One occurring theme I have come across since I started working on fighting the stigmas of mental health is that each mental illness does not impact everyone the same way. I have decided in order for me to show the benefits of receiving treatment no matter what I interviewed college students all with different diagnosis and different stories. This week, we'll focus on a friend of mine, Nicole*.
The first time I met Nicole was in the second grade at a neighbors birthday party. We went to school together, however we did not become closer until high school. I had always looked up to Nicole myself. I had considered her my idealized self. To put it in simple terms to me it had always seemed that she always had her sh*t together. She was always prepared for tests and homework, did well in every class, had a great group of friends, and was talented and funny. In high school I had placed Nicole as my personal bar of excellence. I figured if I could be like her I would easily be able to get places in life.
However Nicole was dealing with something that I had no idea about: anxiety. Although she has not officially received a diagnosis from a psychologist, she has met with professionals in mental health that had suggested generalized anxiety. For Nicole, the first time she realized something was wrong was in middle school.
"I went to a sleep away camp and had significant trouble coping with being away from home. I cried a lot, I tended to want to isolate myself. I chalked it up to an extreme case of homesickness. This pattern repeated itself whenever I was away from home for extended periods of time."
However after we graduated it became no longer something that she could chalk it up to something else. Nicole was accepted and was going to be attending one of my dream schools however with her untreated anxiety even the girl who helped me set my bar of excellence soon began to flounder.
"At the end of my orientation before the semester started I began to feel increasingly like I couldn’t handle going to college, leaving home, living so far away. Eventually I got to the point where after my attempt to defer was denied, I declined my acceptance."
However Nicole didn’t give up. She spoke with her high school collegiate affairs counselor who made suggestions on creating her own personalized academic plan while her mother helped find a counselor who she meets regularly with. Being able to put a label on what was going on was also very helpful for her:
"My anxiety, “was no longer this amorphous issue that I was dealing with, there wasn’t anything wrong with me. There was a rhyme and a perfectly understandable reason for why I was feeling the way I was."
Through help, she has found ways to deal with her anxiety:
"Being social is important, I need to make sure I get out of the house, speak with other people. Exercise helps if I’m feeling particularly anxious. Breathing and meditation also help. If I’m going to enter a situation or undergo a transitional change (something that tends to make me more anxious) I try to prepare myself mentally ahead of time so I feel less thrown when the anxiety hits. Staying on top of my sleep is really important too."
But this doesn’t mean she still doesn’t struggle. Often, Nicole overthinks situations which can make anything from big events to just hanging out with friends difficult. “I’m hyperconscious of what I say, what I do," she told me. "I’m especially worried about what people think of me, whether they’re enjoying spending time with me.”
However being aware of her anxiety has allowed her to push herself past her own discomfort. Getting help has allowed her to handle her anxiety better, “it’s improved my self-confidence, my self-love and I feel more capable” she said. Now she goes to a major University lives on her own, and is looking for a new challenge. She is considering even studying abroad in the spring. All these things seemed to be out of her reach just two years ago. When thinking back she remembers
"A few weeks before fall semester started I was sitting in my car, listening to music and I just started crying because I was really doing it. I was living my life, when previously I felt so lost.their illness or afraid to seek help Nicole had this to say, 'Therapy is for ANYONE.' Whether you have some sort of mental illness or otherwise, anyone can benefit from talking to a professional, objective party. There are a lot of associations with what 'type' of person goes to therapy, someone broken, some one who can’t handle themselves. I think it’s especially difficult to take that first step in seeking help when you’re an adult. There is a myth that as an adult, you should be able to take everything on, on your own. This is a lie. There is no shame in saying, 'I’m not sure what to do. I don’t understand this, but I want to.' That’s braver than you know."If you would like to hear more of these let me know and if you or anyone you know has one they would like to
share reach out to me.
*Name has been changed for privacy reasons.