Trigger warning: Mentions of suicide and suicidal thoughts (towards the end of the blog post).
You know the feeling when life gives you problem after problem and it starts to pile up because they’re issues you can’t solve right away but you’re trying to hold it all together and not lose your s**t? And then you have a moment when another thing happens. It could be trivial. It could be something on the medium or average scale of bad. It could be nothing new; perhaps a thing you’ve dealt with before and brushed off like the wind. But you don’t. Instead it pierces you and sinks into it, becoming another bit of the towering pile in your mind that is threatening to collapse under all that weight.
That first day in the counseling office at school, I dabbed at tears. I was half-aware of those tears and it seemed like they only became real after the intake counselor I was seated with, Perry, offered tissues. She was softspoken and had such a kind smile.
I went into that office on the second day of the semester in late January (only a few weeks ago…) after I attempted to go in on the first day, only to freeze just outside the entrance. Of course I didn’t meet Perry right away; first the receptionist had me fill out some forms. I could deal with the formality. It even brought down my initial anxiety for a while. After I was done, then she came to bring me to her office so we could chat. I quickly reentered flight-or-fight mode as Perry asked me questions (the first being, “What brings you here today?”). One of my anxiety habits is to edit or cut down on my answers before I verbally say them. My first and foremost instinct has always to protect myself from judgment (or perceived judgment), even if the person seems like the nicest person on the planet. I was technically in a safe environment where no one could hurt me but it was like the instinct was too strong to override. For the whole intake session, I struggled to speak without editing and when I tried not to, I stuttered through sentences or I paused for longer than 5 seconds as I mentally juggled what would be an “appropriate” or “neutral” answer to give. After the session was over, I was scheduled for another appointment the following week with Lisa who would become my regular counselor. I’ve been seeing Lisa for the last 2 weeks on every Thursday.
I have 4 classes this semester. Two of them are with the same professor which is fine but has turned out to be challenging because of how uncomfortable I am with being seen by the same teacher 4 times a week (since both classes meet twice a week each). That’s not the only reason. For both classes, we all had to participate in the dreaded first day ice breaker (“Let’s go around the room and each person introduce yourself, say what your major is, and one hobby or thing about yourself”). Just why?? Why do professors think these things are a good idea? The first time the ice breaker happened, more than half the class ended up saying what kind of pet they owned and since I don’t have pets (anymore), I wasn’t that lucky to have a cover story to AVOID talking about myself. I really, really hated the silent trepidation of observing one person having their turn to talk and then the next and the next until I could see it was almost my turn. I shared something stupid, in the hopes it was random enough that people would remember what I said for 5 seconds and then blank out the memory by the next hour. Stupid is subjective, I know, but I truly felt no matter what I shared, it would sound stupid to my ears. I said I preferred to go by my nickname, “Nat”, since my real name had a weird spelling to it. The blood was hot in my cheeks by the time I stated my major and that I was a transfer student in my junior year of college. All those eyes trained on me. My fingers pushed hard into the pen I was gripping to mask my shaking. One sensation which always accompanied the anxiety but one I never could fully articulate in words until this moment was the feel of fizzing and popping under my skin, particularly in my arms, neck, and around my chest. It literally felt like my blood was going to explode out of my teeny blood vessels. All those little red donuts galloping to the finish line (the heart) and going around again to complete another trip.
This brings me to my next point. I had another realization throughout the weeks of class that I have a lot of anxiety about being watched by multiple people at once. That’s why being in a classroom can be very difficult for me. I feel mild to medium anxiety sitting in the same room as other students. Not once in these weeks have I had the courage to raise my hand to answer any questions that the professor asked during class. While I would be technically speaking to only one person (the professor), I wouldn’t be able to stand other people looking at me while I do it. What is this called? Performance anxiety?
So, it was only natural that during my first session with Lisa that I asked her about if I could possibly obtain student accommodations because I knew my anxiety would have a negative impact on me academically. Additionally, I asked about medication as part of my treatment plan as an additive to therapy. I was actually really scared when I asked her these things, mainly due to the fact I felt ashamed for needing help in this way and unsure if I qualified. I almost didn’t get the words out properly to her but I did because I was fueled by fear, as both my classes require an oral presentation towards the end of the semester. No, I am not being dramatic. This isn’t just a case of mild public speaking nerves that can be cured with some practice at Toastmasters or a speech class. I’ve been so worked up about oral presentations at previous colleges that I would just stop showing up for class or purposely be absent on the day of the presentation. I would allow myself to fail, just to avoid the situation. And honestly, I’ve lived with this anxiety for long enough to know how debilitating it can get. If medication can be a helping hand in calming me down enough that I can work through my issues in therapy, then I am willing to try.
What I overestimated is how lengthy the beginning process would be, considering the help I am depending on is in a school of over 4,000 students. I really should have known better. To get student accommodations, I needed to contact the office of disabilities and set up an appointment. I was nervous about speaking with a stranger on the phone, but I got through it and set up the appointment for the 24th. However, I neglected to ask for further information when the caller told me I needed to bring some kind of documentation. By then I was eager to get off the phone because I also needed to call the school’s health clinic to get an appointment to see the psychiatric nurse about medication. It was strangely comforting to speak with the nurse on the phone as it made things more personable knowing she was the one I would be meeting soon. Unfortunately, the earliest appointment she had for me was March 4th. Additionally, she required that I get a written referral from my counselor.
By total accident, my class schedule allows me to have free time around 12:30 PM to 2:00 PM on most days. This is the same time frame that most clubs in the school usually meet. Through repeated attempts and failures, I tried to show up for some of those meetings but something would always stop me. Whether it was I was running late to the meeting or I was too early and afraid to go in or the last-minute cold feet of doubt (“Will people like me?” “What if I look stupid?” “What do I say?”), I always found a way to be avoidant. Speaking to my counselor about possibly going to a club meeting helped somewhat. There were two I was interested in attending but they were occurring at the same time. In the end I decided to just go to the first one and save the second one for the future because two was too much pressure for me to try at once. The club was a peer mentoring group for transfer students. Each of us were assigned a mentor. I had an okay time there, though it drained a lot out of me.
The aftereffects of a tingy anxiety high were still there after I left and went to class. I was hoping for a break. A lecture and probably some in-class group work. It already happened a couple times before where she’d write out some questions on the board pertaining to the topic in class and we’d split into groups with whoever we were sitting next to. I tried to go with the flow. The last time, it became awkward. A girl and I joined up with two others, but the noise in the classroom from other people speaking over each other got so loud that it made it hard to fully hear my group members when they shared ideas. I think I said maybe two short things and spent the rest of the time nodding and smiling and taking notes. It was awful. What made it worse was kind of feeling the professor glancing around the room looking around at everyone. This time, she surprised us with a class debate project which we would be graded on. She chose the groups for us. Group work is enough anxiety, but she announced that she wanted each of us to have a chance to speak in front of the class. She made it a point to tell each group that if some of us didn’t really like speaking or didn’t want to say much, that we could email her our notes and she would grade us. But she didn’t say anyone was exempt from the presentation aspect, although I suspect she might have had students not show up on the day of (because she said, “Just show up for class.”).
My brain just froze after that. I barely heard anything my group was chattering about after we gathered into a tight circle. Someone suggested we make a group chat. An iPhone was passed around, with each person entering their phone number into the created chat. It didn’t work for my number because my phone wasn’t an iPhone. Class ended, with most people not realizing time was up until the professor told us. I was going to leave but then I got pulled into reentering my number again in another person’s phone so she could try to add me later.
I am already trying to find an “out” to the situation. This is so careless of me, but not untypical for someone who has such palpable fear of presentations that just the word “presentation” can quicken my heartbeat in an instant. Many ideas come to mind. My number one priority is to make an impromptu visit to the counseling office. I probably won’t be able to see my regular counselor since it’ll be considered a walk-in appointment, but I believe it’s a good idea to at least talk to another counselor about my dilemma. My plan was to get student accommodations and then approach my professor about it, however, I never thought I would be in a situation where I might have to talk to her BEFORE getting the paperwork portion done with. It’s intimidating to think about. I’ve even considered dropping the class altogether and retaking it in another semester. As cowardly as it sounds, I just don’t know if I can handle the humiliation of being absent from class and then feeling self-conscious about my own absence.
And as my school is closed on Monday (for President’s Day), the earliest I can get to the counseling office is Tuesday morning (the same day as the class…). So I’ve been mulling about my problem all weekend as the day slowly inches closer and I will have to make a decision soon. No doubt I have been stressed out but I also tried to keep moving. I still attended a different class that I had this Saturday, instead of skipping it because I felt like s**t. I worked on the writing part of my assignment so that at least if I don’t do the speaking part, I’ll still have something to email her that she can grade me on. I also did a two-page rough draft of homework that isn’t due till the 24th.
What tipped things over today was finding out a certain someone’s opinion of me. Granted, she probably said it not thinking I would ever find out because I wasn’t around when she said it. But it still hurt. A lot. Apparently, my brother’s girlfriend expressed fear that she will be financially responsible for me someday. I have never asked her for anything; money or favors. The fact she assumes I want someone else to take care of me for the rest of my life is ridiculous. If I wanted that, I wouldn’t have returned to school to try and figure out my s**t, which includes getting my mental health together. For the record, I don’t even ask my own brother for anything because I know money doesn’t grow on f***ing trees. I am not naive, either. I know the situation I am in. I have no real money of my own, except what little money I have earned through very brief jobs and money I’ve gotten as gifts and birthday money. Most of my school tuition was paid through financial aid assistance, but the rest I paid out of pocket with my own savings. I could have gone to my parents directly for money but I didn’t. I am poor but I still have a shred of pride, after all.
It may be unfair of me but after I had time to let it sink in that she had that impression of me, I felt both ashamed thinking she was right and also angry at both her and myself. My thoughts went into the dark place after that. Some of you might know what I mean, as you too have a place like that in yourself where you go when things seem hopeless and too much to bear and you wish it would just stop. The feeling intensified until I thought, It would be better if I were dead. I’ve thought a lot through the years about how much easier it would be for my family if I were. It’s never been a fully formed thing where I could see how I would end it but just that I wouldn’t be alive as I am now with a conscious mind feeling and perceiving 24/7 nonstop. The feeling eventually passed, but now I can’t stop thinking about how any progress I have made can be brought down by a single moment changing it.