Speaking out about mental health is something that does not come easy for most of us. I know it sure doesn't for me. The purpose of this article is to share bits and pieces of my experience with the topic in order to bring awareness and light to it.
What do you think of when you hear the term, "mental health" or "mental health disorder?" For most of us, we have a very negative outlook on what these terms mean.
My freshman year began a bit differently that I expected. "My life is changing so I'm just super nervous about it, that's all," I thought. Partially, that statement was very true. I was nervous about being away from home, meeting "my people," getting involved, college classes, etc. But it wasn't until I started experiencing (rather scary) physical symptoms that I knew this couldn't have been just "freshman year scaries." For those who do not know, often times, we can actually FEEL in our bodies what is going on in our brains. Crazy, right? Let me give you an example. For two months straight, my chest hurt. No, not that feeling you get after eating 7 spicy AF tacos -- I felt like there was a massive elephant sitting on me. For two months. Straight. Truly, the only time I couldn't feel this discomfort was when I was sleeping. Even then, I struggled falling asleep and once I finally did, I couldn't stay asleep because my mind and heart seemed as though they were in a race with one another to see who could outrun one another. I would wake up to my heart palpitating, feeling as though it was going to burst out of my chest. I would be hanging out with my friends or sitting in class and have this feeling. No matter how hard I tried, I could not get my mind off off of being anxious. I called my mom and told her what was going on and scheduled an appointment with my hometown doctor to have tests run on my heart. I was CONVINCED I had some crazy, life-threatening condition. I had heard the idea that what goes on in our brains could be felt physically, but my brain simply would not let me believe that was what was happening.
I had test after test after test run on my heart and chest. All of the results came back negative (praise Jesus), and there was in fact nothing physically wrong with me. So I get back to school and I'm like, "Take a deep breath, you're healthy, you're good. Let's move on." Sure enough, a few days later, this horrible feeling came back. I was angry, frustrated and quite frankly, I was terrified. "WTF is going on with me," I thought. Still today, I experience this same feeling that manifested over two years ago.
After explaining to my doctor and a therapist more of my symptoms and thoughts in detail, they hardly thought twice about what was taking place. I have anxiety.
Needless to say, I was scared. I didn't fully know what this meant or what this journey was going to entail. It's extremely broad and different for every person, but there are a few points I want to make.
1. If you know me, I probably don't seem like I battle anxiety. I am normally a very "happy-go-lucky" girl, I love to have fun and enjoy my life to the fullest. If you read one thing in this article, read this: it is so easy to assume things about people, such that they may lead "perfect, happy lives." For the most part, I am happy. But what we don't see is the "behind the scenes,", and that is why it is so important to make sure the people we care about are doing ok. Again, just because they don't talk about it doesn't mean it's not there.
2. Those with GAD can and do lead a perfectly normal lives. I'm (too) social. I (almost always) excel in school. I (most times) get that workout in at the gym. There is nothing that I cannot do because of my anxiety disorder. Sometimes, I just have to go about things in a different way because of it.
3. Those with GAD tend to worry about things in excess. We get overly-overwhelmed. We are fearful of many different kinds of situations. We have OCD-type feelings (for example, I go bananas if my room, planner, desk, clothes, etc. aren't organized at all times). My anxiety disorder may be a mild case, but it's there. I recognize it, I accept it, and I learn to deal with it every single day.
4. 1 in 5 adults battle a mental health disorder every single day. Think about that guys: that is at least one person in your intermediate friend group. That is one member of your family. That is 30-40 men or women in your Greek chapter. It is so much more common than people tend to think.
Think of it this way: no one says, "It's just cancer. Get over it." More often than not the attitude toward mental illness is just to "get over it, it's not a big deal." But it is, and here's why.
Let's face it, we ALL struggle with an internal "something," whether we admit that to ourselves/others or not. Something important to keep in mind is that people around you are struggling with numerous different types of things every single day. Maybe even you are struggling, but you don't know what to do or where to go from here. Believe you me, I battle with my anxiety every day. Anxiety, depression, anorexia or bulimia, bipolar disorder, and many other things that I have not yet mentioned; they are EVERYWHERE. Just because someone doesn't talk about it, doesn't mean it's not there. But here's the deal: We are not alone.I am not defined by anxiety. You are not defined by anxiety. By depression. By an eating disorder. By OCD. By PTSD. By insecurities. By perfectionism. Whatever it is, those things have not, do not, and will never define who you are as a person and where you are going.