Closson: It’s okay to ask for help

Troy Closson, Opinion Editor

Maybe I’ll just deal with it myself.

I can’t even count the number of times I told myself that last year — whether I was struggling in a class, confused about navigating the transition or just feeling overwhelmed by Northwestern. However, I could probably count how many times I actually asked for help on just one hand — and I didn’t even see that as an issue.

There were many times last year I felt like my problems weren’t “bad enough” to warrant seeking help. Whenever I struggled balancing extracurriculars with classes, I’d end up looking at other students’ campus involvement and feel like I should’ve been able to handle the little I was doing. I constantly framed any challenges I was having by first looking at everyone else’s. As I realized, however, that mindset can’t last forever.

Toward the end of Spring Quarter, I was diagnosed with mononucleosis. Prior to seeing a doctor, I spent weeks feeling sick — and doing nothing about it. I initially thought I just had a cold that would eventually pass. As things got worse, I didn’t prioritize my health enough to actually see a doctor. And even after I did, I thought I could just power through. As finals week approached, although I felt horrible, I still hadn’t reached out to my professors. In the end, I did terribly in one of my classes and waited until the last possible day to request an incomplete for another. At the time, the hardest thing to reconcile was that it was my fault. I thought if I sought help sooner, much of what happened would’ve been avoided and throughout the summer, looking back, I struggled to understand why I didn’t reach out.

I’ve been bad at asking for help in the past and to be honest, it wasn’t just at NU. Even before college, I would always try to handle personal issues myself and deal with everybody else’s instead. NU’s environment of comparing stress and struggles had only pushed me to continue that behavior, feeling uncomfortable asking for help.

This summer, however, I finally realized blaming myself for my Spring Quarter struggles was neither beneficial nor healthy. Instead, I started really thinking about why asking for help was so hard and how I could change that.

In high school, I rarely struggled academically to the point of needing to sit down with a teacher. In and out of class, conversations about mental health hardly ever took place, and I thought everyone who struggled had a diagnosis. During last year’s True Northwestern Dialogue on mental health and wellness, I remember feeling like I had no experience with many of the topics being discussed and I wasn’t expecting that to change — so I wasn’t ready when it did.

It’s taken me a long time to realize it, but if you need help — with academics, extracurriculars, personal health, transitioning to NU (even past your first year) or literally anything else — it’s available and you don’t have to go through things alone. As a Peer Adviser this year, I got just as much out of the TNDs as my new students. Going through PA camp and Wildcat Welcome, with a greater recognition of the challenges ahead, helped me really understand what resources are available when I need help — and that even though it feels like everyone has problems, yours are just as significant.

It’s OK to ask for help and although I haven’t become an expert, I can honestly say I’m no longer going through anything alone. Just in the first few weeks of the quarter, I’ve already met with advisers multiple times and have more meetings planned. I’ve looked into counseling services for mental health. I’ve reached out to people around me when I’ve felt overwhelmed. And even though talking about my problems hasn’t always been easy, I finally understand how important it is.

Troy Closson is a Medill sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.