My Experience with UMB Counseling Center | Article S16

We have a counseling center on campus. It’s located on Quinn, second floor, all the way down the hall. I’ve heard people have mixed results from the counseling center. For me, they’re competent there and the counselors are pretty great. But maybe that’s the bias of my own experience coloring my vision. However, if it hadn’t been for the counseling center, I don’t know where I’d be today.

I went to the counseling center the first time when I was struggling with procrastination, having ended off my freshman year. I went biweekly to a counselor, my first ever time in therapy, and found the experience to be quite helpful. True, my changes in the procrastination didn’t come until January 2014 but, hey, things take time. No biggie. The second time I went to the counseling center, things were a lot different.

Now let me just say that my case isn’t the typical case. Had I known I was dealing with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and been able to relay that information appropriately to the counseling center, I wouldn’t have met with a graduate student in training and I would have been sent off campus for support and treatment. But, as things happened, I was actually diagnosed by the counseling center on our campus.

Meeting with a graduate student (who we’ll name Steve, which isn’t their real name) once a week was pretty good. I got an introduction to the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT approaches and had quite a few thought records to fill out–which are basically X number of columns that determine what an intrusive thought was that I’d had, what emotions that brought up, the intensity of those emotions and what I did about them, more or less. I also got my first–okay, second–introduction to mindfulness there, too. Mindfulness in its shortest definition is when you can experience your thoughts or feelings separately from yourself in a nonjudgmental manner, letting them float down the river to come to pass. Also, it’s being involved in the present moment 100%. Sound good? Okay.

Naturally, with the OCD I experienced some times of crises during the fall of 2014. I made crisis appointments at the counseling center appropriately…annnnd found out it was the OCD deceiving me and what to do about that. Also, while at the counseling center I was first introduced to safety plans and coping strategies, as well as learning more about the OCD such as when certain behaviors I engaged in were reassurance seeking (unhelpful) and thought action fusion or when I had a thought and immediately equated it to being an action.

Things got complicated when I genuinely became a danger to myself. The first time I tried to kill myself was in January 2015 on campus. Amazingly, I opened up to a friend about how I was feeling, unfortunately that was after my attempt occurred (but I was still on campus). I didn’t get professional help that day. I just went to work afterwards and counted my blessings. But the OCD and the depression weren’t stopping there.

The first time I was hospitalized was at the end of January. I missed my train in the morning and having rescheduled my therapy appointment getting off the phone, I thought aloud to myself “I’m not sure if I won’t kill myself before next week.” Omen number one. I got on the train when it came but was in a full blown crisis and, of course, incapable of thinking clearly. I got off the train, had what depression would call “a great idea” before finding another individual walking up and down the platform quite a ways away from me. “Damn,” I had thought and decided to make the phone call that I intended to make having gotten off the train to begin with.

I called the counseling center, then. Which was mildly inconvenient since I wasn’t anywhere near campus at all. But alas, it was call them, call a hotline or act on a suicidal thought. My options at the time seemed limited.

After speaking with them, and my voicing the concern that it didn’t make any sense to me to not kill myself first and then proceed to the hospital, it was decided that I could not make the proper judgment call to keep myself safe and needed to be sent to the emergency room IMMEDIATELY. I still didn’t understand it, but I had signed a waiver the week prior so they had permission to contact my parents (who were in the dark about any of this), thank goodness.

Thus became my first hospitalization.

My second hospitalization, many crisis appointments thereafter and countless bouts of scratching myself later, came at the beginning of March, a day after self-injury awareness day (which is March 1st). I went through three people this time. I had seen my nurse practitioner that morning and just so happened not to mention how suicidal I was (it was an unfortunate combination of her not asking further and my not volunteering important information, oops). I got a call hours later from my crisis manager at my insurance–scheduled to call me to check-in every few weeks–whom I told half-jokingly, half-seriously where I was regarding my own life. I rolled off the coping strategies I could do although I hadn’t any intention to do so.

I had hit a new low: so resigned to my situation of depression and unrelenting OCD that I genuinely believed nobody would do anything to stop me from killing myself. Luckily, I was wrong about that. The counseling center stopped me. I had the materials with me to kill myself and when revealed as such the reaction was NOT to let me wander off to my own death but rather to send me off to the hospital.

I was picked up by the ambulance from Quinn that very afternoon.

When I returned to school, I officially shifted away from the resource of the counseling center to the therapist off-campus I had been seeing since February twice a week. I had one other crisis appointment at the counseling center in May 2015 again when I was suicidal on campus and had incidentally seen my professor outside and confessed to them the crisis I was in. Naturally, I was brought to the counseling center. I had therapy that afternoon so I managed until I got there, but the coping strategies and support was beneficial for me.

Since then, I haven’t needed to go back to the counseling center. Granted, I was on leave from school in fall 2015, but I’ve used other positive coping strategies this semester that’s kept me level headed and at bay from their resources. I call that a victory, personally.

In conclusion, not everyone will find the counseling center on our campus helpful for them. There are many reasons why this may be–ranging from cultural values to fear of help-seeking to not knowing the services available to worry about the stigma to just not meshing with the therapists there. All of these reasons and then some are understandable.

For me though, the counseling center has been beneficial. I’m glad I was diagnosed with the OCD there, since it could have been many difficult years otherwise before I received the diagnosis. I’m grateful for all the introductions to mindfulness and CBT practices and safety plans and positive coping strategies I gained from them. I’m honored that so much of the hope instilled in me came from Steve and the other therapists there, and that I was reminded so often of my true values, what the OCD was and wasn’t, and that the OCD and the depression were treatable diagnoses. I’m thankful for that one person who asked me whether or not I wanted to recover and that I said part of me did and part of me didn’t, because that combination of Q&A enlightened me more than I could have imagined.

Ultimately, I’m grateful for the help that I received when I needed it so dearly. I’m glad we have such a great counseling center on our campus and the resources and support that they offer there. My experiences weren’t always pretty and I wasn’t always honest, but I’m glad that I, too, sought help. Without help from professionals, my friends, my family and my toolbox of coping strategies, I don’t know where I’d be today. I just know that where I am officially is too wonderful to ever trade.

Article #5 Mass Media. Written April 10.2016

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