I might have sounded a little bit too serious, with the word “interrupted” shoved so coarsely into the title of this post, but the reality is that in university, though one might be constantly surrounded by lots of people, it’s nevertheless easy to feel lonely, scared and lost. And when this happens, it can indeed feel like the end of the world is near.
In my last post, I talked briefly about how to make more long-lasting friends here at U of T — although not nearly as well as one of our commenters, Curtis, did! What I’ve realized during my few years here is that our relationships with the external world directly affect how we feel about ourselves. In that sense, you can’t foster one without the other, nor can you isolate the two and hope that whatever negativity is affecting one realm will not seep into the other. I know this sounds like common sense, but when students do end up bumping into a wall, they will often fail to consciously protect the healthier areas of their lives, and thus allow the situation to snowball into something deeply destructive. It’s exactly like a physical illness: if it’s left untreated, your whole body will ultimately be compromised. The only difference here is that we are talking about our mental health, so that the harm is intangible and the consequences often overlooked.
Unhealthy relationships, for example, can not only kill your GPA and your health, but also destroy your self-confidence. I remember going through hellfire in my second year. I lost all motivation and drive to do well in school because, after a few blunders on midterms, I was too distressed by the fact that with my crappy marks, no professional or graduate school would ever accept me. I was always sick, with long-lasting coughs, colds that came every single month, and recurring nightmares. My sleeping pattern was completely out of whack: I went to bed when the sun came up, slept a huge amount every day because I was always tired, and ended up skipping a lot of my classes. My life had spun out of control, and all colour was draining away from it. The worst of it was that for the longest time, I could not break away from it because I never saw it as “unhealthy,” nor did I pay enough attention to how much I was suffering, both physically and mentally.
I was lucky in that I was able to recognize those blaring signs of a bad relationship, when I “serendipitously” picked up a very helpful book from Indigo. But looking back, I realize how much I would have benefited from the counselling and psychological services offered by the school. Recently, U of T’s Counselling and Learning Skills Service (CALSS) and Psychiatric Service were combined to form Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS). The office is located in the Koffler Student Services Centre, almost right across the hall from the Second Cup and the lower entrance to the bookstore. The hours are:
Monday to Friday: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Tuesday: 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Generally, you’ll talk to the reception desk first, and you’ll set up an appointment for a 20-minute phone evaluation, in which a counsellor or clinician will ask you a few simple questions regarding your needs. Then they will direct you to the most appropriate program within, or outside, CAPS. Should you be referred to a program within CAPS, someone will phone you later to offer the appropriate method of counselling. There could be a bit of a wait list (three to four weeks), so make sure you book the phone evaluation as soon as you can.
I understand that there can be a stigma associated with seeking counselling, but honestly, when you are unhappy, who cares what anybody else thinks? CAPS is not synonymous with “asylum.” Rather, you can see it as a place that will help you get past some of the little bumps in life that, believe it or not, happen to everyone. Some of the areas CAPS helps students with are
- Difficulties adjusting to university life
- Depression and related issues
- Relationship problems
- Disturbances resulting from abuse and assault
- Prolonged stress
- Disordered eating
- Attention and concentration difficulties
- Problems with sleep
- Assault counselling and education services
Should CAPS not be immediately available to you (the wait list does take a long time, and while wait-listed, you cannot contact them due to their policy on confidentiality), there are plenty of other places you can go for support. This site established by York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School provides a comprehensive list of emergency resources, including a 24-hour crisis line offered by the Gerstein Centre. (Believe it or not, this actually has nothing to do with the Gerstein Library, although when I first heard about it, my mental association of distress with school libraries made perfect sense.)
I must admit that when I was in high school, I had total case of teen angst. You know, very melodramatic, wrote a stack of what was then perceived to be heart-wrenching poetry, and a few times even cried in hallways because my mark wasn’t in the 90s. But as I look back, the things that seemed so serious then are now too ridiculous to make a fuss over. In truth, tomorrow will always be a better day, as long as you treat yourself well, and allow yourself to grow as a result of your experiences.