Recently, I completed my award in counselling skills and theory. 12 weeks of being reintroduced to being a student; something my younger self and sicker mind were shit at. 12 weeks of learning how to listen, be empathetic and congruent, along with late night essay writing and self-evaluation. I didn’t think I would be too bothered about the ending of the course. I mean, in terms of the academic side of it, e.g. all the paperwork, I’m glad to see the back of it.
However, it was only right at the end that I properly reflected on the past few months. I looked around the room at a bunch of totally diverse and unique people who 12 weeks ago were complete strangers and in the real world, our paths would never have crossed.
When I accepted a place on the course, I knew I would be the youngest. Most people my age go to university to follow their dream careers. I felt self-conscious and slightly intimidated. Why would anyone take me seriously? Would I just be a kid in their eyes? Up until that point, I had been quite the hermit for the past couple of years. I couldn’t cope with the pressures of education, work or friendships. The idea of going back into a learning environment with other actual human beings who weren’t genetically obliged to like me, or my cat, was absolutely terrifying.
Fast forward 12 weeks and this incredible group of people have changed my life. There was a very surreal exercise we had to do a few weeks ago where long story short, we had to tell each other what we thought of them for about 3 minutes. I’m not someone who knows how to take a compliment or regard myself positively. I feel incredibly awkward and my mind would immediately tell me they’re lying. Everyone was beyond kind to me. To give some context, here are a few examples:
“You’re an old head on young shoulders.”
“For someone so young, you have the life experience of someone much older. You’ve been through so much, and you have so much to give.”
“You inspire me how strong and resilient you are.”
“I always look forward to and respect what you have to say.”
“I wish you could see yourself through our eyes darling. You are unstoppable.”
No one saw me as a child. No one disregarded anything I shared. I was a valued and worthy part of the group who was accepted and respected as much as anyone else by both my peers and teachers. I formed friendships with people I would never have believed I would.
At the end of the last session, I start crying. Why? Because, all my life I have felt not good enough and insignificant. For the first time, I was completely overwhelmed by a feeling that wasn’t fuelled by mental illness, but in fact, quite the opposite. I thought back to a couple of years ago, to a time when all I wanted to do was disappear. I didn’t see the point in living or imagine any kind of future for myself. Even up until recently, I never would have thought I would have the courage to pursue the career I want. To not only go back to college and interact with other people, but to pass the course and not have a complete meltdown.
To those thirteen others who battled through the course with me, thank you. Each and every one of you inspired me and were integral parts of the journey. This course forced us into a relationship of trust, enabling us to share things with each other I know some of you wouldn’t even tell your own families. It was bizarre to be honest, but a truly humbling experience. I wish you all nothing but luck and happiness.
To my teachers – the teacher turned counsellor and the counsellor turned teacher. When I initially decided to take the course, my first hurdle was to make you both believe in me. I was honest about the issues I have, and how they may affect my academic life. However, you saw past that and recognised something in me that I had been oblivious to my whole life. You were both so mindful throughout the course and I felt completely comfortable confiding honestly with you. You created a safe environment for us all; a crucial element to the success of this experience.
When I was a blubbing mess at the end, one of my tutors hugged me, looked me straight in the eyes and said “You’ll go far my girl.” She knew the internal revelation I’d just had and I am beyond grateful for the support. It’s something I’ll forever keep with me.
When I took my A-levels years ago, my mental health was at its worst. I completely screwed it up and I was so worried that would happen again this time. I thought I would give up or fail. But I didn’t. I actually did it. I stood there awkwardly at the end of the last lesson sporting a mixture of tears, snot and mascara on my face, feeling bewildered because I was utterly overwhelmed at the feeling of achievement.
For the first time, I believed in myself and a saw a future. I actually felt good enough, smart enough and capable enough – all very alien concepts to me. I underestimated my strength. Sure, I’ll make mistakes. I’ll have times of hopelessness and despair. But I’m resilient. The world is my oyster and if I want to become a child and adolescent psychologist, I bloody well will.
My mental health will not stop me.