the day I was born, but I’ve been calling out for help without knowing it since about October. As I settle into year two after grad school, I’m coming to terms with life as a young adult and newlywed and not doing so well. I’ve been battling stress, TMJ, tension headaches, control issues, generalized anxiety disorder, unhealthy comparison, self-doubt, and perfectionism. Being a talkative person, I vent in the moment here and there to numerous trusted people in my life. Maybe if I got them all in one room to compare stories they would realize I had been hinting that something was wrong all along. However, I never directly stated how I was feeling and what was bothering me. In my mind, it was completely out of the question to ask for help. I convinced myself that everyone was just as busy as I was and that I needed to suck it up and manage things on my own. So I withdrew from family and friends and got to controlling things.
You see, I tend to compartmentalize and sub-divide areas of my life. I have categories for everything: work (sub: registered student orgs, new student orgs, supervision, policy, social media, departmental programs, committees), relationships (sub: my partner, family, old friends, new friends), home (sub: laundry, cooking, dishes, tidy rooms, bills), and so on. I can manage without anxiety if the majority of the compartments are under (my) control. But once things shift and I start to get the feeling that multiple compartments and/or subcompartments are headed toward chaos, anxiety takes hold. I am easily agitated, my breathing quickens and my heart flutters, I feel a tightness in my chest, my brain feels full and I want to run away and hide in bed.
I would tell myself, “But you can’t hide in bed. You’re a working student affairs professional. It would be shameful to admit you can’t handle stress. Student affairs professionals value handling stress so much that it’s an interview question. Suck it up and show ‘em you can do this.” From October through March things piled up until I finally broke down. From the back corner of my brain, a few voices whispered. Ed Cabellon’s 2014 Student Affairs Health Pledge encouraged me to talk“with loved ones about how I am feeling.” Amma Marfo’s story about managing her anxietydemonstrated that successful student affairs professionals also live with the feelings I’m experiencing. Stacy Oliver Sikorski’s pleas for the #sachat community to shine more light on mental health issues affirmed there’s no shame in seeking help. Closer to home, I heard the voices of coworkers who also sought therapy during stressful times.
So I made the call and attended my first appointment. I feel amazing. Life didn’t magically improve overnight, but I am actively correcting how I react to my anxiety. Upon my therapist’s suggestion, I have been keeping a worry journal to clear my mind. I write whenever I need to in whatever format feels natural from stream of consciousness, to bullets, to-do lists and questions. I’m counting the days until our next appointment and look forward to what our future conversations will uncover. I feel at ease knowing that I will have a non-judgmental resource to help me understand my mind and improve my relationship with myself and others.
And now, when people who may have seen me at my most vulnerable ask me how I’m doing, I reply, “Yeah, I’m okay. I’m going for therapy now.” I refuse to hide behind stigma in hope that my decision to openly seek help inspires someone else to find their own path to mental wellness.
To read more about “Committed,” a series focusing on sharing stories and continuing the conversation about Mental Health in Student Affairs, check out this post. Follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #SAcommits. Thanks for reading and supporting your colleagues!