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If anyone were to ask me to describe myself, I’d probably include “perfectionist” in the mix of descriptors. I’ve been told I’m a bit Type A, whatever that really means, and I can get pretty wigged out if things are unorganized or disarrayed at a seemingly wrong moment in life. It never really took a toll on my pre-college life, and I never felt truly inhibited by my need to “succeed” and my over-achieving tendencies; I just always figured that it was a path to a strong future and happiness.
I guess this is why happiness can’t really be defined.
And I guess this is where my problem took root.
My problem was never really preparing for tests – I always felt relatively Joe cool while studying, and I’m proud to say that I’ve purposely never pulled an all-nighter. My problem was more of an after-effect.
This year, I wasn’t just getting a little over-stressed when times at school got tough. I was having physical pain. I’d skip full meals to save time while working, and I’d restrict myself from my favorite foods if I scored poorly on an exam. I started having all sorts of stomach problems and I just didn’t feel like myself. I could be reduced to tears at the slightest inkling, and this got to be regular. I felt unsure of everything and was just meh, always a bit disappointed in myself or feeling like others were silently disappointed in me, too.
In college, we’re bombarded with a gazillion and one expectations; we must be above the mean, we must have a stand-out GPA come recruitment time, we have to kick butt on our 50%-of-your-final-grade exams in order to get that GPA to get our dream jobs and to have a good life and ultimately be happy. This was my downward spiral.
So this year, I’d study, take a test, let momentary emotions come and go, vent to my mom about whatever I inevitably goofed on, and then just move on with my day. Then the test results would come – in the form of charts and graphs of grade distributions. Cue my anxiety.
Thoughts would race in record time (I’m talking 47 seconds flat) from Guess I need to study more next time to I’m a failure. I’ll never be successful – I’ll just be a laughing stock. What am I even doing here? I don’t belong here.
This year, I felt like I was being shown with statistical evidence that I am inferior to my classmates. That I’m unable to handle the stress to get to the top, wherever that may be. That I’m just not good enough. And that, worst of all, I no longer deserved happiness or love until I picked up my academic game.
This year, I realized I had a problem.
And I don’t think I’m alone.
I had never felt before like college derailed me. Never during my freshman year did I feel like I was in so far over my head, lost in a sea, or just lost in general. Never did my physical and emotional well-being take a toll – until this year.
Mom always helped me out, but her words of encouragement and her tough love were something that I was used to, and I felt it losing traction.
Boyfriend’s advice felt the most permeable, since he had that “I’ve been there, you’ll get through and here’s how” sortof approach.
But here’s the thing that really got me.
For as alone as I felt, I knew that other people – maybe some of you – had to be feeling the same way. It’s virtually taboo here to hint at insecurity or failure. If you’re not talking the talk or walking the walk of “success,” you can’t sit at the big boys’ metaphorical lunch table. People get the same bland comments any time “How are you?” or “What’s new?” is asked – everyone is ‘good,’ ‘tired’, or some derivative of the two, regardless of how they really are. It’s sad, isn’t it? Here, we have the chance to relate to our fellow Generation Y-ers on something beyond temporary physical ails. We can help each other out and boost each other up. But we face this barrier, this near-wall of fear and even more anxiety, that our own anxieties will inhibit our already limited chances to make friends, find our passions, and live life to the fullest. It’s such bullshit.
I could say that maybe I’m the only one with anxiety. Maybe I’m just failing at this whole college thing. Maybe I just need to step up my game and suck it up and not show emotion or feel pain. But that’s bull, too.
I’m not the only one. And neither are you.
So for that, please know a few things.
- Your anxiety does not define you. It does not mean that you are weak or incompetent, or that you won’t be successful in life, and it sure as HECK does not mean that your life won’t be full and rich and happy. You may have anxiety, but it does NOT have to have you.
- We’re surrounded by so many pressures that, most of the time, don’t even register as putting strain on our minds and selves. We see Jane Smith and she just seems so together in everything, and we wonder what we’re doing wrong that we don’t seem that together, too. What we fail to see is Jane’s feelings inside. And that’s something that we can never really see. She might be hurting, too, from the same feelings that hurt you, and the vicious cycle of self-hatred and pain and depression and anxiety begins. Know that the cycle can end, and know that you can be the one to end it.
- It’s perfectly, completely, totally 100% OK to seek help. Outside help isn’t bad. You shouldn’t feel ashamed – there is no need for shame or guilt. It can help, and adding a new, fresh perspective can be so refreshing and much needed.
Late last semester, I cracked. I hit my lowest low, and I knew I needed something more to protect me from my own mind. I started going to counseling on-campus with a pro.
Before going, I was so ashamed and nervous. If a psychologist treated me like a case out of a textbook, I’d quit – I figured I’ll handle it on my own eventually, anyways. I felt weak and embarrassed, like I was admitting defeat by needing a stranger to talk to about my thoughts. No one knew about my appointments but my mom, Boyfriend, and my amazing friend Taylor, who went through a similar situation.
But now, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Therapy is showing me, in a plain-as-day sortof way, the power of thought in every capacity.
You can channel your thoughts to be however you want, really. If need be, you can stop them dead in their tracks and re-focus to the beautiful realities of your life. You can realize the beautiful realities of your life. You can enjoy them and cherish them and make more of them. And best of all – you can believe them.
Some days are hard – really hard. You can’t see things straight or clearly, and throwing in the towel feels like a good alternative.
But anxiety is only a part of you – a small part of you, no matter how big it seems.
And you’re not alone. You never have to be.
We’re in this together.