“I’d like to talk to someone about feeling uncomfortable seeing groups of Asian people around campus.”
“Okay, can you come in next Tuesday at 1pm?”I had sat in front of the phone trying to figure out what to say. I rehearsed different phrases and ways to express how I felt. After ten minutes, I decided to just pick up the phone and say whatever came to mind. I was surprised at the straight-forward way I expressed my feelings and I was shocked at the kindness of the person who set-up my appointment.
CAPS: Counseling And Psychological Services at Northwestern made their presence known from the first day of freshmen orientation. When I moved into my dorm, I table tent with information about CAPS was prominently displayed. I heard the advice that since every students had a number of free sessions, so you might as well come up with an excuse to go and get your monies worth.
In the wake of student tragedies across America related to psychological issues, Northwestern University, like many colleges in our country actively promoted and supported counseling and psychological services like CAPS. While most people didn’t talk openly about going to CAPS, whenever these services came up in conversation people expressed gratitude that this service existed. It was this atmosphere and lack of stigma that gave my the strength to pick up the phone and later go up the stairs from the health center and enter CAPS.
I stumbled through my first session not really knowing how to describe my problem and my feelings. The psychologist didn’t really say anything and didn't validate my feelings verbally. At times there were silent pauses that I filled not because I had anything meaningful to say but rather because of a desire to curb a feeling of social awkwardness.
I felt like I was trying to prove that I needed help from CAPS and I felt like I was trying to convince the psychologist and myself that I had a problem with working through. At the end of the session, I wasn’t sure what I had gained from the experience.
The psychologist asked me if I would like to talk to someone on a weekly basis and I said that I would and he said he would set me up with a graduate student and he would help guide her work with me.
Every week for the rest of that school year, I met with a counselor at CAPS. I grew to appreciate having a stranger to share my thoughts and my feelings. It was liberating knowing that I didn’t have to worry about my words leaving the room. My sessions would start simply by my counselor asking me how I was doing. I would talk and once in a while she would ask clarification questions. Sometimes I talked about my racial issues, and my feeling about those groups of Asian people and during other sessions it never came up. She didn’t give assign me any books to read or really give me an advice, she simply gave me the space to work through my thoughts and feelings.
Over time, those groups of Asian students stopped bringing up negative feelings inside of me. I don’t know why. Maybe by talking about my feelings it allowed me to really feel them and once that happened I could let them go. I’m not sure.
One beautiful spring day after a session, I walked out of the health building, felt the sunshine in my face and through the blinding sunlight, the sky looked a color blue I had never seen before. I saw a group of Asian students walking across the street and I smiled at them. As I walked, I whispered to myself, “I’m good.”