For Michelle Myers ’15, dealing with anxiety preceded coming to college.
“I really can’t remember a time when I wasn’t anxious,” she said, “I’ve always had a really intense perfectionist personality that has often become self-destructive. I guess what kind of manifested it was when my dad died when I was twelve, and that’s when I started seeing a psychologist, and kind of having a better understanding of what I was going through.”
Through high school, Myers found her support system through friends who had gone through similar experiences. Because her friends were focused on the hard times they had experienced, Michelle found them a comfort – but not always a healthy one.
“Basically that was my friend group, a bunch of depressed or anxious people,” Myers said. “I found it really supportive to know that I wasn’t alone. And also one of my closest friends at that time, her mother had died in high school, and we really bonded […] on that same experience. So most of my friends in high school were centered around being really sad and really anxious at the time. Which was kind of a relief for me but also not really healthy all the time.”
Since coming to Swat, Myers, who is now a Psychology major with a minor in Educational Studies, has found it much easier to cope with her anxiety.
“I had really bad social anxiety when I was younger,” Myers said, “and I really battled that in high school and tried to push myself to be friends with people. And that’s gotten better for me.”
However, these better times did not come without a very testing period of adjustment.
“My first year here […] was really difficult,” she said. “It was one of the hardest experiences I’ve gone through.”
As any other Swattie does, Myers was pushed to adjust to the workload. “I came from a school where we didn’t write exams – this was my first time writing exams on a regular basis. Just being around really smart, confident people was also really terrifying. I wasn’t the upper-dog anymore, academic-wise,” she said.
In addition,Myers, who’s from the homogenous “middle of nowhere [in] Ohio,” found the sheer diversity of individuals on campus jarring.
“Just meeting different people from different ways of thinking was also really different,” she said.
“I don’t like ever saying that it was worth it,” Myers said in reference to her taxing freshman year. “Going through a hard experience is never worth it – it’s just something you have to go through in order to get to the good stuff.”
Since the second semester of her freshman year, Myers has made use of the resources available at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). What has made the help there really count for her is not only finding a counselor, but the right counselor.
“I’ve been through three different counselors at CAPS,” she said. “I just think it’s really important that you find a good match at CAPS – I didn’t have a good match my first time. And I think a lot of people get dissuaded from going to CAPS potentially because they have a bad experience with one counselor.”
Myers was tentative at first about switching counselors. “I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll hurt her feelings, I don’t want to go through the trouble of baring it all out again,’” she said. “But it really is worth it to find someone you can really connect with.”
In terms of finding the right counselor at CAPS, Myers said, “For me […] I left the room feeling better or at the same level as I was when I entered the room. With my first counselor I just felt awful every time I left.”
Myers feels that the right counselor can empathize with the perspective of their patient, while also being able to add new insights, which Myers believes “is important [for] respect[ing] the perspective of the person coming in.”
Seeking the right CAPS counselor and making the best of campus resources requires no short order of personal initiative and self-awareness.
“I know there are people who haven’t gotten the best experiences out of CAPS,” Myers said, “I personally have had a good experience, but that’s only because I’ve had to really push myself to look for what I needed in a counselor.”
When asked for any tips on coping with mental health issues and seeking out help, Myers stressed not only the benefits of going to CAPS but also the importance of having a strong support system among friends.
“What’s been really important to me is having a really good support system,” she said. “My friends have been extremely supportive for me. And my way of having support is that I also have a lot of friends. […] I don’t want to be the one to put my burden on one person and one person alone. […] Never deal with something just by yourself, that’s never okay,” she added.
On the subject of how mental health issues are perceived and dealt with at Swarthmore, Myers feels that there is a need for more open and honest conversation.
“I feel like a large population at Swarthmore is going through mental disability issues, whether it’s anxiety, or depression, or just feeling overwhelmed on campus,” she said.
Myers feels that there needs to be more discussions about the campus environment and individual experiences, and wishes that these conversations would be more honest.
“Usually when I’m having a conversation with someone about something like this they won’t be very open about it, even if they are going through a hard time. So I think having someone to start those conversations is really important,” she said.
Myers also emphasized the importance of optimistic and productive discourse on mental health, instead of typical Swattie “misery poker” to compare staggering workloads.
“That happens a lot at Swat too and that’s really not healthy,” said Myers. “It’s really necessary to have a proactive perspective on how you talk about mental illness on campus. And that just starts by having more conversations about it.”
Featured image by Elena Ruyter ’14/The Daily Gazette