For as long as I can remember, I’ve worried constantly. As a kid, I worried about school, my social life, my looks, my family. Everything. It wasn’t until I was about 12 or 13 that I finally understood there was a word to describe what I was feeling: anxiety. Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time, but mine was never-ending. So, it was unsurprising when it followed me to college.
The transition to college was one of the most challenging of my life, though I think that’s pretty common for many students. My freshman year was a doozy, but after a particularly rough patch, things did get better. I started to find my rhythm. By the time I was a sophomore, I was making friends, joining organizations, and exceeding expectations in my classes. Was I still anxious? Yes. But I was doing pretty well overall, and throughout my sophomore and junior years, my anxiety was at an all-time low. During this time, I was able to expand my horizons and take on more than I ever had before. I also met my boyfriend, who I’m still with today. Things were definitely looking up.
Then, one night during the Summer before my senior year, I was trying to fall asleep at my boyfriend’s place, when I suddenly had a panic attack. My heart started racing, my thoughts were jumbled and erratic, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I kept running back and forth from my boyfriend’s room to the bathroom, trying to make sense of what was happening to me. I begged him to take me to the hospital. I felt like I was dying. Of course, I wasn’t dying. Even in the thick of the panic attack, I knew exactly what was happening — but even still, I couldn’t calm myself down.
Fortunately, my boyfriend jumped into action and had me take deep, rhythmic breaths. It helped. I laid awake all night feeling unbearably anxious, but I wasn’t panicking anymore. Sadly, that incident was just the beginning of an anxiety-filled senior year of college.
I couldn’t go a single moment without fearing that I might have another panic attack. I didn’t want to leave my house.
After that night, my anxiety came rushing back — but this time, the feelings were different than anything I had experienced. Worse. I couldn’t go a single moment without fearing that I might have another panic attack. I didn’t want to leave my house, worried that my anxiety would swell up again. I felt isolated and crushed. I desperately wanted to live my life, but my anxiety had a stronger grip on me than ever before. The thing is, I had panic attacks earlier in my life. For whatever reason, this one affected me much more deeply.
Still, I knew I had to buckle down and get through my last year of college. I had a hefty load Fall semester, and I tried to make the best of it. I made a conscious effort to be kind and patient with myself. I didn’t give myself enough credit at the time for how well I handled it, but at least I wasn’t hard on myself. Even then, I knew anxiety isn’t something you can easily control or just “get over,” despite ill-informed advice I had gotten in the past. Anxiety is complex, and while I knew there was a lot at stake — after all, I wanted to graduate — showing myself some kindness went a long way.
Nonetheless, I also knew this wasn’t something I could tackle on my own. I eventually sought help from my university’s counseling center during the Spring semester, and the woman I talked to there was very kind. She helped me understand that my feelings of anxiety were completely normal, especially since I was about to graduate. The thought of being thrust into the world is really scary! It felt good to unload all of my grievances on someone who wouldn’t cast judgment. She helped me make an appointment at the school’s medical center, where I was able to talk with a psychiatrist and be prescribed a medication to help me better cope with my anxiety.
I still struggle with anxiety, but I feel much better equipped to handle it these days. I’m lucky that I had a small but mighty support system to get me through the worst of it, but more than anything, I’m grateful that I was persistent. When the school year ended and graduation rolled around, I was so proud. Obviously, I was proud of obtaining my degree, but when I was able to walk across the stage, I felt most proud that I had succeeded despite my mental illness. It wasn’t easy, and I wish I’d sought out help earlier than I did. It took a lot of motivation, help from my friends, help from a counselor, and the help of medication, but I got through it.
And that’s what I hope others can learn from my experience. You have to let people help you. It’s scary to put yourself in a vulnerable position, but recognizing that you need help and pushing yourself to actually seek it out — that’s bravery.