Growing up, I was someone that held very high expectations of myself and was very much a perfectionist. I did very well in school and always aimed to be an overachiever. I would pack my daily schedule with as much as I could so that somedays, I would be at school from 7am until 10pm. I, of course, graduated, and came to UConn.
Coming to college was a huge step towards my career and life goals and a huge step away from many familiar things in my life. Being born in raised in a small town in Connecticut, and growing up with the same pool of kids you knew from pre-K all the way through graduation made leaving, even if it wasn’t too far, a challenge for me. Freshman year was difficult because I had a very hard time adapting to college life. Sophomore year arrived and I had adapted well enough to make my way through classes and extracurriculars, but yet something was still not quite right. As stress started to pile up from homework, exams, and keeping track of daily “this and that’s,” I found myself spiraling out of control. I started not being able to sleep very well and had very little appetite from the “unsettled” feeling I constantly had, and panic attacks were a common occurrence. I felt uncomfortable speaking about my issues with any of my friends because they all seemed to be handling all of their stress and “life” well enough, obviously so could I. I knew that my symptoms were not normal, but as a very driven, independent individual, I refused to get help, and instead did what I could to fix the problem myself. Unfortunately, my efforts were fruitless and the panic attacks became more frequent and I was usually so tired it made it difficult for me to focus in class.
One day, after finally calming down from one of my panic attacks I decided that I couldn’t keep ignoring everything and that I needed to seek help from someone. I was conflicted about seeking help though. As someone who takes pride in being as independent as possible, I felt as though I could no longer be so if I got help, and for my own issues no less. I was also very much aware how people view those that go to therapy, and wanted to avoid it. With some encouragement by my advisor, I gave in and made an appointment with someone at the Humphry Clinic on campus.
I met my first therapist soon after and saw her on a weekly basis, but I struggled to talk to her still. Up until this point, talking about my feelings was uncomfortable for me, and despite my knowing that they couldn’t “judge me” per se, I felt that I couldn’t let the façade I had so desperately tried to maintain crumble so easily. Trust me, I saw how ironic it was to go see a therapist because you need to talk but still restrain yourself from actually saying everything, but I did it all the same. I didn’t stop going though, because I knew I hadn’t gotten to the place I knew I needed to be- again, funny how that works when you restrain yourself from actually saying what you need to say. Spring semester ended and I decided to continue my therapy through the summer with a different therapist (my original one was graduating). Maybe it was because by then I had enough time to get used to speaking about how I felt, maybe it was because I couldn’t restrain myself any longer, or maybe this therapist just was the right person for me, either way, meeting her was one of the best things to happen in my journey. Somehow, someway, she managed to get through to me and I was able to finally start being honest.
It is difficult for me to talk about my experience with my own mental health because there is still part of me that fears the judgment I would receive from others. I am also aware that mental health needs to be taken more seriously now. Personally, I started therapy with the idea that therapy would “fix” me and that the issues I had would be left in the past. It may come as a surprise to many people, but I still struggle with many of the things I did over a year ago. The beauty of therapy is that instead of being told how to “fix” myself, I was being guided on a journey of self-exploration and acceptance. Now having gone through it, I understand that therapy gives you the tools to help yourself so that you can continue your journey on your own. I realize that I learned a new way of being independent, and this way I’m happier.