Madeline Nash is a counselor at University Counseling Services at Truman State University in Kirksville, and full disclosure, someone I knew during my undergrad at Truman.
She spoke about her role with college students since classes moved online due to the coronavirus pandemic, and about how students – and others – should “give themselves that empathy” to mourn the loss of things like graduation during this unprecedented time.
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Madeline Nash: Having someone that just understands the developmental age of a college student, I think through the conversations I had this week with our seniors who were, you know, supposed to attend a graduation ceremony on Saturday.
And some of them were saying things like, "Well, you know, people in my family or some of the older generations that I've interacted with have said, like, 'Well, I didn't get to go to graduation because I was going to Vietnam or, you know, this other terrible thing was happening.'"
And recognizing that having someone who empathizes with that situation, or who has been to graduation for the past few years and knows how important that is, and can acknowledge - that's a real loss for you, and you are grieving this and you have a right to grieve this, even if someone else has had to go through something that, you know, on this weird scale, is more difficult in some way.
So, working to acknowledge like, that is something that is a real loss and understanding what that loss is, I think, has been really important, particularly for our seniors, but also just for all of our students who, you know, maybe didn't get to say goodbye to their favorite professor this year, or who didn't get to go through that process of having a closing banquet for their job on campus.
And so, recognizing that losing that empathy and that validation of those experiences - being something that's worth mourning - has been really hard for some of these students, and so, I think, for them, often just having that voice of someone on campus who can validate and normalize that experience, give them that empathy or help them give themselves that empathy, and work to turn off that invalidating voice, that we all have in our brains, has helped them be able to move on in a way that is successful.
You know, if you look at Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, no one is achieving self-actualization during quarantine, like you can't get to the point where you are living your most full, most satisfying life when we're at a point where we can't interact with people the way we are used to, or the way we most want to.
Or when we can't turn on the TV or turn on social media and not read some sort of traumatizing or scary or just overwhelming kind of news article or story or personal report about how this is affecting the community around us.
So, the sense that we are in like, a community experience of trying to increase and re-navigate a sense of safety, means that for a lot of us, we're not going to be at that point where we're operating at our peak.
That shaming message we have about asking for help is not about other people asking for help. It's about carrying shame about ourselves asking for help. You know what I mean? Like, we're often like, "yeah, other people need help. That's great for them, they should do that."
"I don't want to need help," and it's uncomfortable for me to need help. And I feel shame or I feel a sense of stigma about myself asking for help.
And so, I often talk to people about, you know, "well, it sounds like you feel like it's okay for humans to ask for help. Let's remember, you're human. You are in the humans who get to ask for help." Right?
So, sometimes just acknowledging your humanness and recognizing there is part of our brain that says, "all humans need help sometimes," and we have those messages everywhere, like when we say things like, "it takes a village to raise a child."
We recognize humans need each other and need help and need support, and so, sometimes that hurdle is about just recognizing that we are human, as well, and so, all of these thoughts we have about humankind benefiting from support - we have to apply to ourselves versus just this idea of like humankind outside of us.