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Student view: Managing mental health and university life

September 14, 2023 - Shae Eckles

Shae Eckles is a third-year James Madison College student from Pinckney, Michigan, studying international relations and Science, Technology, Environment and Public Policy (STEPP). She is active in the MSU Sunrise Hub, JMC Human Rights Lab and MSU Literature Association.

Shae Eckles

I’ve been known as an ‘overthinker’ and ‘overly sensitive’ for most of my life. I’ve dealt with anxiety and sensitivity issues since I was in the third grade. Throughout the years, a constant in my life seems to be explaining to the people around me that I don’t choose to feel this way; I just can’t regulate my emotions as well as others.

My first semester at James Madison College was an adjustment for me. I had made so much progress with my mental health leading up to that point. I loved the content of the courses and the new community I was a part of, but the combination of the life changes I was going through, and the rigor of the courses took a toll on me. I was terrified of underperforming in class and had a hard time feeling like I was intellectually matched with my peers. The only way I got through that semester safely was because I was able to meet with my therapist every week.

I’ve been lucky enough to see a therapist for my anxiety issues since I was 14. I was so scared to see how my treatment would transfer over at MSU. How was I going to explain to my roommate that I’d have to kick her out for therapy every week? How was I going to explain that I needed therapy without scaring her? 

To my surprise, explaining to my friends that I did therapy and needed to kick them out for an hour every week wasn’t a big deal at all. They were all so supportive of me, and I was relieved. Being honest was leagues better than suffering in silence. Ever since, I’ve tried to be more transparent about my mental health. I’d rather risk sharing what I go through and let people form whatever opinions about me than make myself feel worse. If I can be open about my struggles, maybe other students will feel less stigmatized as well.

Staying involved and doing things strictly for myself has helped me balance through the struggle. I’ve joined new organizations and even started playing guitar over the past two years to help myself manage my anxiety. Consequently, I made so many new friends. When I felt isolated, James Madison’s surprisingly warm, welcoming community was there for me. I can’t recommend anything more.

Setting small goals for myself that don’t pertain to school act as a small form of self-care. I joined MSU Literature Association last fall, and we read one book between two bi-weekly meetings. I’ve found that this goal of finishing one book each month has helped me set aside time for myself to read for fun outside of my assigned readings. I also love being able to win free books — because who doesn’t? I know self-care can be hard when you’re struggling, but it gets easier when you can incentivize yourself to do it with something that you enjoy.

For anyone else juggling their mental health and the university lifestyle, I want you to know that sometimes progress isn’t linear. After February 13th, I had to start seeing my therapist more often and start new treatment. I had weeks where I improved, and then the next I would be back at square one. This doesn’t make me any less worthy, and it means the same for you. Give yourself grace. 

For anyone struggling with their mental health or finding themselves in crisis, CAPS has resources on campus to help. South Neighborhood specifically has a CAPS representative available to speak with in either Wonders or Case Halls if you need an in-person appointment, or consultations can be done over the phone at (517)355-8270.