(This is Part 2 of my Mental Health discussion, a talk about my history with anxiety! Come check out How to Stay Mentally Healthy in College for part one.)
In the spirit of being fully open, I’m theme-ing this post to my experience with dealing with anxiety. Though I’ve never exactly been all that secretive about it (I’m not ashamed of it or anything), it’s just not something that’s ever been public knowledge. Until now, I suppose.
Like I said in my previous post, I think that the best was to end stigma and encourage a healthy discussion is by opening up and being okay with talking about it. After all, how can I ever dream of making strides in ending stigma when I myself have hesitations about it too.
So this is me opening up.
I remember the first time I realized I had anxiety.
It was my senior year: a few weeks filled with crippling panic for no good reason in the middle of my classes, gripping the edge of the table as hard as I can because I felt like I was going to fall apart and doing that was all that I could do to hold myself together. I was afraid to open my mouth; I thought all I could do was scream or cry or maybe a weird combination of both.
But it was also telling my pediatrician about it and getting referred to a psychologist. And then having my parents tell me that it was no big deal.
I never went to the psychologist because it was no big deal. So I told myself to get over it and go to class and pay attention and push it down and hide it away. It was hard, but I did it and then I told myself that it wasn’t real; I was just stressed.
It took me a long time after that to come to terms with my anxiety. There was just so many other explanations. Lazy. Shy. Melodramatic. All of those were place holders to the one defining term I needed to be comfortable with.
Anxiety is a funny thing because it feels like it’s no big deal until it’s a really big deal.
It’s funny because it’s easy to think that nothing’s wrong while simultaneously feeling like the whole world is suffocating you. There are so many other things you could use to describe it. It seems like it’s an excuse for something because it just feels like a cop-out response sometimes. In your head, you know it;s debilitating, but you can’t help but go to a completely different excuse.
You can’t get out of bed because you’re lazy, not because you feel like all the wind is escaping your lungs and that the whole world is cracking at the edges. You’re staying in instead of going out because you’re shy, not because the thought of loud rooms and crowded spaces fills you with so much painful dread that you feel like throwing up at the thought of it.
It’s funny because there are millions of guides on how to deal with it, but even though you’ve tried coloring and deep breathing and squeezing play dough, it just doesn’t work for you. But a quick google search brings up thousands of articles on “7 tips to deal with anxiety” or “How to calm down a panic attack”, so there must be a solution.
But if there is, I sure as heck haven’t found it yet. No amount of deep breathing or squeezing chunks of play dough will help me. Maybe it actually works for other people, but it definitely hasn’t worked for me. And, in that case, why doesn’t it? What makes me one of the few special snowflakes that are left to crawl in fetal position for a couple hours until the world becomes quiet again?
It’s a really funny thing because everyone “has” anxiety– so why are they functioning and you’re not?
It’s still a thing I’m kind of uncomfortable with talking about.
I feel like, for most of the time, I’m on top of the world. I’ve gone to parties before without crying and make it to my classes sometimes. My anxiety doesn’t manifest itself in ways that everyone else’s does. Sometimes, all I gotta do is lie down and curl up in fetal position until everything stops. Other times, it’s nothing but a weight– slowing me down, but not completely.
I feel like a fraud. Like I’m wasting my time writing this post because I don’t have the right to. There are still times when I convince myself that I don’t have anxiety. Because being lazy or shy or anything else is a whole lot easier to swallow than anxiety. And no one calls you a liar or makes you feel like one when you just call it laziness.
But I never feel like I’m anxious enough. I never feel like it’s bad enough. So it’s just a whole lot of silent suffering.
Dealing with Anxiety
The thing about college is that, for the most part, it’s no place for people who have mental illnesses or other debilitating conditions. Not that people with mental illnesses can never succeed in college– it’s just a lot harder. There are more barriers you need to cross; you have to work really hard. It feels like there’s no time for you to catch up when everyone else is constantly running a marathon and going ahead without you.
You can explain away a flu or a broken leg. You can make people understand that. But even though this is now a progressive time and more and more people are understanding the importance and severity of mental illnesses, it’s still difficult.
I still feel ashamed explaining to professors that I haven’t been performing as well as I could because I just physically and emotionally couldn’t.
My parents still don’t believe me when I tell them I have anxiety. They told me that all I need to do is exercise and I’ll feel better.
There are days where I need to sit down in between walking to class because I feel like I can’t breathe and that my brain is going to explode but I can’t because I have obligations.
It’s a daily struggle.
There’s no easy way to cope with it. There are a lot of good tips, don’t get me wrong. From taking warm baths to listening to relaxing music– these have helped me to some extent here and there. All over the internet you see tips that tell you to be kind to yourself. To shut the world out and pamper yourself. Yadda yadda yadda. And yes, that’s all well and valid in theory. But in practice, I am taking a bunch of really hard college courses and I have a lot of obligations.
So do a lot of people.
You can’t just stop the world for anxiety, even if you want to. Even if you know you should. All you can really do is deal with it.
So put on the soothing music, light a candle, and breathe. And then deal with it. Take the medication you need to, talk to people, and surround yourself with things that make the anxiety feel less like a monster and more like an annoying nudge in the back of your mind.
And then deal with it as best as you can.
I don’t claim to be an anxiety expert. A lot of these statements are my own opinions that I know aren’t all that popular. These are my experiences and everyone will have a lot of other different ones and that’s perfectly fine.
If there’s anything to take from this post is that it’s okay to feel uncomfortable with talking about it. That’s the thing with stigma. There are so many things associated with anxiety or depression or any other mental disorder that makes you feel like you don’t hit the mark when you’re in the middle of the spectrum as opposed to the extreme ends. It makes you afraid to ask for help. It makes you hide it away, even though doing so makes everything a whole lot worse.
Because you are enough. If you feel like it’s a problem, then it is. Even if your parents don’t believe it. Even if no one sees it but you. So go get help and talk to someone if you feel like you need it.
And take care of yourself.