Posts tagged college
The College Reality

by Mary Ann Sokolowski

How many times do our expectations get squashed by reality? I'm not even talking solely our own expectations, but those created by society. Societal "normal" of what a period of time in your life will be like, or what a holiday or life event will bring. Let's look at one biggie:

"College will be the best years of your life!"

What if we didn't have this pressure, these expectations, and got to experience things for ourselves? How do they turn out? The issues I see are when our experiences don't align with what is expected, and we have to wade through the reality seemingly alone.

What if college is not ALWAYS the best time of your life? Its a time in life when we struggle to (warning: cliche) find out who we are. There are days when we fight to be an adult, days we crave childhood, want responsibility, want someone to tell us what to do, rage against someone telling us what to do, then cry when we have to make a decision on our own. One day we know what we want to do, the next day you have no clue. You change majors. You regret changing majors. You want to make money, you struggle with humanity. Someone asks you what you want to be when you grow up, you stare at them blankly and all you want to say is (to put it nicely), "How the heck am I supposed to know?"

Confusing? Absolutely. Understandable? Yes.

Now some people might have the experience where college is the best of their life, but it is not a fact. Will you and can you have a lot of fun, find your path and purpose in life and miss college when it is over? Sure. But in that you are prepping and figuring what your plan will be the rest of your life. And that is a tall order.

We as humanity crave stability. Crave relationship. Hate not being able to answer "simple" questions about ourselves like, "So what's your major?".

So what if people were real in their parting words as you move into your dorm for college. What if you were told that college can be, and will be at times, a lot of times- a blast. Fun for days (sometimes all night). College will open doors to new ideas and new people, new relationships and new opportunities that you would never imagine. You will be foolish, and irresponsible, or responsible and holed up in the library while holding down two jobs, but there will be people in same boat where ever you go. There will also be stress, and feelings of isolation and the unknown. You will be scared and overwhelmed and lost and not know your path. You might fail at things, you might get perfect scores. You will question and regret and want your mom. You will go home for your first holiday and see your family and friends and it will be great, but eventually home will feel less like home, and you will start to move forward with a new place of belonging. You will battle, and explore and fight and make your place in the world. Realistically you might not find career of a lifetime on your first try. But you can dream and pursue and are allowed the opportunity.

What if you were told a greater sense of reality about "the best years of your life"?

Recently evidence has shown how anxiety in high school and college students is sky rocketing. Suicide rates are increasing. Mental Health for college students is declining, or at least coming to light. The reality is being on your own and having to face life in a new way is hard. Life transitions of any kind are hard, and with college you are moving, making a new friends, tracking down your path in life, preparing to "be an adult" and fearful of the future. Student loans are just another overwhelming reality that complicates things even further.

Here in Nashville we have Vanderbilt, Belmont, Lipscomb, and just down the road MTSU just to name a few. The cost is hefty and the pressures are high.

If you are in college, its ok. Its complicated, it hard, its wonderful, its confusing. Its anxiety. Its stress. Take care of yourself. Seek help, go to counseling, allow yourself to be real and vulnerable.

If you are not in college, be understanding for those that are. Yes, they have a "wonderful" life, but is comes with struggles of its own. Lets be sensitive to that.

We Laugh to Survive
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by Mary Ann Sokolowski, LPC-MHSP

Why yes.....if you were an unfortunate fly that just happened upon one of the walls my office you very well might hear, "So, are you thinking about killing yourself?", "How many panic attacks this week?", "Oh, you got laid off?" or "Have you been cutting?" in the very same breath as......laughter.....me laughing.....us laughing.. together. I am not talking an uncomfortable: Oh crap I can't believe I am saying, this what in the world is happening and I hope the answer is "no" because I don't know what to do if it is a "yes" laugh.....but a roaring laugh, shared with the very people answering those very "scary" questions. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

I often feel as I need to apologize to other counselors in our office for the loud, rambunctious laughing that comes from my office spilling into the hallways......and inevitably into other offices.....whoops.....but I don't.....because maybe they won't know its me (until now I guess). So to my colleagues.. sorry... well not sorry... thanks for putting up with me.

This sarcastic, laughing, not truly light heart-ed but wanting things to be more light heart-ed is my authentic self... and I just happen to be a therapist who does a lot of crisis work, and is not generally considered light heart-ed.

I distinctly remember a time in high school when I was laughing. I was laughing hysterically and giving sarcastic answers that were knowingly wrong.....deflecting any semblance of truth. I was not happy, not jovial, not silly.....but I was scared. You see I wasn't cutting up in the lunch room or driving around listening to rap music that I wasn't supposed to with friends-I was laying flat out on the soccer field after a most unfortunate encounter as a goal keeper resulting in a concussion. "How many fingers am I holding up?" asked my coach. "7" I answered, knowing it was 2. I am sarcastic and a bit of a smart ass you may say. I had other coping mechanisms.. but humor kept me present; Sarcasm kept me real; And others kept me safe.

After over 13 years in the mental health field I have developed a firm belief that humor, laughing, and light heart-edness, even in moments of anxiety, even in remembrances of trauma, in the aftermath of rape, in the depths of depression, grief, and stress, is imperative. Just google the benefits of laughter.. I dare you! Numbers have been thrown around that children laugh an average of 300 or more times a day.. while adults... 15-20. Whilst I have not found "true" evidence supporting those numbers I will say that with three toddlers in my home I would say... some days (non whiny days that is)... they absolutely do laugh 300 or more times a day. I laugh more with them in my life. We laugh as a family more, and it is glorious, stress relieving, and fun.

Very often I parent using humor. When my kids are talking and talking and talking and I want a moment of silence... I let them spray whipped cream in their mouths (outside mind you) buying me a moment of silence and them (and in turn us) a great laugh. When my oldest is whiny and "crabby" he is asked to do the crab walk around the house until we are inevitably all laughing... especially if he has on socks on the hardwood floors.

For years I have had a painting/poster hanging up at my house by Mary Anne Radmacher simply saying "We laugh to Survive". Recently that painting has made its way to my office, as I laugh at work... all the time. Any yes I am a therapist, but not your sappy movie therapist. Yes I do trauma work, but, you see, I find no reason to not laugh. There is humor in these moments, even serious moments. Irrational thoughts circle trauma, feed stress, exacerbate depression, and when we isolate and examine those thoughts.. they can be funny. If we can find it, embrace those moments, and allow ourselves to actually breath in the time between the unimaginable conversations... unimaginable healing can occur. Laughter is healing. And that is my purpose.

-Mary Ann