Help Others, Feel Connected: Why I Interned at Active Minds

Since I started my internship at Active Minds, I’ve been asked by family and friends why I picked Active Minds.  The short answer: I want to help others who suffer and feel alone like I did.

Let me tell you a little about myself;  I am a 39 year old woman who is finally finishing my college degree on-line from Lesley University.

You see, the reason I did not complete my degree in the 1990s, when I first started college, or when I tried to go back again (twice), was because of my mental health issues. I got to college and was happier than I had been in high school.  I was a teacher’s pet in high school but never fit in with the other students.  I wasn’t bullied, but my grade formed a lot of cliques and I wasn’t in any of them, which left me feeling on the outside.  I got to college, though, and found an amazing group of friends; I was doing well, making good grades.  I was even figuring out my major.

Then one morning, I woke up in intense pain from my collar bone to my hips that localized in my left chest, arm and back.  After 12 hours in the ER I was back in my dorm, having been told it was most likely a one-time event.  I was back in the hospital a week later.  This started a long process of seeing doctors, and undergoing copious tests.  As the pain gradually moved from my chest to my stomach, causing me to be violently ill, the doctors switched from cardiologists to gastroenterologists.  No one could find anything physically wrong with me.  This led them to believe it might be panic attacks.Katie Shulman

I was barely going to school because I was afraid I would be sick in the middle of class, and I was also in denial about it about my condition. I missed so many classes I was failing.  After the doctors diagnosed panic attacks, the rounds of medications began, but they didn’t seem to do anything or had strong negative side effects.

I started hearing phrases like “It’s all in your head” and “buck up” or “just make yourself get up, you’ll feel much better.”  These remarks came from people who loved me and were trying to help, but they made me feel like a failure.

After a year of this, I finally left school and came home to get help.  I started working in retail and seeing a variety of doctors.  After a while I decided to try school again.  But again, the plan failed and what happened at my first school was repeated.

After years of misdiagnoses and hearing “it’s all in your head,” I finally received the proper medical diagnoses from new doctors who concluded that I suffered not only from Panic Attacks, but from other disorders including Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Depression, Agoraphobia and Claustrophobia.  Having a clear explanation of my illnesses made all the difference.

So I tried school again…and failed.  I felt like a disappointment to my family and friends.  I felt stupid and weak because I couldn’t do what so many others did every day. But I’m lucky.  I have a family who love and support me and who make sure I know that they’ll always be there for me, and help me get whatever help I need.  I decided that school seemed to be the trigger point for the worst of my illness.

So I stopped thinking about school and concentrated on work, and for a while I was OK with that life.  But then, I started feeling restless, like I was at a cross roads.  And then something happened.  Both my parents ended up in the hospital–my father, for back surgery—and four days later, my mother for complications from a medical condition. Dad started healing, but my mother’s condition took a number of complicated turns.

I soon became her patient advocate.  One of the nurses told me that I should be in this field, as I was a natural at taking care of people. This statement would change me and my path in life.

I finally felt like it was time to try again, so, even though I was terrified, I started researching on-line universities.  I have now completed one year at Lesley Universities Distance Learning Program and am proud to say the anxiety and panic attacks are under control.

I may be 40 or older when I graduate and start my new career (SCARY), but the feeling that I can’t finish college and that I’m a failure or a disappointment will, hopefully, be gone.

Lesley requires completion of two internships to graduate.  I found Active Minds and learned that its goal is to change the way people think and talk about mental health on college campuses, and I knew immediately that I wanted to be involved. Had there been a chapter on my campus when I was in school, maybe I could have completed college on my first try!  I can say with confidence that it would have helped me feel less alone and lessened the stigma of my illness.  So, whenever someone asks why I chose Active Minds or why I am attempting to finish my degree at this point in my life, I tell them: It’s because I want to help others going through the same pain that I did.  I want to make sure that they feel less alone and helpless and Active Minds is working to do exactly that.