My mental health has been a concern ever since my freshman year of high school. Nothing triggered my symptoms of depression and anxiety then, they just sort of appeared. I guess they manifested as a result of stress and genetic dispositions, considering how many people in my family struggle with the same issues I do. But almost four years later, everything seemed to be going smoothly.
Then came September 2020.
I had been at Ball State for a month and out of the blue, my anxiety started to significantly worsen. I had been off antidepressants for a long time and I had recently ended counseling. Not only was I dealing with the stressors of my freshman year of college, but an uncontrollable, overwhelming anxious spell.
My anxiety was almost debilitating.
I was having anywhere from two to four panic attacks a day. My panic attacks usually consist of uncontrollable crying, intrusive thoughts, slight spasms of my leg muscles, shivering, stomach aches, loss of appetite, and the occasional spell of not being able to breathe. The thoughts I experienced were overall variations of the idea that I had no idea what to do or how to fix what I was feeling. I felt that I was going to feel that way forever, that I needed help immediately, and my situation was hopeless. Anything would set off my anxiety — homework, social encounters, social media, and even the thought of having to get out of bed the next day.
Luckily, I had a support system at my disposal. Both of the RAs on my floor were immensely helpful to me. They repeatedly checked in on me via email and handwritten letters, and they were always readily available to talk to. My parents were prepared to help in any way they could from three hours away. My roommate and boyfriend were always available to talk to.
With the encouragement of those around me and my insatiable need to seek help, I was able to seek counseling services from the Ball State Counseling Center. This is a great resource that is available to students and has helped me so much already. I was assigned to a terrific counselor and I am currently attending therapy via Zoom. I was also started on medication again to give me the extra support I needed to finally feel okay again.
I still deal with anxiety, and I always will. Sometimes, I still find myself overthinking, body checking, and stressing out about the little things. Overthinking, to me, is nitpicking every little thing other people in my life say and turning it over in my head about a million times until finally, I am able to let it go. I get in my own head and tell myself that I am not good enough and that I do not deserve to be happy. I look in the mirror a few times a day and grab at my stomach, rustle through my hair, and poke at my skin until I catch myself and willingly stop. I often overestimate how much time it will take to do my assignments, which leads to stress surrounding getting my work done when in reality, I always end up getting my work done in a timely manner. But these are all quirks that make my anxiety unique to me and I am learning to cope with them.
Some coping mechanisms I have found beneficial are mindfulness exercises, listening to music, staying organized, journaling, and giving myself ample breaks.
Mindfulness exercises are great for before bed, and I usually use the Mindfulness app to do them. The WellTrack app is also a good resource that provides daily mood checks, wellness assessments, and calming programs. I keep a journal on paper because I, personally, like handwriting things. In my journal, I write down what I am worried about at the moment so that I can leave it to come back to later, come up with solutions to resolve this worry, and bring it up in counseling. I also make a weekly to-do list with non-academic tasks I would like to get done within that particular week. Another section of my journal is reserved for exceptionally hard days, in which I write the date down and what that day was trying to teach me, such as "trust" or "patience." If I view that hard day as a learning experience, it is easier to accept. Ways I keep organized are my planner, in which I write my assignments and classes down, and Google Keep. On Google Keep, I use the list feature to outline the homework I want to get done for the day and the amount of time it should take to do each assignment. Lastly, I reward myself by winding down at the end of the day with my heating pad and some Netflix.
If there is one thing I have learned over the years, it is that seeking help takes courage and that there is no shame in needing therapy or medication.
My experiences with both anxiety and depression have led me to pursue a degree in psychology, in hopes that one day I can become a counselor and help others with their mental health struggles.
If you are struggling with your mental health, I want you to know that you are NOT alone, that there are resources out there to help you, there are so many ways to cope, and you will overcome.