Northwest Missourian Opinion

For over 21 years of my life, I had this innate belief that I am strong and I can get through anything. Over time, that thought manifested toxic traits of bottling my emotions up and chasing unrealistic ideas of perfection. So, on Feb. 14, 2017, when I found myself sitting in a cold, dark mental health hospital bed, I felt that I had lost the right to call myself strong again.

An article published on Sept. 5,2019, titled  “‘I felt zero support’ – Mental Health Policy Concerns Students,” compressively exposed my struggle with mental illness during 2018 for the public to understand and analyze available mental health resources and policies on campus. The article shed light on the story of two Northwest students, including myself, and our experience with abiding by the campus care and concern contract that all students are required to follow in case of hospitalization for mental health reasons.

I stand by what I said about how some aspects of the protocol I was required to follow did not make sense to me, nor were they helpful at times. But I want to clarify that what people read about my story in that article does not depict the full story. It almost villainizes several campus resources when my experience was a lot more different and complex.

I am worried that the article may have alarmed some students on campus who are struggling through similar issues to not seek help, and that thought terrifies me. There is already so much stigma associated with seeking help for mental health, and I don’t want to contribute to that stigma with an incomplete story.

I would like to start by saying that I wish the article hadn’t talked about my suicide attempt back in fall of 2018; it was unpleasant to revisit some of the most difficult times I’ve had in such a public manner. But since it has been made public, I would like to express what my depressive episodes were like so people can have a better understanding of it.

It was like living in a war zone where two different versions of me were constantly in battle. One that was evil and wanted to hurt me, while the other was trying to protect me in any way possible.

Overtime, the evil thoughts in my head got stronger, every coping skill I was using to overcome them failed drastically, and I felt like I was always two steps behind my illness no matter what I tried. Nothing I tried seemed to work. 

Things kept getting worse. The battles never stopped, but eventually I learned to numb myself from the chaos. I stopped feeling things, and I didn’t feel like a human anymore.

While seeking help, I felt frustrated with the system at times, and I felt like I wasn’t getting the right help I needed. Healing for me was a difficult process that ignited from a lot of trial and error. 

The process wasn’t a jolly experience; I did everything in the books to feel better but nothing changed. I had no control over what was happening to me, and I didn’t know how to take care of myself. 

But regardless of how ruthless the process was, I never felt like I was navigating it alone. There were people from this campus that went above and beyond to make a difference. These individuals did more than what was asked of them, and without whom I would not have been here today, and I’m here to put them on their well-deserved spotlight.

Lieutenant Amanda Cullins and several other U.P.D. officers constantly came up to my door to check up on me. I was transported to the emergency room more times than I would have hoped or wanted, and I was sick of being sick, sick of being in the same place over and over again, but these officers never ignored my calls or my situation. They helped me with the same willingness and compassion throughout this endless process — no matter how many times they had to show up to my door, and sadly, sometimes it was several times a day.

Wellness Services was undoubtedly the biggest support system I had on campus. Even though it wasn’t easy being there several times a week, I was always greeted with a welcoming smile and judgement-free care. 

I am so grateful for Kristen Pelts, who was my counselor at the time and never rushed through our session even when we went quarter past our scheduled hour. When I was hospitalized for the second time, Kristen Peltz and Dr. Wilmes, both from Wellness Services, sat for hours in the emergency room with me until late at night to make sure that I was taken care of and that I was assigned a room.

 Both of these individuals have been instrumental in my well-being, and I can never thank them enough. There are many aspects of mental well-being and things that can act as a barrier to them. 

For me, it was the added stress of hospitals bills and other logistics which would have made my situation worse, but Linda Guess and Judy Frueh from Wellness Services helped me with the organizational aspect of well-being. Judy and Linda argued with stubborn airline employees for me to get a refund on a nonrefundable plane ticket home (Nepal) when I was hospitalized the 5th time that year and couldn’t make it home. And yes, I got that refund. 

Not just that, Linda Guess also helped me figure out my never-ending hospital bills and navigate the intimidating health care system and insurance policies. She advocated for me when I couldn’t fight for myself. 

This is a quote from Linda while she was assertively arguing with my insurance provider to cover an uncovered expense. 

“Okay! So who do I need to dispute with to fix that?” Guess said.

And like that, it was fixed.

B.K. Taylor from Wellness Services, who has acted as a mentor and role model for me since my freshman year, never doubted my strength, even when I had lost all hope. Regardless of his busy schedule, he saved space for me every week, and he was my rock throughout this process.

He saw me for not just who I was but who I could be, and sometimes it was the only source of hope I had. “There is hope” is what he always said, and even when I felt like there wasn’t, his words would echo in my head. 

When positive affirmations weren’t effective for me anymore, I remember he loaned me his Batman and Robin toys from his office for my “protection,” along with a beautiful story. It’s things like these that are proof these individuals aren’t just in their position for benefits — they genuinely care and are there for you because they want to be. 

I can talk about these individuals for days and still not get tired. I can only imagine how much they do on a daily basis for students like myself, yet they go unrecognized.

The article briefly talked about my employment at Residential Life and a difficult experience I had with it towards the end of my term. However, a few bad moments cannot be a substitute for the years of love, care, friendship and comradery I experienced with the department. 

It gave me a home, a family and a purpose at a time where I had lost everything else, and I will forever be an advocate for new students to embark on the journey of being a Residential Life student staff member. I would also encourage them to recognize burnout and practice self-care, however, which I lacked at the time. 

I will forever be grateful for several Residential Life professional staff members like Brittany Stegeman, Mike Miller and Scott Shields, along with others whose genuine compassion and care made me feel heard and understood. 

In fall of 2018, all Director Paul Bennett and other U.P.D. officers address the unpleasant situation of my attempt to not be alive. As someone who has been in the corresponding sides of similar situations, I know it is not easy. But thankfully, with their determination to ensure student’s safety, I am still breathing today, and I couldn't have been any more grateful. These amazing individuals save and change lives every day, and I am honored to have worked alongside them.

Don’t get me wrong, even with all these individuals, the process of getting effective help was still difficult. Without finding the right balance of medication for the chemical imbalance in my brain, all other changes were meaningless. 

Regardless of all the changes I was encouraged to make, I still found myself in the same spot over and over again. I was stuck in a cycle of getting in and out of hospitals like a revolving door, but the process and protocols never changed even though it failed to work the first time. 

If there was a magic spell to “fix” my situation at the time, I can guarantee that every single one of these individuals would have used it to help me get what I needed. But sadly, there is no such spells, and a large part of healing was (and is) my journey and my responsibility.

I cannot speak for every student’s experience with mental health issues on campus, and I would not be surprised if not all of them were positive. But lots has changed and is progressively changing since my last visit to the hospital for a more positive student experience with campus resources. 

I see wellness activities to manage stress, relationships, self-care, grief and culture shock getting more and more students’ attention every day. I see U.P.D. and Wellness Services making more efforts to build student rapport with different events and collaboration with other organizations. 

Yes we still have a long way to go, but I am a strong believer that as students we aren’t just participants, but co-creators of the campus culture we live in, and every day, accepting, encouraging and promoting campus resources is a proactive measure to eliminate stigma around mental health and seeking help for it.

As for me, since my last hospital visit, medication switches and lifestyle changes, I am doing incredibly well. I never thought I would see another spring, but I find myself in awe of the beauty around me every single day. 

There are still two metaphorical voices in my head, but this time they are good friends, and they love and complement each other. I have come to understand that strength isn’t the absence of fear or weakness, but it’s a process of understanding ourselves in the most vulnerable way, and I am getting stronger every day.

 My relationship with myself has never been better, and I am in love with being alive. Thanks to everyone who made this a reality.

-Pooja Poudyal

The Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be called at 1-800-273-8255

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