I sat in the cheery Student Life waiting room with brochures hanging from the walls. I had broken out into a cold sweat and was feeling fairly nauseated, ready to bolt. ‘What am I doing here? This is not me.’ I thought for the hundredth time. I reminded myself that I might need special consideration. I was desperately hanging onto the semester (and life) with the tips of my fingers and with each day one finger slipped off. This was purely business, one appointment – in, out – then I would be able to say I had seen a psychologist and she could fill out the paperwork for special consideration. I would never have to face this nerve-racking, nausea-provoking experience of talking about my feelings ever again. But my plan didn’t exactly turn out like that.
For someone who was a nursing student I was not very good at self-care, particularly mental health self-care. I was a nurse who was of the tough, not warm variety and the person I was hardest on was myself. While not great at self-care, I was great at self-stigmatising. I had known for a while that I at least had depression but I hadn’t told anyone because I felt weak and ashamed.
The first person I went to for help with my depressed mood was my lecturer. We met in her office and after having a chat she gave me a brochure about the counseling services offered at my university. I felt like saying ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ Somewhat naively I hadn’t planned for what would happen after I spoke with my lecturer. I had only psyched myself up to speak to one person on one occasion about my depression.
However, there was still the very real possibility of failing my last semester so I needed special consideration. I stared at the pale blue brochure for a week before deciding to call and make an appointment with a psychologist. Then for two days I would ring and hang up every time someone answered. If writing an email to my lecturer asking for help was excruciating, then asking a stranger over the phone to see a psychologist felt impossible. But there I was, aged twenty, suicidal, extremely nervous, sitting in that waiting room filling out forms and waiting for my first appointment.
Now, nearly five years later I still, and always will, see that time as momentous and pivotal. I associate it with incredible anxiety about not only what would happen to me if I didn’t get help, but also what would happen if I did get help. However, strangely I also associate it with happiness despite being severely depressed. I learnt that if you allow yourself to be vulnerable, then you let people in who enrich your life. My psychologist was, and is, one such person.
What I thought would be one appointment turned into nearly five years of weekly, fortnightly or monthly appointments. My psychologist is warm, enthusiastic and personable. She knows the value of laughter and we would laugh in most of our appointments, even when I was depressed. My psychologist is caring and understanding; and she is never judgmental. She is honest and trustworthy. I knew she would tell me the truth even if the truth was something I didn’t want to hear. She is strong. When I was manic and irritable, though rarely irritable with her, she would not let me get away with unacceptable behaviour. My psychologist is calm and levelheaded. I instantly respected and felt comfortable with her right from our first appointment, and she was there two years later when I was diagnosed with bipolar. Over these past tumultuous years she has been a constant and one of my biggest supports. My psychologist is among my favourite people in the world.
Today was my last appointment with my psychologist as I am no longer a university student. I had always known this day would come and I had been preparing for it for a while. Although I am upset, I am not as upset as I thought I would be – not because I won’t miss my psychologist, because I will dearly – but because it didn’t feel like the final goodbye. Partly because it hadn’t completely sunk in, but mostly because we both agreed it was unlikely this would be my last ever appointment as I hope to continue with tertiary studies at some point. This was more like an “intermission.”
Instead of sorrow I feel grateful. I am grateful that she was my first encounter with a mental health professional as a patient, painting a positive picture of mental health services. I am grateful that I learnt how to open up and talk about my own mental health. I am grateful she never doubted me so I never doubted myself. I am grateful to be able to say she is one of my role models. And I am grateful and proud that I made that step nearly five years ago to get help, and that she has been a part of my life since.
While it feels strange not having her regular appointments in my diary, I am optimistic that one day I will be sitting in her office again and filling her in on the events that have happened during our “intermission.”
(For the record, I never asked for special consideration all those years ago).