Memories of 2nd Year (Counseling)

So, I made it to second year 🙂 This post might be even more disjointed than the last because I can’t seem to find times to work on this more than 5 minutes at a time, and words, even written, can sometimes take some time to come out intelligible–and I have issues sometimes getting all the letters to land in the correct order, so flow is not always the greatest when I right…although I suppose this could also be a slightly less disjointed post than the first year post because it is more recent and therefore slightly better remembered at the moment…IDK…

So I met with my new counselor the first day of school. I have very little memory of what went on at that particular meeting…I do remember that I was climbing the study room windows beforehand and that afterwards she showed me the waiting room as if I hadn’t already wandered the hallway with Alyssa many times already. She hadn’t talked to Dave yet, but he had contacted her, and she was going to do it soon she said…

We started working on emotional awareness by she told me about the four emotions that everything else supposedly could be divided into. She showed me pictures of faces and told me the facial features that distinguish between them…I’m not sure how well that would have worked had I participated appropriately, but after a few weeks I got frustrated of always getting the wrong answer so I gave up on trying to use the rules to assign labels to the pictures so I memorized the pictures and the emotions that went with them, and memorized the associated description with a separate schema…as long as I am not shown a picture I have not been taught then I got pretty good at it…a couple times she tried to have me draw the face to match an emotion, but the first one I painted a replica of the picture on the website the worksheet was from, and so the next one she had me do without my computer, and I drew a person with the same face I always draw, and then just added the things she told me were wrong with it…oops…whatevs I tried for a while…

Then I got an email about the interview into third year with sample interview questions. I knew I should be preparing for those questions, but when I tried the Dean’s voice came screaming through my head saying ‘I don’t know why you are here because there you are just going to fail the interview anyway.’ I wrote a couple sentences telling my counselor that I wanted help with the interview and we started working on the interview.

About halfway through the semester my counselor got mad at me for charging my computer in the hallway. I will admit that I should have known better…she asked me to unplug it for a while, and I did…and I didn’t ask before plugging it back in, but I was having a really hard time with germs right then and couldn’t go to my room, and I think maybe I was stressed out about something else too, so I really needed my computer to be working and I wasn’t overly concerned about pleasing her because I was mostly interested in getting through life right then…a couple weeks later she got mad at me for sitting in the hallway charging my computer before we met instead of hanging out in the waiting room…I was really frustrated because most of the time it was locked when I got there anyway…When it wasn’t my computer needed to be charged anyway. She yelled at me for a couple weeks and then asked my opinion for changes that would make me more willing to hang out in the waiting room. Aside from having it be unlocked I jokingly suggested bags of skittles in there would lure me in, and then more seriously suggested that I would like a bubble machine, especially because by this point not only had they put up signs that no studying was allowed in the waiting room which although I wasn’t interested in studying there I was very mad about because it didn’t seem fair to me–separate but equal has been ruled not equal–but also the water had dried up in the fountain so it sounded like something was dying if I tried to play with it…My counselor ignored the bubble machine suggestion, but said that she planned on getting candy in the waiting room–however, now, more than a year later, I have checked and there is still no candy in there…We never did agree on a compromise for everything that we both agreed on…her idea of a compromise was kind of like saying you can share my favorite pen, but only when you are asleep, and she felt that she didn’t need to listen to my proposals of compromises because it was her decision…so we stalemated on that stuff. I waited in the waiting room about 12 which five minutes before she got there (though technically we were supposed to start at 12, but she was almost never on time…)when it was open and she only yelled at me on occasion.

(halfway through the next paragraph I decided it is way too much effort to continue to not use names–I really hope no one reads this and recognizes the people and doesn’t like what I said about them…I’d prefer to keep it anonymous, but that was getting overly cumbersome)

Towards the end of the semester my counselor got mad at me for listening in on one of the other counselor’s sessions. This made me really frustrated, because while the other things she had bee mad about had at least been things that I did, there was no way I could possibly have listened in on this other counselor’s session…She finished at 11 the day I supposedly did that, but my class ended at 10:50, and after class as usual I headed to the cafeteria to get my hamburger, milk, and banana then went to the end of the hall to get pepper then went to my room until about 11:45…so unless I was in two places at once I was most definitely not listening in…aside from the logistics, physically there is no way I could possibly have listened in…First year when I studied right outside the counseling office there were only two times I heard anything (and usually the noise toy was not on because E thought it made it hard to hear what the students were saying, and T hated the water sounds and didn’t seem to ever turn it on to anything else either–but second year the noise toy was on almost all the time) were once when Anne and Tiffany were hanging out like they did most evenings Tiffany was there, and since Tiffany’s hours were not up yet they were hanging in the office and I think the door might have been open but I am not sure, but in any case all I heard was one of them scream…the other time I heard something was when there were a whole bunch of people coming past getting candy and I listened to see what they were saying and strongly considered copying them to ask for some myself, but asking was just too hard 😦   …all that to say there is no way that with the new counseling office that placed the people way away from the door and walls, and the utilization of the noise toy that I could possibly have heard anything had I even wanted to. the next week I confronted her about it and she blamed it on Michelle telling her to yell at me about it…that didn’t make any sense to me, because I am fairly certain that Michelle did not see me in the hallway at all that day, and I couldn’t see any reason that Michelle would have anything against me…I wasn’t sure at that point if I liked her because she hadn’t said anything when Anne was making fun of me right in front of her during the success center open house, and no one had told me when she brought Josie to school until she had gone home and the only interaction I’d had with her was staring at her one day in August (I don’t think she noticed) with things finally clicking that the stuff I had found when creeping around on the school website in places I didn’t need to be was right that we were getting a new non-student counselor and that probably last year when there was someone I didn’t recognize in the success center that everyone else seemed to know that probably she was interviewing or something…yeah…I’m a little slow…it only took me a few months to connect the new person to the random stranger who kinda looks like Erin with the wrong hair but then there was another Erin with the right hair…haha yeah…

Another very strange thing that happened towards the end of the semester is that I had a whole bunch of painting and drawing supplies with me as I was walking down the hallway and Kevin stopped me to ask if I was looking for someone to talk to…What I wanted to say was that yeah doesn’t everyone who wants someone to talk to someone wander down the hallway with arms full of craft supplies, but I actually just shook my head and minded my own business…

Over break I was supposed to be coming up with an idea of something that I could do if I really didn’t pass the interviews and needed a different career choice, because Brittani didn’t really think that another pharmacy program would take me after one had kicked me out. I eventually came to the decision that I would like to be a social worker and came up with a list of schools that I could find with the program…most of them in Minnesota since that is where it was easiest for me to find schools and I never intended to go to school so far away anyway…Because I was so stressed out because of the interview, and because my handwashing had generalized to being a coping mechanism for stress in addition to being a way to feel marginally safer, my hands were broken and bleeding, and at one point not only my knuckles, but my entire hands up to the wrist were cracked and bleeding. Although this was extremely painful and inconvenient and I absolutely hated washing my hands and using hand sanitizer, I couldn’t stop. I was so tortured by the idea of getting sick that the problems associated with the washing couldn’t come close to changing my behavior. This scared me–I’d had intense fear about germs at home before, but this fear had never been acted out to involve handwashing before, and certainly not washing to the point of producing blood. My solution was to send Brittani my notes and tell her what number my decision about alternative career path was and hope she would also see the thought above that about the handwashing and help me…I almost instantly had second thoughts about that approach…unfortunately with how much effort in can take me to compose an email (or do anything really that involves communication through words), by the time I sent her another email with only the career information and telling her to disregard my previous email she replied a few days later to tell me that not only had she read what I had told her to but that she had read the whole page.

When I came back in January, she told me that she had actually read the entire document and thought that the writing was good, but would be better if I wrote something and showed her every week instead of her getting it all at once at the end of the semester. That was amazing because it finally gave me a way to express what I was thinking and answer her questions more than just when she got mad at me and the next week would say I had seemed upset and ask what I was thinking. Brittani suggested that we start each session with her reading my notes, then split the time about half and half between germs and social skills. It never seemed to work out quite like that splitting the time, but it definitely seemed like a good plan, and I agreed.

In one of my classes we had to pick a disorder to research and write papers about for the semester and in my indecisiveness I asked the teacher to assign me a topic, so my research topic was OCD…Brittani did not seem to think that was such a good idea, but besides the fact that it meant I had to be first to give my presentation to the class, I loved working on that project. Researching something that I could easily relate to my life made the papers more understandable and relevant, and I actually was almost having fun writing instead of hating every minute of it like I usually do. It also gave me a good excuse later in the semester when I didn’t like something Brittani did to prove to myself that she shouldn’t have done that…

So Brittani had me start keeping track of how much I was washing my hands, and I surprised myself with just how much I was doing it. We went back and forth a bit on appropriate reporting measures because she wanted a time and reason for each handwashing, but that seemed overkill to me, especially since I was washing my hands around 300 times every day. I wanted to just leave it at a tally per day or even per week…After a couple weeks we compromised at breaking the day into chunks with a tally for each of those chunks of the day, and a couple times and reasons each week, though the reasons eventually fizzled out and I ended up with just the numbers.

I was frustrated with how high the numbers were, because I knew that I was washing my hands too much. I wanted rules so I asked Brittani how many times a normal person washes their hands in a day and she couldn’t put a number on it. I suggested rules and she said that washing my hands should not be governed by rules, that I should just do it when it felt natural. I kept pushing for rules, explaining that to me it feels natural to wash my hands constantly. I do not wash my hands constantly because I know I shouldn’t, but there is always the other bully voice in my head yelling at me to wash my hands and clean my world if I don’t want to get sick. In late February, Brittani finally told me I could set rules if I wanted to as long as I could be safe with it. She was afraid I would set unrealistic rules, break them, then be really mad at myself and set back my progress, but to me, the rules were going to save me. I was pretty much in charge of coming up with whatever I wanted my rules to be. Brittani did add a few rules early on, but for the most part, setting the rules was up to me. While I would have liked more guidance, it was probably a good thing that the rules were coming from me, because it let me go at my own pace, but because I was sharing the rules as I created them I still had the element of accountability that I wouldn’t have had on my own, and for me I need accountability or I will usually slowly regress back into doing what is comfortable instead of what I probably know I ought to be doing. By following the rules I gradually progressed from the 300 times per day to around a 100 times in a week by the end of the semester, so setting rules was a really helpful thing for me. It took right up to the last days of the semester to get to that point though, and Brittani was waiting to start doing exposure with me until my washing was closer to a normal level, because I guess she thought (and probably was right) that touching something I thought was gross and then immediately washing my hands and using hand sanitizer wasn’t really going to be a whole lot different than just going through normal life, and going through life was not fixing things for me.

At one point I remembered the video I had watched before Thanksgiving break first year and suggested that I thought it might be helpful if someone went into my room and touched all the things that normal people would be okay with other people touching and then I wouldn’t do anything to decontaminate it for a week because I felt limited by how many places seemed safe and thought maybe if everywhere seemed unsafe that everything would become kind of okay and maybe it would be a lasting effect and I would be a lot less limited. I was afraid Alyssa would be offended if I asked her to do it, and Brittani and Alyssa were the two people who seemed safe enough I was even willing to have attempt this, so I asked Brittani to do it if it seemed like a good idea to her. She wasn’t very comfortable with the idea of going to my room, and thought it would be too overwhelming for me.

A couple weeks after that, Brittani asked me to use the pen on the clipboard to fill out the survey she had me fill out every week to fill time while she was reading my notes. I had told her the previous week that I always write in pencil because that way I can erase when I mess up, so I thought this was just about breaking my perfectionism, but then as I had almost gotten enough courage to use my words to ask to go wash my hands, Brittani told me she didn’t want me to wash my hands or even use hand sanitizer until lunch time (which was still hours away). I was almost in tears because my stress level was so high, and I felt like it was going to make me fail my classes because while I can write with my left hand, it is painfully slow and I was already stressed out feeling like I couldn’t always take notes fast enough with my right hand. My routine at this time was to leave counseling, run to class, and on my way stop for hand sanitizer. Then between classes I would re-wash and re-sanitize my hands…so not washing or sanitizing my hands at all for hours was so not going to happen. I also do not really do well with surprises. Good surprises I can deal with because the initial stress of the surprise is mitigated by the goodness of it, but a surprise like this was a lousy start to my day. I may have been able to tolerate the exposure had the idea been introduced to me in advance so I knew it was coming and had time to acclimate to the idea, but with it coming as a surprise, the best I could do was use hand sanitizer only once before class. The next day I was still kind of anxious and began researching surprise exposure and everything I found told me that surprise was not a good thing. I would never tell this to Brittani, because I didn’t want her to get mad at me or anything, but this research allowed me to feel vindicated…I was right…this was not a good idea…

Soon the semester was coming to a close so it was time to figure out what to do the next year. Although I had threatened to quit and been convinced to stay a time or two over the course of the semester, I knew that if I was taking prof comm in the fall that I really needed to continue counseling, and I needed to advocate for myself to make sure it happened in a way that would allow me to succeed. That was probably the point at which counseling became about me instead of being solely about pleasing other people. I was pretty sure I didn’t want Kevin, because he is a boy, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted one of the new people or if I wanted Michelle…if I had known Alicia would be a choice this year that definitely would have also entered my decision making process, but I did not learn of that soon enough.

I decided that considering that my most pressing concern in the fall was likely going to be prof comm, it was probably more important to find someone I was going to be comfortable with and could get working with right away rather than choosing someone new in an effort to obtain more practice at getting to know someone new. For this reason I chose Michelle. I hadn’t wanted her when I was planning for second year because I still didn’t even really think I deserved help, but I was past that concept, and also realized that with the crazy schedule I was going to have in the fall that it would probably be best to choose someone with a more flexible schedule.

Because I am super forward thinking like that and sometimes plan really far in advance for things that may not even happen, both first year and second year I had a letter to my possible new counselor written and edited way more times than is necessary especially for a document that will likely be re-written over and over, by the end of Christmas break…

I had been telling Brittani since at least January that I intended to stay at STLCOP if  I continued counseling. As the last few weeks of the semester approached, however, and I expressed that I had chosen Michelle for the next year, she started really pressuring me to follow her to SLU. She pushed me on it hard enough that I put out a note on facebook asking for help because I really really didn’t want to follow her, but I also really really wanted to do what she wanted me to do. Ultimately, however, I decided that this was my decision to make and it was more important for me to do what was best for me than to follow her, especially since she probably would leave SLU before I left STLCOP.

At first her reasoning for me to follow her was that it would be good for me because I already knew her and would have continuity. As she got more and more desperate to keep me it seemed she started throwing out whatever she thought would get me to stay, but I had made up my mind, and was not ready to change it. She said she would help me with prof comm, she said she would come to my apartment if I wanted her to, she said she would do whatever it took to get me to SLU, but I was not planning on changing my mind.

Knowing Brittani before the semester started had REALLY helped me to be a LOT more comfortable in counseling, and had also probably contributed to my success since we hadn’t needed to spend as many weeks doing things that were not helping and just making me feel awful like I’d done first year because she knew me enough to know what I wanted, and I was comfortable that I would be able to express strong opinions. She also took any emotional cue she could get from me and would ask me about it the next week and I could write about it to tell her what was frustrating me about what she said–pretty much that was only when she had been mad at me, but it at least gave me an opportunity to tell her what I was thinking. Because of this, I decided since I knew I wanted to work with Michelle in the fall to ask to meet with her before I went home for the summer. I didn’t like that she copied Brittani into her reply, because she wasn’t providing any information that Britani needed to know, and after spending hours editing an email for one person, I don’t necessarily feel comfortable with or appreciate that email being shared with someone else without my consent, but after a bike ride to get dehydrated and let off some of the frustrated energy I was willing to forgive that and move on. I really don’t remember much that happened at that meeting, but I loved that she didn’t try to push me beyond what I could handle, and I loved that she was very cautious and gentle. For example, she asked me if it would be okay with me to shake hands before sticking out her hand and assuming I would be okay with that. I also really liked that she seemed interested in my opinion. No one had ever really asked me what I wanted to do before, no one had ever really seemed to care what my opinion was before. It made me feel important that someone wanted to know what I wanted. While a lot of times asking my opinion is super overwhelming because decision making takes me a lot of time and effort, asking me at the right time is really empowering, because there are some things that I have definite opinions about but will never express because socially it is a lot easier to just go with the flow.

At my last meeting with Brittani she told me that she had wanted me to stay with her because she thought Michelle was going to say no to me and she wanted to make sure I had somewhere to go in the fall. She had previously said that no matter what there would always be services for me on campus, but I guess she was thinking that if Michelle said no that I would quit or something…She also said that when (which I translated to if) I changed my mind to contact her using her STLCOP email and she would help me find a way to meet with her again…

I feel like I had something else to write about second year, but I can’t remember anymore what it was, so I guess I’ll post this and I can always edit or just make a new post later if I have to…

Now I remember what I planned on saying 🙂 …its proper place would have been a few paragraphs ago, but that’s what happens when you attempt blogging on a quiet day at work and therefore have frequent interruptions…so yeah…The other thing I wanted to say that I feel like I need to mention here because it will come back in another story I want to tell is something that happened mid-second semester…there was a kid in my anatomy lab who we could tell had some sort of problem, but didn’t want to ask him about because he was very easy to upset. We finally found out what his problem was partway through the semester because one of his other teachers had assigned another student to help him and told that other student that he was autistic, and that other student told one of the other TA’s in my lab who let us know. I was getting frustrated working with this student (the autistic one I was talking about, not the helper for his other class or the TA) because he was very demanding and expected your full attention whenever he wanted it regardless of what you planned on doing, and everything had to be his way, and he had no problem telling people how much he hated them or that he was sure they were doing something wrong…some examples: he wanted to go over things with me and I consented and after an hour I realized I had about 10 minutes to get to my next class so I told him I needed to leave soon for class so I could answer any questions he had but then he would need to study on his own or ask someone else for help, and he said no, I’m not done yet and insisted that I keep helping him…luckily attending class is important enough to me that I was able to stand my ground and walk out anyway when I couldn’t convince him that I needed to go to class, but yeah, that was kind of hard for me…another example would be that he sent me an email once that just said hi I was thinking that you would help me with anatomy at 10:00 on Tuesday…I sent an email back saying I was in class at 10 and giving times I was available and got an email back that said no, I need you to help me on Tuesday…as much as I do like feeling wanted, it really frustrates me when people act as if I am their personal slave who will do whatever they want whenever they want it regardless of whatever else I may have planned…part of it with a few people I brought on myself when I set really loose boundaries before I realized that I did deserve and value having some control over my own schedule so the five minutes after meeting time letting me know you’d rather meet at a different time wasn’t going to continue being ‘totally fine just let me know what time you want now,’ but with this student it was just that he was very demanding…I could probably tell a lot of other stories about this student, but that is not the point…so anyway, once I found out he was autistic I thought if I looked up stuff about it I could maybe find some strategies to make working with him less frustrating for me, because I really do love helping people, but when someone is nagging me to help them while I am in the middle of explaining something to someone else, it starts to kill the joy…probably mostly because I needed something else to put in my notes for Brittani, I mentioned that I had been researching it, and she asked me if I thought I had it, and I said I don’t know because my best friend says that is my favorite phrase, and while don’t know if that is really my favorite phrase, it is a phrase I tend to say a lot, especially when I am not sure what the other person expects me to say or when I really do just not know or need some time to think…then she asked if there was anything about autism that seemed to fit me and I said I don’t know then added maybe that I don’t talk much, and she said something like ‘well I do agree that you don’t talk much but I am fairly certain that you do not have autism so you don’t have to worry about that.’ I think she maybe thought that I had written about it because I was worried about it, but I really at that point have no thoughts about potentially having it. I thought I already knew why I didn’t talk much and I suppose Brittani had also come to the same conclusion–based on the way I am writing about this and the web address of this blog I suppose you can tell that something happened to change that assumption, but that is a story for another post 🙂 …haha…cliffhanger!


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