When I was 15, I went to my doctor to express my concerns of the heart “flutters” I was feeling.
My doctor couldn’t find anything wrong with my heart, so he sent me to a specialist for better screenings and tests. After wearing a heart monitor for a week, still nothing significant was discovered. I was diagnosed with “heart palpitations” where the top part of my heart beat faster than the bottom, which was why I was feeling my heart literally beating in my chest so frequently. The doctor said it could be from stress.
Fast forward six years as I am almost to my last year of college, and I still felt these palpitations. “Am I drinking too much coffee?” I thought. Yes, I was, but that wasn’t the main source of my problem.
You see, in a way, I was forced into maturing a little faster than other kids my age due to my own personal experiences. At the time, I didn’t really open up about everything I was feeling, and I kept my heavy feelings to myself.
I was a cheerleader, and it was obvious enough to strangers who would tell me “You’re so peppy and smiley, you’re a cheerleader aren’t you?!” There was nothing I hated more than when people guessed I was a cheerleader based off of my personality. But, I smiled. You wouldn’t have looked at me and saw the thoughts swarming around in my head. You wouldn’t have guessed how low I was feeling.
This past year, I started feeling like the stress and the constant anxiety was overwhelming, and I went back to the doctor. I remember the nurse asking me if I was having panic attacks, and I said no. She asked what my symptoms were and I said “heavy chest, hard to catch my breath, heart beating 1,000 times a minute and dizziness.” That nurse looked at me condescendingly and said, “So yeah, you have been having panic attacks.”
I felt silly. I felt as if I had brushed things under the rug for so long that I began to ignore symptoms and view them as normal. The doctor referred me to a therapist, because going straight to medication isn’t something young people should default to when they are stressed. I was told to come back if I still felt anxious.
Six months and several therapy appointments later, I was back in the doctor’s office. I began anxiety medication the next day.
I had a few friends on anxiety medicine, and I knew there was nothing to be ashamed about— but I can’t shake the idea of hundreds of other people who view mental health as a weakness, as something that people can easily overcome on their own.
The truth is, mental health isn’t a weakness. It isn’t something you should throw medicine at and pretend like it will fix everything. It takes a lot of reflection and patience to be able to empathize with people and to break a stigma that has been forced upon us for so many years.
We’re living in a world where millennial celebrities like Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato and Justin Bieber are speaking out about their own struggles with mental health. I believe it is up to the younger generations to make the difference and break down the judgmental barriers. Outbursts like Britney Spears’ 2007 mental breakdown have people believing that mental health is a joke, something to poke fun of or roll eyes at. Although Britney’s head-shaving incident attracted a lot of media attention, no one talked about her stability or offered support. Instead, we laughed at her and considered her career over.
Let’s start talking about what matters, and let’s open ourselves up to listening to others. Everyone could use a good listener, and everyone needs some empathy time to time.
A message from the writer:
I have wanted to write this piece for a long time, but I could never find the words to do so. I worried of what others would think of it and I worried about writing something so personal. I did not write this piece for you to feel pity or to draw your attention to me, I wrote this piece to draw attention to mental health. College stressors can bring out buried depression or anxiety, and these problems are prominent in so many people, and like me, these people think that expressing their feelings is a sign of weakness and are worried about embarrassing themselves or their families.
I am lucky enough to have a support system in most of my relationships with family and friends, but others aren’t so lucky. I wrote this piece to encourage others to be open and understanding of everyone you encounter. If your friend says no to going out because they just want to chill in bed, let them. If your coworker has bags under their eyes from sleep deprivation, be kind to them and understand their work ethic that day isn’t them being lazy. We all have our demons, and each of us have a mind of our own. Be understanding. Be kind. Be empathetic.