I have been living with my anxiety disorder since I was in the first grade. So, when it came time to leave for college, I knew that whether I liked it or not, my anxiety would be tagging along.
Attending college in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t exactly ideal for anyone, but for someone with anxiety, it was a nightmare. Not only were the usual college stressors (like making friends, finding my way around campus, and being away from home) eating away at me, but there was also a whole new set of fears: What happens if I get sick? Is it worth putting myself at risk? Is it worth putting my family members at risk? The spring semester of my freshman year, I debated even going to campus at all. I wasn’t sure that I would be able to handle it. Spoiler alert: I went, and I learned to never underestimate myself ever again.
I had always thought of my anxiety disorder as an obstacle that I have to overcome. In elementary, middle, and high school, I always viewed it as this separate entity: this big, bad anxiety monster that wanted to ruin everything and trick me into hating myself. Living on campus has completely shifted this understanding. I do not need to learn to live my life in spite of my anxiety disorder, I must learn to live in harmony with my disorder. After all, my anxiety disorder is as much a part of me as my hair color or my sense of humor. It is a special aspect of my personality that allows me to experience the world in a unique way. I may get overwhelmed easily, but that also means I feel things deeply. I may feel uncomfortable in new situations, but that also means I observe the world closely and take in every new detail. I may feel very self-conscious sometimes, but that also means I am very in-tune with how my actions impact others. Once I started to realize that every “negative” aspect of my anxiety disorder has a positive one tied to it, I began to appreciate the role that my disorder has played in my development as a person. It has made me who I am today.
Living on my own, away from my family, has helped me realize the power I have over my own mind. By shifting my understanding of my anxiety disorder from a negative one to a positive one, I have become much more kind and understanding towards myself and my symptoms. When I have an anxiety attack on campus, instead of becoming frustrated or viewing it as an inconvenience, I remind myself that it is my brain’s unique way of processing the world. When I begin to feel my symptoms coming to the surface, I make space for them instead of minimizing or internalizing my feelings. I have become much more open about my disorder, as I finally understand that it is not something to feel embarrassed about. Instead, I should feel empowered and proud of how far I’ve come.
If you are facing a similar situation and are unsure how living on campus will impact your anxiety, please remind yourself of how capable you are. You have a perfect track record of surviving your toughest days, and so far, you have made it through 100% of them. Living on your own will give you the opportunity to appreciate your own resilience, and will allow you to love the struggles that have made you who you are. If you are currently living on campus and, like me, and your anxiety lives with you, just know that I see you. You are so strong, and there is nothing you can’t do. Once we have learned to love and embrace the parts of ourselves that have caused us pain, we are truly unstoppable.