Mental Health Awareness Month: My Mental Illness Journey

Anxiety was never a stranger to me. In fact, I first started experiencing it at a very young age. From first grade, I cried every single day because I missed my mom while I was away at school. I continued to deal with it on and off throughout my youth, though it was mainly chalked up to simply being sensitive. It didn’t become a cause for concern until later in life.

I started going to therapy when I was 15. Like any other hormonal teenager, I was dealing with a lot of emotions and I needed to talk to someone about it. My therapist ended up helping me cope with many major issues, and I became increasingly grateful to have the ability to seek professional help when needed. I stopped seeing her when I went off to college, where I thrived for the first two years.

My anxiety made a return towards the end of my junior year of college. It was spiked by a number of traumatic events in my life, but by the time I moved back home at the end of the semester, I noticed a serious increase in the amount of panic attacks I was having. Soon, I was panicking at places I was most comfortable. I couldn’t understand why it was happening or where it was coming from, which made things even more stressful. After I had a severe anxiety attack in my own home, my mom suggested I go back to therapy and try to identify what was going wrong.

After a few bi-weekly sessions, my therapist explained to me that I have agoraphobia -- an anxiety disorder that makes you believe your environment is unsafe and without an escape. This made sense to me, as I was often triggered by places with no windows, loud noises, distracting lights, or crowds. Despite the fact that I now had an identifiable phobia, things didn’t necessarily get better. If anything, I started to avoid places that I knew would make me uncomfortable, causing me to stay home as often as possible. It was the summer between junior and senior year, so I isolated myself. I became extremely dependent on my mom, who took me to therapy every week -- the only place I felt moderately comfortable going outside my house.

As the summer dwindled down, I gradually started feeling more confident after attending weekly therapy sessions. My parents and I had discussed the possibility of going on medication, but at that point in time, I didn’t feel it was the right path for me. My anxiety was still extremely prevalent, but I was determined to figure out proper coping mechanisms on my own. So, I began my senior year.

If you have unusually high anxiety levels, you know that it gets worse with stress. Between handling a regular student workload, having an internship, and being CC of Her Campus Oswego, I started to feel myself getting pulled back into my old ways. I began to struggle with attending class. My mind would drift and I had great difficulty controlling my thoughts, typically resulting in me leaving class to call my mom because I was panicking so badly. Sometimes, I would return to class, and other times I would make up an excuse to the professor and try to go home early. Now that I was having anxiety attacks in classrooms, I wanted to avoid those environments too -- so I started skipping class as often as I could. I was talking to my therapist when needed, but my main goal was finishing the semester and going home.

When the fall semester was finally over, I was relieved. It wasn’t because I didn’t have any work or responsibilities for six weeks, but because I wouldn’t have anxiety about going to class. I spent the holidays in an anxious, depressed state, and even slept through New Years Eve because the countdown made me so uneasy. I was unable to enjoy Christmas or spending time off with my loved ones. January was a blur -- I cried nearly every day and rarely left the house. I recognized that my behavior aligned with severe depression and some sort of anxiety disorder, but I felt incredibly hopeless. I didn’t know if things would ever improve.

Towards the end of January, I finally began seeing a psychiatrist that prescribed me medication. He diagnosed me with proper mental illnesses and helped me find medicine that worked for me. It took about a month for the meds to kick in, but taking that step and using the resources I needed made a huge change in my life. Within the first few weeks, my mood had improved greatly. My overall mindset was a lot more positive and bright and I wasn’t constantly beating myself up. A few weeks later, the anxiety and panic attacks stopped. When I would have anxious thoughts, I would immediately identify them, remember the coping mechanisms I learned in therapy, and use them to calm down. Since adjusting to my meds, I’ve been able to actually enjoy my life again.

My mental health journey is unlike anyone else’s, but the most important thing to take away is the importance of reaching out for help. Don’t be ashamed if you need to talk to professionals or lean on your loved ones for support. It’s so deeply important to take care of yourself and engage in helpful self-care rituals, whatever those may be.

For a long time, I didn’t think things would ever get better. Everyone always told me to hang in there and stay positive, but I truly didn’t believe I would recover. Anxiety will always be a part of my life -- regardless if I’m on medication or not, it will exist. But my identity isn’t dependent on my mental illnesses, and, by seeking the help I needed, I chose to move forward.

 

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