Memories of First Year (Counseling)

So this is going to be a possibly disjointed account of things I remember from first year…(mostly the counseling stuff, because I think that is the part of first year that is most relevant to my life now)

So it was the beginning of first year and there were four counselors to choose from, and three of them were new and two of the ones from the previous year were gone. I crossed one of the counselors off the list because it was a boy and I felt I would be more comfortable with a girl. I crossed the next one off because she talked about alcohol too much in her bio and I was afraid people would think the reason I am different was because I was drinking. From there I chose a counselor because the one I picked talked about stress in her bio and that seemed to be an non-intrusive way to ask for a meeting…so I emailed and said I was stressed about school…that was definitely a true statement, though I have given up on ever not being stressed out about school.

Knowing what I do now, I would have made a much different choice, but I was a naïve first year who had no idea what she was getting herself into at that point…

So I met with her, and I didn’t know how to tell her I didn’t want to come back, so I set up a next meeting…

A few weeks later my counselor asked me if there was anything else that I thought I needed help with, and I wasn’t really sure, and she suggested that maybe I should talk more, and I agreed. Until then I never really saw my quietness as something I should change. It was my normal. I considered someone my friend when I could say hi to her about half the time if I saw her in the hallway and we were alone. I didn’t really see a problem with that, but somehow the way my counselor suggested that made me question the acceptability of the world I was living in, and soon I wanted out. I desperately wanted out. She also suggested that I go to a psychiatrist to get medication. I didn’t argue, but I certainly did not indicate that I had any intention of doing so. I did laugh though after I left. She wanted me on meds because she felt I didn’t talk enough with her…and she knew the phone was my biggest social fear…and the only contact information she had given me was a phone number. I did have the resources to locate an email address had I wanted to follow through on her suggestion, but I had no intention of doing that. My parents had no idea I was even in counseling, and I didn’t want meds anyway…mostly because they usually have a side effect of nausea or other GI effects, and I already was hiding a lot of nausea that I was facing. Besides that, I didn’t actually have health insurance most of first year anyway, so I probably would have gotten in trouble had I attempted to go to a psychiatrist…

My counselor told me that I needed to be more comfortable with her before we could work on my goals, so every week we did breathing/relaxation exercises, and I hated them SO MUCH! They were making me SO anxious. Since we were not working on my goals, I took things into my own hands and started forcing myself to study in places that didn’t seem as comfortable as my room. In October, the counselor asked if I would be willing to take a test for her. I agreed, glad for a reprieve from the “relaxation” exercises, and hopeful that this would tell me why I was the way I am, so I took the MMPI-2 and MCMI-III. The week after I took the exams I learned about the MMPI in psychology class and became very curious about the test and found a copy of it online (that has since been taken down) and took it over and over trying to remember exactly what answers I chose when I took it for my counselor because I wanted to know what it said about me. She never told me about it, and I was never satisfied that I had really chosen the same answers.

Meanwhile, I had been going to a new res hall program (DYS) that was supposed to be a stress-relieving program. I was going to it mostly to practice social skills, and one of the counselors was in charge of the group, and I liked her, and the fact that there was little pressure to talk let me be comfortable enough to kind of get to know her, and I was almost immediately communicating with her on occasion via writing. She offered one evening to meet with her, and looking back, I really regret turning her down. I felt like I needed to study (and besides–I already had a counselor), so I politely declined the offer.

By late November, I had been getting more and more frustrated with my counselor and the anxiety she was causing me to experience in session with the “relaxation” exercises was getting worse and worse and taking longer and longer to go away, eventually barely dissipating before it was time to come to the next session. I was at the end of my rope and emailed the counselor in charge of DYS to request help. She asked if it was an emergency to which I replied no, and within a few minutes wished I had explained that no, it is not emergent, but it is rather urgent, but in any case, she said that since I already had a counselor that she thought I should get help from my counselor. I emailed back that that was the problem, but I guess she didn’t know how to respond to that…I also don’t know how she knew that I had a counselor already, because I never told her that.

I decided the only way I could fix the mess I was in was to write my counselor a note and read it to her, so I spent (way more hours than I would like to admit) writing this note and practicing reading it. I went to counseling that week and immediately asked to read the note and the counselor agreed and said there was also something she wanted to talk to me about.

I read the note which essentially said I was really frustrated and either I needed to be able to communicate in writing and we needed to stop doing “relaxation” or we needed to be done. She then told me that what she had wanted to talk about was that the counselor in charge of DYS had told her the same thing that I had just told her. I was shocked that that information had been shared, but it ended up turning out for the best I suppose since it did give her time to think about what was going to happen. She basically made fun of me for thinking writing was a good idea and refused to incorporate that suggestion, but she did agree to slow down with the “relaxation.” I had promised myself that if she didn’t accept my proposal of allowing writing that I was done, but once again, I couldn’t make myself refuse when she assumed I would be coming back the next week.

I only had one more meeting with her before break, but she had me try to say hi to I think it was a certain number of people or it may have just been as many people as I could that week. I think it may have surprised her that I did it and said hi to a few people. For over break she gave me a big packet of pages copied out of a social anxiety workbook, and I worked on those.

Over Christmas break I hung out with my best friend at her school and like usual we just talked about life. This was when she asked me to say “my crazy friend wanted me to bring up OCD.” She told me about how her co-worker’s son has it and a lot of the students she works with have it, and she doesn’t like the “d” part of it, because she doesn’t like to think of it as a disorder. She also asked me if I talked to my counselor a lot and I didn’t really know so she asked me if I talked to the counselor more than I talked to her, and I could definitely say no to that. Since I was not using writing as a communication form with my counselor yet, I guess that kind of explained why it was so hard for me to make progress. Betsy was SO proud of me that day because she asked me how I would bring faith into my career, and instead of saying “I don’t know” I said “I haven’t thought about that.” Also, Betsy challenged me to initiate doing something with two people, at least one of them not my mentor (I was in the mentor program first year–my mentor and I had only three or maybe four meetings all year though so it isn’t really a big part of my first year).

So I went back to school and I really did try the first week back to bring up OCD, but I just couldn’t. The next week I did bring it up, but it didn’t really go over that well–I said that my friend said to bring up OCD, and the counselor asked why and I am not sure if I said anything but I don’t know, so that didn’t really go anywhere.

My meetings with the counselor at this point were frequently very short–like sometimes only 10 minutes. Sometimes they lasted a full 50 minutes though, so it was a little frustrating trying to plan my days when I could only mostly assume I was going to be done within 15 minutes but not know for sure. I was also spending more and more time trying to study in the success center, allowing me to realize more and more that most people chose a counselor more based on availability than based on the bio, and no one would have assumed I was an alcoholic if I had picked the counselor in charge of DYS. This made me more and more frustrated about my choice. That counselor was available at better times, and I really liked her. My counselor was addicted to facebook and her phone. This counselor seemed quieter, and that seemed to me like she would understand me better.

I don’t mean to vilify my counselor first year. She really did help me become a lot more comfortable talking to people. I did have a lot of frustrations with her, but I can’t totally blame the extreme anxiety from the “relaxation” on her seeing as how I never actually told her what was going on until I was about ready to explode. One event that did sort of frustrate me that was her fault is that one week she told me the next week that she wanted me to knock on the door instead of waiting for her so I could practice assertiveness. So the next week I was really scared, but I was going to do it, but as I was about to do it she opened the door and proceeded to yell at me that it was not okay to be there and I needed to wait in the chairs until she said she was ready for me…so that didn’t go so well…

In February, one of my roommates got the stomach flu overnight. I was freaked out. I took a shower as fast as possible and only used soap because that was the only thing that seemed safe, then I gathered my stuff and went to the success center to study. As inconvenient as it was, I did not return to my room until about five minutes before I intended to go to bed, and I left the window open to get air that seemed cleaner from outside. In the morning I got up, and did the same thing. This went on for about a week before I just couldn’t keep up with it anymore, but it was a somewhat gradual process to go back to acting “normal” again, and I don’t think I ever fully recovered from that incident. I was also way over-washing my hands. This was the first time I was really convinced that OCD may be a very real possibility. I do not recall my counselor ever knowing about this incident though except for when she asked if she could re-schedule me that week because something had come up that she wanted to do that I said something like yes unless I get the stomach flu from my roommate.

So one day when the counselor in charge of DYS and I were the only ones who had come to DYS, and I was helping clean up she asked if she could talk to me, and in my head I was like “I think that is what you are already doing” but out loud I just said yes, so she told me to grab my stuff and meet her at the office. She told me she didn’t want to be friends with me on facebook because that was unprofessional…I didn’t really know where that came from and wasn’t really planning on friending her so I just said yeah, that’s why I haven’t friended you…she also said that it was great that I had been communicating with her, but that I needed to try harder to make friends with people my own age. I think I just agreed to that and left, but I was really thinking that if try harder was all I needed to suddenly have friends my own age then it would have happened a long time ago…try harder is not going to fix me.

On April 17th, my counselor suggested that it might be helpful if I could write things and read it to her at the beginning of our meetings. I was so excited about it that I didn’t question the fact that she had said no before. I wrote pages and pages that I would have loved to share, but the fact that I had to read it out loud meant that the few weeks of the school year that were left I either read 1 sentence or declined to read anything. The first week of this my sentence was “I was just wondering why it is okay for me to write things now since when I suggested earlier in the year that it might help if I could write things you seemed very opposed to the idea.” She responded something like that she didn’t remember me asking that, but that she was suggesting it now because she realized I probably had information that would be useful to her that I wasn’t able to share without help.

The one really amazing thing that I credit to my counselor first year is one of my roommates second year. I found out one night that the person in charge of roommate assignments had decided that I couldn’t live with the girl I had requested who was also the only girl in the quads that I really knew, and therefore the person I REALLY wanted to live with, and I was frustrated, and wanted to write an email to the person making the decisions, but I couldn’t figure out how to write it so that it said what I wanted it to without sounding like I was being aggressive. my counselor scripted an email for me. I thought it didn’t seem like a very good email, but I figured if it was that or nothing I would have to take what I could get because I wasn’t in a position to complain, and I couldn’t write it myself. I got rejection from that email and tried on my own to fix it, but I still didn’t get a very promising response. The next week which happened to be the day before my last final, I reported back what had happened and my counselor said she had been thinking about it and I mentally braced myself thinking that she was going to say she was sorry she had helped me in the first place because I should really work on getting to know people my own age, but instead she said that if I wanted her to she would talk to the person in charge of roommate assignments and say that it would be best for me both socially and academically to get the roommate I wanted. I have no idea how she was going to pull that off–especially the academically part of it, and I suppose I also do not know if it ever happened since I was studying in the success center the rest of the day and never saw her talk to the person in charge of assignments, and I seem to recall that being her last scheduled day for the semester, but regardless of what happened, I got a email a few weeks later from the person in charge of assignments saying that she thought I would like to know that I could have the roommate I wanted!

I had no intention of continuing counseling after the school year ended. I hadn’t known how to get myself out of it during the year, but I thought I could just be done at the end of the year, because my counselor was not going to be at my school anymore (and she was getting married and moving to New Mexico I think). I got the summer off because I was sure I’d be fine on my own, and I definitely was not interested in telling my parents about anything…however, I didn’t get the next year off. I had thought about what I would do if I needed to pick a counselor for the next year and decided the person in charge of DYS would be my best bet because I already kind of knew her, so when my counselor said she had been thinking about who would be best for me the next year and was thinking since I knew the counselor in charge of DYS already that was probably the best choice, I agreed and she said she would tell her to expect to hear from me and to seek me out if I didn’t contact her…so much for my way out…

That summer I was talking to the person who had caused me to start counseling. I don’t remember much from that…what I do remember is that he found out that I was getting a new counselor in the fall and he suggested that he could call the counselor to help her get to know me more easily, and that seemed like a fine idea to me because I think a lot of times other people know me better than I know myself, and also it meant I didn’t have to worry so much about making sure I really covered everything in the intro note I sent her, so I gave out the contact information that I could remember (probably her STLCOP and SLU email addresses). He talked to me a little about the change of churches and I was crying on the inside and he suggested that it seemed like I had PTSD. I thought then that PTSD was a bit dramatic for my experience. Seeing more recently how bad it can get though for me to think about it, I am more willing to believe he was right. I had gotten good at avoiding anything that was going to make me think about it and so I was fine with it, but reminders are very difficult for me to deal with, and while there was really no threat to my physical life in changing churches, it did take away most aspects of my life as I knew it. He also let me know that the way I have trouble getting rid of old papers and the way I copy all my texts sounded like OCD. While I had started getting comfortable with the possibility of OCD earlier, this is when it started to seem a lot more real to me. I was still not totally convinced, but I was very much willing to accept it as a possibility. The final thing I remember from this meeting is that he said something like that it was really weird that I didn’t seem to feel or understand emotion and maybe if I understood that I would be able to communicate better.

So that’s first year…

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