Ali shares his experience of opening up to people about his feelings while at university.
– Ali

Despite being on a counselling training course, the idea of me “opening up” didn’t really come to mind when I applied, enrolled, and attended my degree. Perhaps naively it didn’t occur to me that I would have to “open up” as part of the mandatory hours of personal therapy I have to attend as part of the course…
“you’re such an emotionally mature person” 
“you’re so connected with your feelings”  
“I feel like I could tell you anything”
But, opening up can be scary. Being heard can be terrifying. And being seen, properly seen, by another person can be horrifying. 
The first time I felt seen was when a lecturer picked up on a twinge of anger in my voice as I talked about my first academic year not ending how I wanted it to. That small recognition of my feelings, my experience, and of me drained the blood from my face. I felt incredibly cold. 
As if the usual words of everyday life we use to fill the day had vanished and I had been spotted. It was cold…but also a relief. I hadn’t said what I was feeling but someone had heard/seen it. I suppose being heard or seen was my precursor or first step to opening up. Knowing someone had received a small part of me and what I had feeling at the time gave a little nudge to open up a little more.  
When my mental health needed attending to, beyond the requirements of my course, it took a while to open up in therapy. I remember my therapist nodding along to what I was saying and then slowly but suddenly leaned forward and said  “why are you here today? You’ve spoken, very eloquently, about “stuff” but what do you want?”  I was taken aback. A deer in the headlights! My clever disguise of words and conversation had been seen, accepted, and they wanted to know more- more about what I wanted, more about what I felt, and more about who & how I was. 
The “old cold” came back as I told them, just a little bit, about how I felt about my reasons for coming for counselling. I suppose the “old sensation” of being perceived and received doesn’t go away and may be part and parcel of opening up. Opening up can involve a treading lightly of who we are and how we feel to another person. All the good, all the bad, and all the everything even just a little. 
Every time I have “opened up” it has felt like opening up a protective stone layer, like a cave door, over my chest and letting a little bit of the warmth out. It has gotten easy to open the cave door to others and let them see what is inside. It still feels somewhat cold but a different cold, more refreshing or brisk than scary. 
Anyone reading this who feels anything resembling the cold sensation and fear of opening up I have described I would say … I get it. Opening up, about mental health, about life, about yourself, and how you feel takes a certain amount of bravery and risk. I would also say, when you feel ready, give it a try with someone you know and who you trust. Ask them to listen to you without judgement (or as little as they can muster) and without intention to fix (again as much as they may want to). Ask them to let you be seen and be heard. Ask them to be there as you are being brave. 
Whether you are looking for support for your own mental health at university or supporting a friend, help is available.
Hi, I’m Ali. I’m a student who wants to write more about the ups, downs, and side-to-sides of navigating mental health and University life.

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