I go on Instagram and Twitter and see plenty of posts describing self-care tips. Of course, some are more useful than others. Shower, walks, nap, exercise, facemasks— all a part of the whole deal. I’m someone who carries a lot of anxiety, about school and life and friends and death. Sometimes it would get paralyzing or all-consuming, where I felt like I had no solutions. Still, I sought these self-care tips and hoped that doing some would work in any capacity. And I did try them, even if sometimes half-heartedly.
Most of the time, it felt like a Band-Aid solution or just a prayer that a distraction would make my problems go away.
It became obvious that these little things— pleasant though they are— weren’t enough. My entire school career went by filled with anxiety and fear, and no outlets seemed to be enough. I didn’t want to cast all of this on my friends either. I didn’t want to confess how I felt. I’d never been to a counselor or sought anyone to help with how I felt.
Part of me tried avoiding my problems. An even bigger part stemmed from the fear that I was just overreacting, and my concerns weren’t real.
It took a year to actually decide to see a counselor at my college. I avoided it for weeks at the beginning of my sophomore year and ended up circling the building and parking lot on my breaks. Every day I told myself I would go in and start talking to a counselor. I always kept the service’s website open on my phone tabs just to read it over and over, and didn’t do anything with it.
The day I actually went, I barely remember what happened. I don’t remember what finally made me go in, what allowed me to make that final decision. I just know that one day I walked into what was probably one of the smallest and oldest buildings on campus, and wandered until I found the right desk. There was only one person there, and she helped direct me. She gave me the forms I had to look over, the information I needed. And eventually— I can’t even remember if it was the same day— I saw the counselor, the same one I would end up seeing for months.
There were several VITAL things I learned from counseling.
Firstly, just going is not enough. I had to work. I had to talk. When she gave me resources or journaling tips, I actually needed to put effort into them. It involved thinking about my problems. That meant one central thing: you need to face that there is no one fix.
Surprisingly, the mental health issue that had me spiraling for the last decade of my life did not get cured after one week— even four months— of counseling. It’s something that needs to be constantly addressed.
Getting better isn’t linear, I learned. It’s a weird, pretty inconsistent process.
Thirdly, I learned there are resources. I wasn’t as alone as I felt; there were things to do, and there were options. Other people experienced this, and I could too. I downloaded an app with different modules that hold tips I turn to and exercises to try when I was alone. I learned about what referrals and resources I could seek outside of school.
A final thing I want to mention goes back to my biggest fear— that I was unjustified in my feelings. The constant feeling that I made up my anxiety issues and my other mental health problems. That I would walk in there and the counselors would judge me and send me away because I was fine. Going finally taught me that any reason to seek counseling is a valid one.
You do not need to reach a breaking point or be at your worst to want to improve your mental health.
Seeking counseling represented a hard decision to reach, and I can’t say it cured me. But, it did give me hope and resources and helped reshape my thinking about my fears and anxiety.