Many times in life one will hear that old saying “everyone has their own baggage.” Sometimes people have “baggage” that involves a type of loss, like a breakup, a death or a chapter ending in life.
While it’s hard for a person to put their baggage down on the curb and walk away, there are ways to cope with loss in a healthy way, and many of those resources for Webster students are right within their reach.
Many counselors, especially here at Webster, use the Wellness Model for dealing with loss, mental illness or trauma. The six parts are physical, mental, social, spiritual, intellectual and occupational. A loss might affect these aspects of a person’s life in different ways and usually spreads to affect all or almost all aspects of their life. Dr. Gladys Smith is a counselor at Webster and helps students deal with loss or trauma.
“Wellness equals balance — as long as you’re aware where you are [in life], you have a better chance of being balanced,” Smith says. “If you neglect one area, it starts to seep over into neglecting another area.”
Smith places importance on understanding that not everybody deals with loss the same way. There is not one “normal” way to react and each person takes his or her own amount of time to recover.
The most common loss among college students is breakups. While some people might not think breakups are too serious, it depends on the circumstances, the length of the relationship and most importantly, the person and their history. For junior Tony Bottini, he was ready to break up with his girlfriend of two years. Even if a person suggests a break up, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t experience the affects of loss.
“I was absolutely everything — I was upset, very anxious, had adrenaline,” Bottini says.
Since it was Bottini’s first relationship, he realized there were things he could have handled differently and things that could have gone differently.
“I didn’t necessarily know how to go about it and properly go about breaking up with somebody,” Bottini says. “At least now I know what to do or reasonably expect.”
Bottini says when he made the transfer to Webster University, being involved with school made him get over the breakup.
“Honestly, being at this school and meeting a bunch of new people helped,” Bottini says. “I joined PING, and I was super busy and made a bunch of new friends. Getting involved and meeting new people was my coping method.”
Bottini says that after a person has allotted time for themselves to heal, try getting back in the dating scene. Additionally, Smith says that withdrawing from situations and a social life can make a person fall into a depression. Once a person feels like they have healed, go out and meet new people, even friends — it can help them become comfortable with being single again.
“I think it’s healthy to go out and experience new people you’ve never met before and put yourself back out there,” Bottini says.
Experiencing death can be traumatic, especially if it was an untimely death. Junior Abbey Heise had to recover from the deaths of their two friends here at Webster.
“Two of the Webster students that died last semester were both my friends — Chorsie Martin, and Kevin Kelley,” Heise says. “[Kelley] was around my age and died of cancer. He had been fighting it for a while.”
Heise had to readjust to not seeing both friends every day, but they take comfort knowing that other people are going through the grieving process from the same losses. Many Webster students were close to Martin and Kelley, and Heise says they all support each other. Smith says having a self-care plan helps people deal with loss, no matter how significant. Webster counselors help students work out a grief plan.
“In the self-care plan, we help them reintegrate skills in each areas,” Smith says.
Loss and depression slow a person’s state of emotion, and engaging the senses or walking can help combat those feelings.
Chapter in Life
Senior Jory Siebenmorgen played volleyball for about 12 years, and loves the competitive game. She says that since her last season playing for school has ended, transitioning into not playing for an institution has been difficult. She recalled her last game against Greenville College that Webster unfortunately lost.
“With Greenville, it was my last game playing college — as soon as that last point dropped I fell apart and started crying,” Siebenmorgen says. “Not only did I feel like those 12 years came to an end all of a sudden, but [I] let teammates, parents, coaches, [and my] school down. It’s a lot within a 30-second point being played. It’s kind of like being hit by a train.”
With the loss of the game and adjusting to not playing school volleyball anymore, Siebenmorgen says she fell into a depression.
She recalled it being hard to motivate herself to exercise, eat well or have a good sleeping schedule. Siebenmorgen is now having fun playing on recreational and competitive teams, but says it’s very different than what she’s used to.
“You have to let stuff go because it’s not college or a club,” Siebenmorgen says. “We’re here to have fun and obviously we’re still pretty competitive, but you have to enjoy the life after all that competitiveness and find that middle ground.”
While many decide to cope with losses without counseling, Smith offers advisement to practice self-monitoring so that it is easier to know when to seek help.
“Resources are available and counseling can be one session, just to get resources or a self-care plan,” Smith says. “Some people think [counseling is] a death sentence, but none of us practice psycho-analytics. It’s solution-focused therapy where we give [the student] coping skills and teach the stages. The next time we practice mindfulness activities and the last meeting we close.”
There are also many resources at Webster that don’t involve one-on-one counseling. On the Involved website, there are workshops every month focused on improving mental health and the sense of self. Additionally, Smith holds trauma-based yoga in the Alumni House every Friday at noon.
Sometimes it can be hard to accept that it’s time to seek help, but getting started by talking to a friend or family member can open up other opportunities to heal.
Heise offers words of encouragement to people who are going through a loss. “Find comfort that you’re not alone, and never be afraid to go out and look for help if you need it,” Heise says. “You have to be gentle with yourself.”
To schedule an appointment with a Webster counselor, call 314-968-7030 or email email@example.com (non-confidential). If you need immediate support, call Missouri’s Behavioral Health Crisis Hotline at 1-800-811-4760.
Story by Emily Klein
Photo by Isaac Knopf