Understanding My Mental Illness

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During my senior year of high school, I noticed a big change in my mood. I always felt tired or unmotivated. I struggled to get out of bed and took up to a few naps a day. Not to mention I started self-harming. Overall, it hurt to live. Yet at the same time, I always seemed worried. Whenever I wasn’t putting myself down, I was freaking out about homework, athletics, friends, or college applications. I lost all hope for myself. I was so emotionally beat and I couldn’t take it anymore. So I flat out told my mom that I wanted to die. We agreed that I needed professional help. We sat down and reached out to a therapist. During my first few sessions, my therapist diagnosed me with depression and anxiety. Eventually, she referred me to a psychiatrist, so I could be evaluated for medication. Since then, I’ve been taking anti-depressants and receiving counseling to help treat my mental illness.

Recently, my anxiety worsened. Simple tasks like going to the library or waiting in line at the Brew seemed daunting. My heart would race and I couldn’t stabilize my breathing. Some days, leaving my apartment overwhelmed me. Going to classes and cross country practice was the limit for me. One day, I cried when I got home because the walk back felt terrifying. I ended up missing practice because I couldn’t bring myself to leave. There’s always a sense of danger lingering around and I’m afraid I’ll panic in public. I reached out to my counselor about these fears, so we decided to go over the diagnostics for generalized anxiety disorder. As we evaluated my symptoms, my counselor realized that what I was feeling wasn’t generalized anxiety. Rather, I was developing agoraphobia.

The first thing to come to mind was Sheila from Shameless. Sheila has agoraphobia and for most of the show, she is housebound. I had some doubts. I felt like agoraphobia was too strong of a label. However, my counselor explained that I met the criteria for it and that we needed to start treating it. When I returned to my apartment, I did some research. For starters, I couldn’t find a clear, consistent definition for agoraphobia. To put it best, agoraphobia is defined as fearing certain situations or places that could trigger panic. The more I Google-searched, the more unsure I became. I also had doubts about my diagnostic because I felt like I was just being dramatic. However, my symptoms would appear to remind me that I’m not being dramatic. That my feelings were unpleasant and unhealthy.

Additionally, I opened up to some of my close friends about this. Most of them didn’t know what agoraphobia was and I was at a loss for words trying to explain it. Honestly, I still couldn’t understand what my illness was. Not only did others not understand me but I couldn’t understand myself. How am I supposed to fight an enemy I know nothing about? When discussing mental illness, it’s easy to jump straight to depression or anxiety. While I appreciate bringing more awareness to these illnesses, I feel like we still have a long way to go when it comes to educating others about mental health in general.

Over time, I became more aware of my symptoms and feelings whenever I’m out and about. I still check in with my counselor to discuss them and how to confront these fears. Even on my good days, I have to remind myself that my feelings are valid and what I’m experiencing is valid. While I still have trouble processing what I’m going through, I recognize that mental illness doesn’t always have a clear image of what’s going on. As for now, I’m doing what I can so that agoraphobia doesn’t eat away at my world and I can continue living a functional life.

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