Rachel del Valle | Call me crazy
Duly Noted | I used to think going to a therapist was a sign of weakness, but sometimes it’s better than going to friends
September 22, 2013, 9:07 pm · Updated September 22, 2013, 10:50 pm·
Rachel del Valle
According to my therapist, I have too many rules for myself.
This is ironic, because one of the rules I used to have for myself was that I’d never see a therapist.
I thought that therapy was self-indulgent, excessive, the stuff of Woody Allen movies and not something you do in real life.
In fact, the only kind of counselor I’d met with before this semester was a guidance counselor, and his main job was getting me into college, not discussing my personal problems.
But that changed two weeks ago. On my way into the office, I noticed small, whistling machines sitting outside every door in the hallway. They cooed eerily like little plastic ghosts so passersby couldn’t hear the conversations happening on the other side of the door.
The office itself was not very different from any other office at Penn. I sat up in my chair and noticed the three boxes of tissues dotted around the tabletops. I’d skipped mascara that morning as a precaution.
I left the office an hour later feeling wrung out. My head felt stuffed, eyelashes wet.
The first time I called Counseling and Psychological Services was last year, when I was dealing with some grief. It was on a Friday afternoon and I didn’t have any work to do — no reading or studying or fretting to fill up my time.
I hadn’t really been alone with my thoughts for a while. Eventually they fell on the surreal funeral I’d been to over winter break. I fell into a bit of a tailspin and decided it was about time I talked to someone about the loss I was feeling.
I called, went through the initial screening and scheduled an appointment for the following Friday.
That Friday felt far away, and by the time it rolled around, everything seemed to have reset itself. I didn’t think that I needed to talk to anyone anymore. I had reached out to CAPS at a moment of weakness, and now I was fine. This is what I told myself when I was a no-show.
In retrospect, I wish I’d gone. There were very few people around me who understood what I was feeling, and it felt wrong to burden friends with problems they didn’t know how to deal with.
So instead, I compartmentalized, distracting myself with other things, avoiding triggers like Lifetime movies and high school Facebook albums. This worked for a while until it didn’t.
CAPS isn’t for crazy people or self-obsessed people or people who don’t know how to deal with their problems. It’s for anyone who needs some support — and I think that at least some of the time, everyone needs that.
Support networks that develop organically — friends, partners, family — seem better suited to nod and listen and comfort. But just because some people in your life are good listeners doesn’t mean that you should treat them like your therapist.
I’ve been on both sides of that relationship — as someone who becomes a receptacle for other people’s problems and as someone who overshares, craving help. It’s a tough thing to gauge, but at a certain point, it’s worth looking into other options.
If you ever thought about going to CAPS — even for just a second — you should. You don’t have anything to lose (it’s free to all Penn students) and there’s a lot to be gained.
I don’t say this as a PSA or anything — I just think it’s important to realize that there’s nothing strange about wanting to talk to someone about things that are bothering you.
Speaking to someone removed from the context of your life can be refreshing in a way I never realized. You say things without a filter, and it helps you to figure out what you’re feeling. You don’t have to feel guilty about talking for too long or saying the wrong thing. It just feels good.
I’ve also come to realize that it’s more selfish to burden those around you with your problems than it is to spend an hour a week in a trained professional’s office.
So if you’re one of those people whose told themselves they don’t need, want or have problems big enough for therapy, remember that rules are meant to be broken.
Rachel del Valle is a College senior from Newark, N.J. Her email address is email@example.com. Follow her @rachelsdelvalle. “Duly Noted” usually appears every Tuesday.