Anxiety: Everyone Is Different

Your breaths come fast, you start to sweat profusely even though the room is chilly, and a million ‘what if’ thoughts run through your head. This is not what all people who live with anxiety have to deal with, but for me it was.

In honour of Mental Health Awareness Week at STU, I’ve decided to talk about one of the most common mental illnesses: anxiety.

What exactly is anxiety? The most common symptoms of anxiety are: nausea, dizziness, muscle tension, sweaty hands or feet, problems sleeping and feelings of panic, fear or uneasiness. I emphasize the 'most common' part because this is not a definitive list - everyone is affected by anxiety differently. They may have all of these symptoms or none.

I was diagnosed with anxiety when I was in the ninth grade. Before I was diagnosed, I was slowly unravelling at the seams. I began to stay home from school because I felt sick whenever I was about to leave the house and I stopped eating. I became a social hermit - I wouldn’t leave my room unless I was hungry or I had to use the bathroom. I didn’t eat for a whole week and lost around 20 lbs.

My mom couldn’t stand to see me in that state anymore, so she took me to the doctor’s office. There, I became aware of my anxiety and how to control it. My doctor told me my anxiety was a chemical imbalance in the brain, and he prescribed medication to help me get back to feeling normal. At first I felt horrible about it, but my mom was my safety net; she helped me begin to slowly control and understand my anxiety better, and in time I was back to my normal self.

On the World Health Organization website, it says, “Around 20% of the world’s children and adolescents have mental disorders or problems. About half of mental disorders begin before the age of 14.”

Anxiety can affect anyone at any age. It’s not like a cold or the flu; everyone has different symptoms and they react differently to anxiety. Some people panic, other people begin to sweat. There are many different reactions for people with anxiety.

According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada, one in four Canadians will have at least one anxiety disorder in their life.

And the biggest reason people don’t reach out for help? Because they worry about what other people will think. Caring about what other people think is the most common barrier between a person and the help they need.

A problem with anxiety is that people who don’t have anxiety or a mental illness of their own don’t fully understand what a person with a mental illness goes through. When I was first diagnosed with anxiety, I felt like I was going to be a burden on my family; that I was going to be marked as a “problem child” because I had a mental disorder. The stigmas I previously heard about people with mental illnesses made me think negatively about myself and about what other people would think of me.

Common phrases people with mental illnesses hear are: it’s all in your head, just get over it, and suck it up.

"I don't think it's right for the stigmas to exist," says second-year student Jordyn Meade-Baxter.  "People tend to forget that mental disorders and anxiety disorders are all illness."

She says that it's not so easy for someone with anxiety to just calm down or someone with depression to cheer up.  But once people come forward with their disorders, says Jordyn, they're usually shunned or belittled by their peers.

"They are people just like us, and most of them you wouldn't realize even have disorders until they tell you or you see them in a bad spell."

Isabelle Agnew is a second-year student, and says that the negative feelings surrounding mental illness is counter-productive.

 “It's so ridiculous that there's such a stigma that actually makes us feel worse, especially because it's people with mental illnesses who should be getting more attention,” says Isabelle.

What people who have a mental illness need to understand is that you are never alone. You don’t have to go through it alone; I was comforted by my family and friends when I needed them. You will pass at least 10 people throughout your day who have fought or are fighting with a mental illness.

No one is the same, but that doesn’t mean that we are different!