Tag Archives: counseling

Anxiety

When I was MUCH younger, I hated doing homework. It wasn’t that I was a bad student or anything. The pressure of doing well in school just overwhelmed me. I was a stressed out nine year old. I would be too busy worrying about doing my homework to actually DO my homework. On top of that, my mom would see that I wasn’t doing my homework and yell at me to do my homework. This clearly did not help the situation. There were many nights that I would be up until ten or eleven (remember, fourth grade) doing my homework.

Everybody just thought I was a procrastinator. And to be fair, I am. But this was different. When I procrastinate, I will do everything else that can be done before I do what actually needs to be done. Laundry, dishes, cleaning…I’m a productive procrastinator! Instead, this seemed to be the opposite. I wasn’t getting anything done.

By the time I was in high school, regular homework didn’t overwhelm me so much, but major projects did. Life was also starting to overwhelm me – relationship issues, responsibilities, decisions. I would routinely have others make major decisions for me either by asking people’s opinions or by waiting so long that the decision would have been made for me. I had major freak outs when it came to making decisions about college. I remember being so overwhelmed about choosing a meal plan that I cried for a week straight. OVER A MEAL PLAN.

If you’re sensing that this issue didn’t get better in college, you are correct. Remember how I would be too overwhelmed to do homework? That happened. Except, since I didn’t have my mom to force me to go to school, I could just skip class. Sure, plenty of people skip class in college. Except instead of being hungover or playing video games or whatever normal college students do, skipping class made me even MORE stressed out. I would just stay in bed and cry. I couldn’t do anything else. I would be unable to do anything for a day or two and then I’d snap out of it and go back to normal. I didn’t think it was a big deal.

And then one day everything seemed to happen at once. I was having relationship issues. I had two major projects due. I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I didn’t think I was good enough to be interested in anything when I grew up. I couldn’t leave my apartment. I didn’t do any chores around the apartment because I knew I could have used that time to do homework. Except I was too stressed to do homework. After the third day of not leaving the apartment and not going to classes, I realized that I didn’t know how to bounce back from this. I was going to be behind in my classes. I was going to get in trouble for missing work. The only way out I could see was to drop out of college. But I couldn’t do that, that would mean going back home to my parents and they would be so disappointed. I felt trapped. So I stayed trapped in my apartment.

My friends were worried about me. They reported me. I became one of those Student Alerts you hear about. I was forced to go to my college’s counseling center. Suddenly I was one of those disheveled girls with dirty hair walking in that everybody sees but pretends not to. I would like to say that after a trip or two the counseling center, everything was fine and dandy and I was going to my classes and doing my homework and doing regular life tasks, but that’s not what happened. Clearly my anxiety was a lifelong problem – it couldn’t be fixed in a day or two. Those first few times, I didn’t even want to go. I could have been using that time to do all that homework. But if I stayed home I wasn’t going to. (And if I stayed home, I was going to be dismissed from the college, so yeah, that kind of got me out of the apartment.)

Counseling wasn’t an easy road. I had regularly scheduled sessions and every so often when I started getting overwhelmed, I’d try to cancel, saying that I was too busy, but my counselor knew that’s when I was at my worst, and the next thing I knew, a professor or Residence Life person was marching me back into the center. Counselors don’t just give you answers and tell you how to live life without being an anxious person. And it’s not like the movies where I got to lie on the couch and tell her all about my life without interruption. I would tell her things and she would question me. She’d ask why I thought these things and why I wasn’t doing my work. She’d make me answer instead of saying “I don’t know”. She got me back on track for the rest of college.

I would love to say that I live an anxiety-free life now, but that’s not the truth. Every so often I feel that overwhelming feeling creeping up on me and I have to find a way to combat it. Most of the time, I win. I’ve had two days in the past year that I couldn’t leave the apartment or do anything because of life. But I was able to bounce right back. I’m also able to recognize when things are getting to be too much for me and set boundaries or say no. And most importantly, I’m able to ask myself the same hard questions my counselor used to ask me. And I’m able to answer them truthfully. It also helps that I read all these blogs written by other twenty-somethings and can see that I’m not the only person my age who has NO CLUE what they are doing.

This was a really hard entry for me to write. Really, there are only two people in my life that know how bad things got. And now here I am posting it on the internet for the whole world to see. But if this can help even just one other person feel “normal”, then it’s worth it.

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Great Expectations

There are certain things that come up in training that all Residence Life professionals hope to never face in their careers. I’ve previously mentioned my feelings towards fire in the residence halls. But you know what? Most of the time the fire alarm goes off in one of my buildings, it’s because somebody didn’t read the directions on their hot pocket. Many of you probably share my biggest fear – having a student die.

Earlier this week, 18 year old Martha Corey-Ochoa, a freshman at Columbia University, was found dead on the sidewalk next to her high rise residence hall. Her death has been ruled a suicide. Apparently, Martha had a history of depression and had even attempted suicide during high school.

While reading an article about this posted on The Frisky, I found something that really hit home for me. Dr. Kelly Posner, Columbia’s director of the Center for Suicide Risk Assessment, spoke about transition issues that incoming college students have. That’s nothing new. We all know about homesickness. But Dr. Posner isn’t just talking about students who are scared or nervous to be leaving home. She speaks about the students who are excited to be going to college and the expectations these students have. I feel that Dr. Posner could be speaking about two types of expectations – the students’ and the parents’.

Many people talk about how today’s kids are under too much stress. This might have been a contributing factor in Martha’s depression – her father was a Columbia alum. I don’t know the family personally, but he might have been pushing her to go there. Even outside that, there are PLENTY of families that won’t accept anything less than Ivy League for their children. You know what I don’t hear much about in the news? What happens to these overworked middle and high school students once they enter college. I’ve heard way too many students saying they are majoring in a subject because “their parents want them to”. For some students, the stress from trying to meet their parents lofty expectations might be too much.

Something I think that doesn’t get mentioned enough are the student’s expectations of what college is really like. There’s this message out there that college is supposed to be the best four years of your life. What happens when it’s not? What happens when a student gets to college and it’s not all it’s cracked up to me? I think this can lead to anxiety and depression in students as well. If a student goes off to school and doesn’t have a good time, he or she can be lead to believe that something is wrong with them.

I’m not even sure where to start with this, but I think an orientation session or two could be created from this. One could be able making sure in college “you do you” and not worry about pleasing your parents/anybody else. Your twenties are these wonderful few years that you can be just a bit selfish. Another session could compliment that session where they talk about all the fun things there are to do on campus. I know many orientations already have a session with somebody from the campus counseling center, but I think there could be a portion about your expectations not being met.

Martha’s death is a terrible tragedy. I can’t imagine how her parents, friends, and family feel. I also can’t imagine how her RA or Hall Director must feel because luckily I have not been in their shoes. Unfortunately, I know this won’t be the only student death on a college campus this year. One thing I want to do as a college administrator is try to learn something from each case and find a way to change and improve campus programs.

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