The Moment My Amherst Bubble Popped
Issue   |   Wed, 04/15/2015 - 00:05

By Joyce Wamala '18E, Contributing Writer

The scariest experience in life is knowing that something is wrong with you, when no one else can see or diagnose the fact that there is indeed something wrong with you. I was recently hospitalized for the first time in my life. It was two weeks of insanity, two weeks that could have changed the course of my very existence in this continent. It sounds highly dramatic, and that is because it was just that — dramatic.

I woke up one Wednesday morning like any other member of our college community. It was an average day, and the spring we had been promised for so long was still being hidden by the winter breeze. I walked around my room trying to get everything into my bag so I wouldn’t need to walk back to Cohan until after volleyball practice that evening. I ended up taking a detour through Val to pick up one of those muffins that are usually above the fresh fruit. The kind old man who wipes down the drinks counters helped me out with one of those disposable coffee cups. Because I am still paranoid about the effects of caffeine, I opted for my usual mint tea with lemon and honey.

At this point, I was already off to a delayed start. Being two minutes late for French class was literally the worst thing possible, or was it? I side-shuffled my way though the growing mass of people that wanted to bust their trays and ran to Merrill to get into the one class of mine that should have given me a break from the site of Merrill on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We were discussing “Persepolis,” an autobiography about a small girl in Iran struggling with her perception of the world. Said girl was wondering why there was so much ambiguity in what adults said and what they did. She questioned her faith and how politics and social correctness came together with politeness. All of these questions ended up chasing her away from God.

For the first time, I finally understood the concept of “triggers.” I understood why people with post traumatic stress disorder were not “joking around with their lives.” I sympathized with people who needed the Amherst Christian Fellowship, Queer Resource Center, Multicultural Resource Center or Women’s and Gender Center to give them support. I felt compassion for anyone who had experienced difficulty due to something they could not control about themselves, be it ethnicity, spiritual belief or socioeconomic background. For the first time in a long time, I felt so crippled by my own mind, so much so that I could not take being at Amherst.

I think many of us reach this point at one time or another in the semester. It is that moment when school would not be too much to handle if it stood in isolation, and yet so many of us are aware that our existence at Amherst is not confined by a classroom space. No, our existence at Amherst isn’t even confined by the geographical location of this campus. I had reached that breaking point when my “Amherst bubble,” my slice of Cohan pie, my social niche, my physical existence — when all of these things were in perfect chaos. For those who were close enough to me to hear me speak that weekend after Wednesday’s class, I believed that I had gone mad.

A kind young man on the football team tried to comfort me that Sunday evening, when I had my “big bang” moment. He said, “We’re all a bit crazy sometimes. It’s OK.” Funny enough, all I could hear were my own thoughts. I could see people, but they all just seemed to be carrying on with their lives as if I didn’t matter. The brain is a beautiful thing. It is so beautiful, in fact, that when something goes wrong in the synaptic connections of our brains, it sometimes sends contradictory messages to the rest of our body and mind. For me, love meant hate, compassion meant nonchalance and communication meant speaking without a filter. I needed help and I felt like I was on an island. The island turned out to be Keefe Campus Center, a place that few of us have really gotten to know well. I sat in the McCaffrey Room and rambled on until inspiration struck me to ask for medical assistance. The Office of Student Affairs brought in a case manager, the on-call religious adviser came by, one of my best friends sat with me and someone I look up to sat with her. We were all there in McCaffrey for different reasons, but they aligned in my favor.

I was taken to Cooley Dickinson Hospital and I stayed there for two weeks, two blissful weeks that were simultaneously filled with chaos and compassion. I could eat whatever I wanted, sing whatever I wanted and paint whatever I wanted. For the first time in a long time, I could write my own story. I suppose that in writing I am trying to write my own story once more. When I had decided that I would willingly come back to school, the school worked with me. The Counseling Center, in conjunction with the Office of Student Affairs, made sure that I had an outpatient care team. Our religious adviser drove me back to campus and ensured that I had everything I needed, including my medication. In essence, all the support that I wanted and needed at the hospital followed me back to campus.

Now, many of you will wonder why I felt the need to over-share or to release so much information to such a large audience. Many of you might feel the urge to show me compassion and will empathize or maybe even just sympathize with this article. My aim is for none of the above. I want more people on this campus who face similar issues to know that help is available. I need more people with struggles to know that the struggle is real. It is so real that no one expects you to go the mile alone. There are systems and supports in place that are here to help you. There are people in offices staring at computer screens all day long and waiting on that phone call or email that will let them know that you want and appreciate their help.

Never suffer in silence. Peace and understanding, hope and love, faith and science — all these things can coexist for you. You simply have to call out for them. The campus emergency line is 413-542-2111. The after-hours counseling number is 413-542-2354. Whatever you think is an emergency can be emergency enough for you to call this line. Buddha once said, “The mind is everything. What we think, we shall become.” If you think you are too stressed, you may be too stressed; if you think you are a bit crazy, you may be. All such emotions and reactions are appropriate and normal. You are not alone.

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