Content Warning: Strong feelings of sadness and inadequacy, needing to go to therapy
Ever since arriving to college, I have been hearing a lot about wellness. My adviser for Emerging Leaders emphasizes that “being present” helps you be “your full authentic self.” My RAs invite me for lunch. The Community Adviser (CA) has entire boxes of tea and always has a piping hot mug whenever I see them. There’s the Mindfulness Room in the West Wing, next to the outdoor track. What’s going on, I ask? My Housefellow walks me to CaPS, saying a psychotherapist will help me with my feelings of inadequacy, sadness and guilt. What’s wrong with me?
The truth was, I wasn’t feeling well. My excitement for college plummeted as the semester began. I realized that college wasn’t just about socializing in Orientation and having new experiences. Being at Carnegie Mellon University meant I would have to put up with the same work as anybody else, meaning, I had to be as good as students from Phillips Exeter, Thomas Jefferson, Hotchkiss Academy—schools that everyone nationwide admires. I am not those students. I realized this in the physics and engineering classes I struggled in. I realized this from classmates who said their parents helped them through their homework. Meanwhile I tried to figure out where to study and with who, I had classmates who had their squad, all from high school, who they ate with, chatted with, even planned weekend trips with. College was a world of connections I was very unfamiliar with. I felt like I was missing so much: intelligence, friends, a sense of humor, money for going out, and just a basic understanding of how to access resources. I didn’t know how to navigate college and I felt it was MY fault I didn’t know this. Other students my age at CMU seemed to have everything figured out. Although I knew everyone was struggling (hey, you, your struggles are valid all the time), I knew I wasn’t doing as well as others.
I began attending therapy for my anxiety and depressive mood late in the Spring semester of my first year, April 2017. When I met with my psychotherapist for the first session, she first began the conversation with small talk, the kind a friend starts a conversation with. She created a comfortable space where I could talk about my direct concerns. I mentioned how I had stayed up very late trying to console a different friend in two separate occasions during my first semester. How I struggled in my classes, but I was afraid of asking for help in office hours because I feared my professors would find out how dumb I am. How I’m more stressed than ever before in my life. How I’m trying to make friendships that will last after college. How I want to somehow secure a job but I lack the technical and interview skills. How I’m not smart like everyone else.
There wasn’t enough time in an one-hour session to go over all these looming stressors, so I explored them over the course of three months, from April to June. Some sessions I came away feeling more positive, other sessions, I felt the same. But in all sessions I gained a greater insight about myself.
It’s interesting how some challenges give you what you need, even if you didn’t know what you needed.
If I learned anything in therapy, progress is a self-focused project. I am the change I want to be. Change starts with me. I have the power in my hands to change. This self-identification returns agency to me. I have little control over events that happen to me, and they will happen and I will react, but I can decide how to carry on. Self-care is when you do things for yourself that remind you that you can make yourself feel whatever you choose. This agency is uplifting and has been useful to my journey. It’s interesting how some challenges give you what you need, even if you didn’t know what you needed. I didn’t know I needed self-care until I started therapy, until such care had been shown to me by RAs, advisers and my psychotherapist.
Self-care is when you do things for yourself that remind you that you can make yourself feel whatever you choose. This agency is uplifting….
So if you’re struggling and not feeling like your usual self, hear me out. Call someone you trust. Call your RA, call a friend or a trusted adviser. You’re worth it. You matter. Even if it sounds untrue, believe it. Find reasons to approve, not deny yourself. You’re in college because you overcame incredible odds; you, as in the words of First Lady Michelle Obama, beat the odds. Keep going, my friend. Know that Michelle is rooting for you and me. Let’s support and love each other along the way.
Lots of love,
Jorge, CMU Class of 2020 (It’s gonna happen, I know it!)