For this post I wanted to write about something a little personal but that is also a big part of me. According to the National Association of Mental Illness in a 2013 publication, one in four American adults suffers from a diagnosable mental illness, or
about 61.5 million people. This statistic remains the same within the 18 to 24 age group- the age of most college students. In sharing my experience I hope to encourage others to seek help and to let them know that they are not alone.
For as long as I can remember anxiety has been a huge part of my life. Family and teachers would sometimes say that I worried so much that my hair would turn grey before their own hair did. I really only worried about grades. I loved school and I wanted to be good at it. This didn’t bother me so much because I thought it was just a sign of me being a good student. While that may have been the case, I came to realize when I was older that I could be a good student without having to worry about my hair turning grey.
Anxiety hit me really hard the beginning of freshman year of high school and slowly crept into every aspect of my life for the next four years. Tests had always been so easy for me in elementary and middle school but for some reason I could not get the hang of them in high school. I could go into a test knowing the material front and back but once the test was handed out it was like I had never been in that class before. The days we would get graded exams back were often devastating. Teachers I became particularly close to were key in helping me make it through those four years. They listened to my concerns and let me talk out my problems. I wasn’t looking for answers; I felt like when I talked about it openly it couldn’t hold so much power over me. Even if my teachers could not help otherwise, they were a sound board in which I could talk about the things I was afraid to.
Anxiety was not only an academic hindrance, but also a social one. It wasn’t until high school that I went to parties or even stayed the night over at a friend’s house. Whenever I’d go hang out with friends I would have to promise myself to stay for at least an hour or so before I could allow myself to leave. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to hang out with them. It was just that we’d be out somewhere with lots of people and noise and I’d feel overwhelmed. I would want to go off by myself to get away from it all to calm down. I distanced myself from friends and turned down more offers to socialize than I accepted. I closed myself off from everyone and everything and soon became seriously depressed. I was giving up on everything in my life, from friends and grades to my future goals. I was giving up on me.
After a particularly few rough weeks at the beginning of my junior year, I started therapy. I was diagnosed with depression
and anxiety and having a name for what I had been fighting against almost made me feel like I could win the battle. I was thankful for this opportunity, knowing that so many people with mental health problems go without proper diagnosis and treatment for years. Although talking about what I was feeling helped, I remember that those few months felt like years had gone by. Everyone around me was moving at a normal pace while getting up and facing the day was almost impossible for me. I hated everyone, everything, and, probably most of all, myself. Suicide seemed like an option at times. The thought of ending my own life crept up unexpectedly, leeching off my sense of self-worth like a parasite, never letting go no matter how much I tried to shake it off. I wondered why I was still in a body that already felt dead.
I was put on medication to help curb the symptoms a year later since my depression was classified as being severe enough to consider medication as an option. Nobody outside of my parents and therapists knew about any of this in fear of judgement. I was improving, but I was determined to keep this a secret. Looking back, I know that this will not be a time of my life I will fondly look back on, but it was such an important part of me becoming the person I am today. I am proud to say that the combination of medication and starting a new life at college has helped me immensely. This is the first time in quite a while that I feel at home and not like a broken puzzle piece trying to squeeze in where I felt like a stranger. I’ve had some awesome help along the way from my LMU family, and everyone I’ve met here has done so much for me. The friends I’ve made here have been phenomenal, even though they may never realize the impact they’ve had on my life in the short time I’ve known them. I’ve gone from wanting to be alone in my dorm room 24/7 to having great friends and winning karaoke contests. I never acted upon those impulses that plagued me for such a long and I am so proud of myself that I didn’t. I don’t like thinking about where I was a year ago, but comparing how I felt then to how I feel now makes me feel liberated.
My professors have played a big part in my improvement- they not only provided me with the tools needed for a better future, but many of them have also unknowingly calmed my fears and pushed me to do more than I ever thought possible. Blogging has helped in ways I’ve never imagined–I need to go out and do things to write about! It also lets me write down my thoughts and feelings as well as give me documentation of all the things at LMU I am grateful to have been a part of. Seeing all the things I’ve been able to do and all the experiences I’ve had give me so many reasons to be thankful and happy. With the help of Dr. Hilberg, Dr. Churchwell, and many other supportive professors, I was able to present at the Blue Ridge Undergraduate Research Conference in March. Doing that a year ago would have been impossible for me. Both Dr. Hilberg and Dr. Churchwell have been catalysts to me beginning to feel confident in my abilities as a student and I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to have them in my life. I ask questions in class instead of going back to my dorm confused. I have friends whom I love and love to be around. I feel amazing and I know that I have come so far.
While I feel exponentially better than I used to, I know that I will still have bad days. I still won’t want to talk in front of large groups of people or take tests. Every now and then I’ll have off days that make me think I’m slipping back into that dark place I used to live in for so long. I will likely be fighting a lifelong battle, but that’s okay. I’ve got people I know I can depend on and I know that one thing is for certain: I won’t give up on me.
If you are an LMU student who is struggling with suspected mental illness, please do not hesitate to email Jason Kishpaugh at jason.kishpaugh@LMUnet.edu.