Post Written by Amanda Waddle
Class of 2022, Marquette ASDA Webmaster & Blogmaster, ASDA District 7 Wellness Chair
Wednesday, October 30th, 2019, is the first annual Student Solidarity Day. A day where dental students in District 7 stand together to fight dental student suicide and support awareness, accessibility, and alliance when it comes to mental health and wellness during our dental education.
My first confrontation with my own mental health was during the spring semester of my junior year of college. I had to drop a class for the first time, I was getting a C for the first time, and my aunt had passed away the previous Thanksgiving. I knew I was going through the grieving process. I thought that because I knew what was going on, and I had taken psychology classes, that I was somehow smart enough to push through. I just needed to let myself go through the process, it would pass, and I would get back to “normal”. I remember getting up to go to class as late as possible (if I made it to class) and then going back to sleep pretty much as soon as I got back to my sorority house. I had said that I would make an appointment with counseling services, but continued to push that back for weeks. Eventually some part of me must have known that I needed help because instead of going back to my room or the sleeping dorms, I would sleep on the couch in our common room. During one of those “naps”, I was woken up by one of my sorority sisters and she asked me:
“Have you made your appointment yet?”
As I shook my head, she said we were calling them right then and there and sat with me while I called and made the intake appointment for the next day.
Honestly, I was still hesitant when I went to counseling. I didn’t want to say something to make her think anything was wrong with me. I remember saying multiple times that I “knew” it was just grief, I “knew” what was going on, and I “knew” it was normal – but part of me also felt that I should’ve been over it by then. I wanted to be strong – for my family, for my siblings – and through that process I learned that it’s not weakness to ask for help. If I wanted to be able to be there for my family and for my siblings, then I needed to also be present for myself and let my community be there for me. I was blessed to be surrounded by a community that knew me, and knew when something wasn’t right. They encouraged me to talk to someone, and didn’t see me as any less strong for seeking help. Through their encouragement and support, I was able to use resources I never wanted to admit I needed, and get help.
I still experience moments of anxiety. I still feel the need to be a strong leader and constantly fight a battle in my head that there is strength in vulnerability and that I need help, because a large part of me still wants to be the person that others go to for help, not the person that needs help. I feel like I should be “smart enough” to know better than let myself get to that place. I want to be seen as a strong woman pursuing her dreams and conquering them; when big exams come around and I don’t feel prepared, I feel like I’m letting so many people down, my chest gets tight, and I begin to wonder if I’m doing the right thing. Is being away from my family worth it? Is being long distance from my husband worth it? I go down a spiral of all the terrible things that could happen while I’m in the bubble of dental school while my friends and family across the country keep moving on with their lives.
These bouts of anxiety were much more frequent when I first moved to Milwaukee and started school. When people tell you that the first couple years of dental school are like drinking from a fire hose, they aren’t kidding. I had to fight through the fear that they would see through my tough exterior and realize that they made a mistake, I really wasn’t cut out for dental school. I had to find the courage reach out, find resources and admit that I was feeling overwhelmed and alone. And I know I’m not the only one. So many people I’ve talked to about this topic share so many of these feelings. That is a large reason why when the idea was presented to create a student solidarity day, I jumped on board.
We need to be more aware of the mental struggles that dental students go through – and maybe even outsmart ourselves into denying are even going on. We need better access around our jam-packed schedules to counseling services. And we need to build an alliance with faculty (and our own peers) to support and not shame reaching out for help.
As I’m writing this, I’m reminded of a camp song I learned growing up:
“We’re all living ‘neath the great big dipper,
We’re all washed by the very same rain,
We are swimming in this stream together,
Some in power and some in pain,
We can worship this ground we walk on,
Cherishing the beings that we live beside,
Loving spirits will live Forever,
We’re all swimming to the other side”
As dental students, we are in the best position to advocate for each other and future students in our position.
Stand with me and our district on October 30th in solidarity.
Wear the ribbons on your lanyard. Share a picture. Use the hashtag #BeThereASDA. Show the world that we stand together and show your peers that you’ll be there.
Holthusen Hall, Rm 204