Last month, after two years of seeing each other, my psychiatrist dumped me. “I feel like we really have a connection, and it’s hard to let you go,” she told me. But she was transitioning to private practice and wouldn’t take my insurance after the end of the year, so even though she really wanted to, she just couldn’t see me anymore. I hadn’t foreseen our relationship ending anytime soon. The call was a shock.
When I hung up the phone, I hoped to feel at peace, able to let go and move on to a doctor who could give me a new perspective. Perhaps fresh eyes would be able to help me figure out the perfect medication regimen. But in my last session with my psychiatrist, I cried a lot. It was hard to accept that I wouldn’t see this person who had helped me through some of my most dire moments again.
I’ve seen two new psychiatrists since, and all I could think about in each appointment was how much I missed my old psychiatrist. Appointments with new doctors are difficult, as it always feels as though I’m being asked to describe all of the bad things that have ever happened to me in one 45-minute session. But I also yearned for the intelligence and mild demeanor of my old psychiatrist, who made me feel safe and cared for. The two psychiatrists I saw came well-recommended, and I believe they are good doctors, but they aren’t my doctor, so it’s difficult to like them.
I have never dealt well with change. My usual response to change is to curl into a ball and cease to function until I finally get used to my new reality.
The transition into college isn’t easy for anyone, but my mental health tanked when I first got to UC Berkeley. Trying to balance meeting new people, taking difficult classes and adjusting to life 3,000 miles away from home threw my brain into chaos.
My therapist and I talk often about my relationship with change. She hopes that one day, I will be able to approach new life changes with acceptance and grace, instead of clinging to what has passed while kicking and screaming, which is my current preferred method of coping.
So as I prepare to transition out of college and formal education and into the real world in the spring, my relationship with change has been weighing on me. I don’t want to fall into deep depression when I leave school, as I have in the past when faced with huge life transitions. I want to enter this next phase of life ready to embrace whatever comes next, instead of mourning the end of my time at university and identifying only as an ex-student.
The transition out of school feels difficult because, while all of my friends are also graduating, we each enter postgraduate life alone. Never again will all of my friends live within a 10-minute radius of my apartment. Instead, we will disperse across the country and the world, so the people I’ve leaned on through difficult life changes for the past four years won’t be within arm’s length anymore.
I’ve tried to pick out lessons to learn from my transition into college in order to deal with life changes more productively in the future. Learning how to navigate the systems of therapy and psychiatry was grueling. Although the pain of loss does subside eventually, the pain of adjusting to a new reality is inevitable. All of the obstacles that were in my path coupled with the little knowledge I had about dealing with stress as an 18-year-old leaves me questioning how I could have reached these conclusions any faster. The emotional stability and mental clarity needed to approach new phases of life with acceptance feel unreachable; I cannot imagine how not to be devastated by the loss of what has passed.
I do feel more prepared for my transition out of college than I have for transitions past. With three years of therapy, I feel armed and ready with tactics to combat the self-loathing, loneliness and uncertainty that comes with one’s early 20s. But all I have ever known is school; how will I know how to use those skills in the real world, where no one is guiding me, and I am all alone in building my own destiny? I am tempted to get a master’s degree, if only to remain in school for a little while longer. But my many therapy sessions have told me that I cannot opt out, that the real world is waiting.
On a smaller scale, I have also been thinking about the end of my time as a columnist at the Daily Cal. Writing this column has allowed me to reflect on my own mental illness and how I approach the world while living with one. It’s important to me to keep writing about my experiences, even without the structure of a weekly column. And I want to keep thinking about how to talk about my experiences and grow from them without letting my illness define me. I don’t know yet what it means to be a person with a job, a life and a mental illness. But hopefully, as I continue to heal and be brave, I will be readier than before to face the change that is coming.
Salwa Meghjee writes the Thursday column on destigmatizing mental illness. Contact her at [email protected].