Hey, I Went To The Counseling Center

My freshman year I co-founded and led a student organization. Sophomore year, I wrote a column for the Daily Orange. I’ve held various editing positions at a student-run magazine. My grades are ok. My social life is great.

Last semester, I started going to the counseling center.

I separate that sentence for dramatic emphasis, not because I consider it different or less than everything else I’ve accomplished at Syracuse University. In fact, it may have been the hardest thing that I’ve done.

I’m very nervous to tell you all about this for a couple of reasons.

The first reason, ironically, relates to why I needed counseling in the first place. I didn’t think that I deserved it. I was never anxious “enough.” Never depressed “enough.” Never sure what qualified as “panicky” and what qualified as a panic attack. There was this weird satisfaction that came with toughening it out, quantifying my mental state and measuring it up to others. I’m able to do this, so therefore I don’t need help. I thought this, but didn’t do this, so therefore this isn’t bad enough. In a sick way it made me feel martyr-like, like suffering in silence was a reflection of strength. Every tragedy that I was spared from was a reason I didn’t deserve help. Every tragedy I experienced was deeply internalized, saved for later.

And I wasn’t happy. First it was for a few days. Then it was for a few weeks. Then I was so good at faking it, so good at functioning, burying myself in work, putting off emotionally dealing with a breakup, putting off emotionally dealing with family issues, that it was too much.

Eventually, a friend I had opened up to physically dragged me there. He talked me through the initial phone call. Walked me through the counseling center’s front door. Waited with me until my name was called. I nervously clawed at his shoes, refused to seriously fill out any forms, until finally I was in and started talking and couldn’t stop.

Getting an hour of time every week to not work on working but to work on myself was freeing. It didn’t make my problems go away, but instead let them exist in a space that wasn’t my chest. It verified that what I was feeling was legitimate. That I was allowed to have feelings and allowed to feel pain.

I’m nervous to tell you about this because I don’t want to appear weak. I don’t want you to think that I’m being dramatic. I’m afraid you’ll follow the same line of thinking as I do: There’s always someone worse. You just want to complain. There’s always someone worse off. You’re lucky, you’re so, so lucky.

I am lucky. There are people who have it worse. But something I’ve had to learn is that being privileged and needing help aren’t mutually exclusive elements in my life. Just because I am blessed in many, many ways doesn’t mean that I have to accept an unhappy head.

I stopped going to counseling this semester, but there are moments when I wish I had kept my appointment. I’m having a hard time getting myself back there, but I know it’s an option, that it exists if I need it. Next time I go, though, I don’t want tell my roommates I’m going to the gym. I don’t want to talk about mental health as an advocate while ignoring my own. 

If you need it—even if you want to try it—you deserve this kind of help, too. In college, there’s a culture of acceptance around being sleep-deprived, stressed and unhappy. There’s a misconception that asking for help is a form of surrendering, proof that you can’t handle a fast-paced world. In fact, it’s the opposite—it’s a form of taking control. For me, it was harder to be honest with friends about how I was feeling. It was harder to admit that I needed some help, but I feel a little healthier because of it. Although it is not for everyone, the counseling center is on campus for a reason.

Is the counseling center working for you? Are there things you want to change? Because if we continue to hide our struggles from each other we will never receive the mental health care we deserve. There’s no way to make progress within ourselves and on this campus if we’re all too afraid to speak up.

Sarah Schuster is Vice President of Syracuse University’s Active Minds. She’s studying magazine journalism and hopes to write about mental health issues. You can contact her at seschust@syr.edu, or follow her on twitter: @saraheliztweets.


5 thoughts on “Hey, I Went To The Counseling Center

  1. Alex says:

    I thoroughly concur. I just graduated Syracuse and the last few semester I spent there was the darkest period of my life. I see a lot of my struggle in the description of yours, the one possible exception being a reversal of social life and academic life. Grades were all I had. Friends, not so much.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Alex says:

    But a big part of that was my own doing. I was always way too hard on myself, and as a guy I felt incredibly ashamed to be struggling with anxiety of all things.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Joan says:

    Jesus, it’s just undergrad.


    • Sarah says:

      Of course it’s just undergrad. Of course, of course. But the fact that I’m an undergrad isn’t the point. The context, sure, but not the point. And I’m really glad you said this because I think this is a common mantra—that the only thing a student could possibly be stressed about is school. Playing the “just undergrad” card ignores the fact that these “undergrads” are people with more complex storylines than you know. Problems exist within school, of course, but there’s a whole world of problems that can exist outside of it. Eliminating this possibility, and judging based on context without knowing more than context… it’s a pretty simple and dangerous line of thinking.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. mlf says:

    “You must be brave with your life so that others can be brave with theirs.”
    From time to time we will all need help dealing with what life throws at us. Seeking counseling takes courage and admitting it out loud for all to hear (or read) requires even more. You make yourself vulnerable to people who say “It’s just undergrad” when it’s not really about that at all. It’s about finding a sounding board, seeking solutions and making change. While seeking help is not as stigmatized as it once was, Joan’s comment clearly illustrates the biased attitudes that are often encountered. Why does anyone have to justify that the problems they battle are “worthy” of counseling? The point is that is painful enough for YOU to seek help and everyone’s baseline is just a little different. If you needed help with writing or math, you’d go to the tutoring center. Needing help with personal problems is no different. Thank you for lending your voice to all the rest that seek to normalize counseling.


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