NAMI on Campus
Things Are Not Often What They Seem
by Rachel I.
I once questioned a friend about her resilience, after observing her cope with some of life’s greatest challenges. She gave me this little piece of wisdom that has got me through the darkest of days. She said “On the days when I just can’t do it for myself, I do it for my mom.” This simple slogan saved my life a time or two, and helped me to turn my dreams into reality. I recently graduated with a Master’s of Science in Occupational Therapy from Virginia Commonwealth University. I will pursue my passion as a mental health Occupational Therapist starting at end of January 2010. I founded NAMI-VCU a year after I began my graduate program, the most stressful experience of my life. My rationale was that there should be a student run program that would complement the University’s counseling services. Even though the psychological services offered were high-quality, the University could not provide peer support or promote social interactions like a campus club. After all, my biggest problem wasn’t the work load, it was interacting with my peers. I was sure there were others that shared similar experiences.
During the first two years of my program I experienced more isolation, desolation and despair than I ever had before. I felt misunderstood by my peers and my boyfriend. I couldn’t concentrate; my mind would often torment and mislead me. My thinking became discordant with reality, and my emotions were intense and extraneous. I didn’t know who I could trust to share my thoughts, so I chose not to share them. Except during arguments with my boyfriend, when he would catch a momentary glimpse into my distorted views of him, myself, and my reality. Our relationship was greatly challenged by my paranoid thoughts, mood swings, and harsh accusations.
I detested Mondays, I still recall the sickening feeling I would get Sunday nights when I knew I had to go to class in the morning and interact with all the people that loathed me. The hardest part was feeling inadequate. There were several days I missed class because I was so depressed I couldn’t get myself out of bed, and certainly couldn’t face my classmates. I knew they wouldn’t understand, I thought they perceived me as a slacker that just skipped classes. In reality, I spent excess time working on assignments, NAMI events, and various other projects. It saddened me greatly to think I had tainted my integrity and professional image, and it devastated me to think that no one liked me.
However, I did manage to make it out of graduate school alive. During one of my earlier episodes I was “rescued” by two girls from my program. They came to my house, refused to go away, and insisting that I pack my bags and come with them. This laid the foundation for a wonderful friendship and gave me the support I needed to face our classmates and cope with the stress of grad school and daily life. Over the years we became close and I was able to open up and share my deepest darkest feelings. They stood by me and even helped to found NAMI-VCU, which I took great pride in. Over time I learned how to manage my emotions and deal with stress and anxiety effectively. Through self reflection and deep talks I rekindled my relationship and began to trust my boyfriend again. After all he had never done anything to compromise my trust but had spent countless hours and many sleepless nights comforting and consoling me.
During my recent commencement ceremony I received an award based on the qualities of leadership, creativity, and dedication to humanity. This was significant to me because the award is determined by the vote of the graduating class. P. L. Berger once said “The past is malleable and flexible, changing as our recollection interprets and re-explains what has happened.” I realized that I had made the mistake to let my insecurities and misperceptions dictate my mind. It had been so hard for me to accurate perceive my relationships with others and determine their impression of me. My moment of clarity came when I realized my perception of how my classmates viewed me had been inaccurate all along.
I am eternally grateful for my family, friends and wonderful boyfriend. All of whom provided me with the strength, courage and love that I needed to succeed. I couldn’t have done it without them!