I first started to notice that I struggled with my emotions and coping with stress during my junior year of high school. It was a pretty rough year. I was being made fun of in my gym class pretty ruthlessly by three of my peers, my band director had explicitly embarrassed me in front of our 180 person band several times and subsequently made me feel like an idiot, and my family was dealing with the stress that came with my sister’s impending wedding.
I feel it’s safe to say that I wasn’t okay. I was crying a lot, always anxious — especially during gym, and having panic attacks about once a week (though I didn’t know that’s what they were at the time). It caused frequent arguments with my friends because I was simply on edge the whole time.
Eventually I decided to try and go to a counselor. She told me that based on my experiences and my family history, I most likely had generalized anxiety disorder, but she didn’t have enough education to officially diagnose me. I wasn’t too happy with the appointment — not because she told me I most likely had anxiety, but because she was full of fake sympathy and bad coping mechanisms. I didn’t go back or talk to anyone else about my anxiety for quite some time.
The summer before my senior year of high school, I went on a trip to Europe with a small group of people from my school including three of my good friends. I was excited until the trip drew nearer. Packing caused me so much anxiety that I almost decided not to go. The trip itself was riddled with difficulties and it wore on my group. Eventually my friends and I began to argue, and it resulted in me losing all of them before we landed back in the United States.
This caused so much hesitation and fear going into my senior year. Besides the fact that I didn’t know where I wanted to go to school or what I wanted to be when I grew up, I was facing that difficult transition without half of my friends from the year before and with new insecurities that were brought forth by the argument that sent them away.
The year was rough with several panic attacks, much crying, and general distaste for those I went to school with and my hometown in general. I couldn’t wait to get out.
Unfortunately, getting out brought its own anxieties. I had changed which university I was attending pretty late in the game. None of my friends were going there, and in fact several of the people that I had the most difficulty with growing up would be accompanying me to this institution.
Orientation in it of itself was a nightmare. Everyone was talking about partying and drinking which is something I did not desire to venture into. I also left without a class schedule and no help from my advisor. It was such a bad experience, I considered not going to school that semester.
The weeks before I left were pretty rough. I didn’t want to pack because I didn’t want to take too much stuff or not enough. My “friends” told me they didn’t want me to make new friends at school. I couldn’t even gather enough interest to finish a book, which is a big deal for me. I was so stressed out and down that I started sleeping for about eighteen hours a day. My mother had to wake me up for meals.
My freshman year of college was amazing and a mess all at the same time. There were times when I was fine of course, but there were times when I was not so great. Often I would obsessively research majors and careers for hours on end. I just couldn’t focus on anything else unless I figured out my life, which didn’t ever happen. At one point I was so concerned and indecisive about where to live the next year that I started having severe chest pain and an increased heart rate. It was that event that pushed me to try counseling again.
After the terrifying phone call that gave me an appointment, I managed to got lost going to the counseling services office. If I wasn’t a mess before walking through their doors, I was by then. The appointment itself was even more disappointing then the one I had had in high school. I don’t know if I just wasn’t ready to talk or if my counselor was just not good at his job. I left with the impression that my counselor thought that I was over-exaggerating my problems. I cried the whole walk back to my dorm.
By the end of the year, I was kind of a mess. I made my way back to my hometown, and started feeling “down” again as I often do on school breaks. Basically, I couldn’t find an interest in anything. Sometimes I would just lie in bed.
Up to this point, I feel like I’ve kind of just been spitting information out. This segment of my life story is long, yet very interconnected, which is why I’ve been struggling to figure out how to write about it. I want to say everything, but I can’t. There’s no way to possibly say everything I want to say. But basically, here’s the shorthand — for several years I was in a battle with my brain without even knowing it. I saw how anxiety and depression were portrayed in the movies and literature and I didn’t feel like my issues were severe enough to be classified as true anxiety or depression. It was just the way my life was.
Here’s the thing: I was very rarely happy. I may not have felt sad, but I definitely felt empty. I felt overwhelmed by the littlest things. It’s like I never got a break.
So when I reconnected with one of the girls from my trip to Europe that ended so poorly and we started talking about mental health for several hours, I decided that I was going to do something about my emptiness.
I decided to talk not to a counselor this time, but to my family doctor. Honestly, its was very difficult for me, but I left with the prescription I wanted. Medicine isn’t the answer for everyone, but it was something I wanted to try.
Once it kicked in, it was like the whole world was different. It was like I was finally able to feel happiness. I was so overwhelmed at how positive my everyday life could be. It was getting on the medicine that made me realize how bad I was before. It was only by being full that I was able to see how empty I was before.
So I started this academic year with a considerably more ease. That’s not to say stress didn’t exist — it definitely did and it always will. Stress is a part of life as is sadness and occasional emptiness, but it doesn’t have to be my dictator anymore.
Even though I don’t feel as overwhelmed by everyday life anymore, I still need to work on my stress management. I still occasionally shut down and allow my emotions to completely debilitate me, which is why I’m still considering attempting counseling again. Third times a charm right? I need to work on altering the way I think, and I can’t do it alone.
So that’s where I’m at as of now. I’ve made mention of my anxiety and depression in previous posts, but never really addressed it formally. I’ve wanted to, but I didn’t know how. I finally decided to just spit it all out and not worry about it being creative or good or trying to prove that my problems are real. If someone reads this and thinks my struggles are mild, that’s not my problem. I’m sure I’ll write about it many more times, but right now I just needed to write everything down.
May your mind not be the battlefield that you encounter on an everyday basis.