“I needed to do something unusual - reach out for help first”ODESSA CHITTY

Content note: this article contains detailed discussions of mental health and counselling

Like many, I think that I could describe 2020 as the most transformative year of my life. In fact, on a more personal and emotional level, I think I could describe it as my worst. Whilst I had briefly dealt with mental health issues before, my experience in my second year at Cambridge left me feeling like I was drowning and suffocating in my own mind. As an introvert, my mind is often my best friend but this time, it was my worst enemy. I was used to being quite introspective and I often preferred dealing with my problems by myself but slowly, and then all at once, I realised that I needed to do something unusual - reach out for help first.

So, in the blurry haze that defined my Michaelmas term last year, I made my way to the University Counselling Service (UCS), an in-person experience that I’m sure will be more appreciated after COVID. I spoke to the receptionist, sat down in the waiting room and waited to be called in. When I finally heard my name, I got up, greeted the woman who was going to have the pleasure of being privy to my innermost thoughts and sat in her office.

“Like many, I think that I could describe 2020 as the most transformative year of my life”

Then something weird happened. The first time I sat across from my new counsellor, I felt a really peculiar urgency to laugh. If you know me well and have heard my laugh, then you would know that it can only be described as horrific, I often cry profusely and end up looking like I have been attacked by a serious case of hayfever! It was such a bizarre feeling to be at a really low point but then at the same time, desire to burst out laughing. In hindsight, I now realise why. I was so used to flying solo in my life that the prospect of reaching out for help and being vulnerable was amusing because it was scary. What sort of hidden problems would my counsellor uncover about me? Would she be able to finally “fix” me? Do I even want her to attempt to “fix” me? Can I even be fixed?


Mountain View

Every student must give their mental health the attention it deserves

These were the types of questions that ran through my mind, but with every session, I peeled back layer after layer until my problems were no longer crushing me in my head. Rather than being controlled by my every thought from when I woke up until I went back to sleep, I was now in control of them. I ultimately realised that being vulnerable and asking for help was not a weakness, it was indeed a strength. As someone who was perfectly skilled at self-reliance, this was hard, but it played a huge part in giving me my strength back.

It’s been over 12 months since my first session, which seems like a lifetime ago considering the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, but not a day goes by where I do not think about what I gained from stepping out of my comfort zone and reaching my hand out for someone else to help pull me up. If you are someone out there reading this, wondering how useful being vulnerable can sometimes be, I got you! Here are three lessons that I now carry with me:

  • Your support system might surprise you: Since opening myself up to vulnerability, I have developed the most transparent and freeing friendships that I have ever had. From stepping outside of myself, I have built an unprecedented amount of trust with many of my loved ones, simply from dropping my walls a little. I realise that not everyone has the best people around them to rely on, but can I encourage you? Being vulnerable and honest with yourself is an act of freedom for you only, but it teaches you what your boundaries are and pushes you to desire and to accept better from others, friendships included.
  • You don’t need to be ‘fixed’: Unfortunately, I am not a new Isabella. I still stream Taylor Swift’s music at an abnormal rate, I still buy all the Cheerleading stash to the detriment of my bank account and I still have bad days where I have to transport myself back into that counselling room to remind myself of the strategies I put in place when I took control back. It turns out that I did not need mind surgery after all, I just needed to find my voice and some support to build the version of myself that is still growing today.
  • Self-care is more than what you think it is: I love aTo All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ marathon as much as the next person, but transformative self-care for me was acknowledging the gaps in my life, recognising that I wanted more for myself and ultimately, fighting hard to fill them.

Now I’m at a place where I feel the most like myself, someone I hadn’t seen in a very long time. I see the highs and lows of that season of my life as a superpower and whilst I still like to be a lone island, I now look forward to stepping out of it... once in a while.