Opening Up About Anxiety: The Journey to Acknowledgment & Recovery

I want to start by saying this isn’t going to be an article about how I completely overcame my anxiety or even how much I improved. In fact, only recently did I truly come to terms with the fact that something really isn’t right.

I’m the first to admit that it’s scary to acknowledge, and I don’t know when my anxiety really started. I can remember begging friends in high school to walk across the cafeteria with me to buy a cookie because I was afraid everyone would stare and judge me if I was alone. I remember getting extremely worked up in fourth grade at the possibility of someone being even slightly upset with me.

 

Like many people, my anxiety intensified in college. When I was a freshman, I would get ready for a party with friends and walk halfway across campus only to turn around because something in my head wouldn’t let me go any farther. Some nights I would leave the lounge in my dorm that was filled with friends and lay in my room alone, unable to be around anyone. I told one person about my anxiety that year, and they never talked about it again or suggested I get help.

I didn’t truly acknowledge that my anxiety was more than average college stress until I met my boyfriend at the beginning of my sophomore year. Even now, I panic if he doesn’t respond to my texts after a few hours because I assume there was some horrible accident. I often need to leave if I attend a crowded party because I can’t handle being around too many strangers in that kind of environment. I’m lucky because he always picks me up if he isn’t there and calms me down. I am more honest with myself with him, and I am extremely fortunate that I can tell him everything. He gives me the strength not to be embarrassed about the panic attacks or my many irrational thoughts. His patience amazes me every day.

I learned that my brain separates itself in a sense. Part of me is completely logical and knows not to be worried about particular people or events, while another part is simultaneously screaming at me. It makes it hard to focus on anything else when I am on high alert.

Last May, I called my mom into my room; it was time to tell her I needed help. I made her think something terrible was going on because I started to sob the second I asked her to come upstairs. She sighed with relief and hugged me after I told her I’d been experiencing pretty severe anxiety for years. She asked a few questions and told me she’d help me find someone to talk to. Later that night, my dad had the exact same reaction and both were incredible with helping me find resources.

I still had a hard time telling friends what was happening, even though some could tell something wasn’t right. After a few speed bumps this summer, I finally started attending a weekly group therapy class at school. It’s so helpful to hear about other people’s experiences with anxiety and their coping mechanisms; it helped me confide in friends over the past few weeks. I am always afraid the reaction will be dismissive and they’ll say, “Everyone is anxious at this age.” Instead they are accepting and understand that if I need to leave a party after five minutes, it’s what needs to be done for my health.

As I seek help with my anxiety, I am fortunate to have a growing support system. Far too many people are still close-minded about mental health and write it off as being moody, sad, bratty, crazy or so on. I am just starting the journey of getting better and I know I still have a long way to go.

If you are struggling with anxiety, depression or suicidal thoughts, there are endless resources available to you, many of which don’t cost a dime:

  • Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255. This is a completely confidential, 24-hour hotline.
  • National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673. This is also a 24/7 confidential hotline.
  • Talk to someone: Try to reach out to someone in your community. Don’t be discouraged if the first person isn’t receptive; not everyone will understand. The important part is finding the person who does.
  • Journaling: Writing down your thoughts before bed—or in the middle of the night when you can’t sleep—can help you immensely, even if you’re not a writer. You’d be surprised how pouring out thoughts can put things into perspective.
  • University Health: Talk to a counselor at your university. This is generally included in your tuition and can be a great resource. Unfortunately, many schools have a problem with having to waitlist students, so the earlier you call, the better.
  • Meditation: There is a free meditation app called Headspace available on both the App Store and Google Play. Some features cost money, but the basic guided mediations are free and help you take just a few minutes for yourself. There are plenty of other meditation resources available as well.
  • I’ve had this list bookmarked on my laptop for quite some time. Feel free to check it out for more resources if you cannot or do not want to go to a therapist.

You are never alone, and your problems are never insignificant. If you don’t believe a family member or friend will understand, there is always someone who will be supportive, even if you don’t know them. I never would have written this article a year ago, and there are still many people I haven’t spoken to about this yet. I wish I asked for help earlier and hope anyone sharing a similar experience will do the same.