This past week has been one of my toughest.
Since starting college I have had my ups and downs. There have been some frustrating times, and there will be many more to come. But this past week I had my first panic attack at school over an hour long phone call with my mom. Now mind you this was in the middle of me studying and trying to forget I had a chemistry test and a calculus test to take on consecutive days. So maybe my complete meltdown had a little bit to do with that but it was mostly about my future. Despite having a relatively easy course registration (unlike most students at UVA, sorry guys) my schedule seemed to backfire on me. And by backfire I mean it induced an absolute mental disaster. While believing that I was about to bomb two very important exams I couldn’t help but think how I was about to bomb my future too. I kept thinking about the schedule I had made for fall semester which would probably be one of the most difficult semesters I will have during my college career. And then I was trapped in a downward spiral of panicking over all of the courses I would have to take before I graduated. Each one harder than the next.
I lost it.
I started doubting whether I even wanted the career path I was choosing and I kept asking myself: “Do you even know what you’re doing?” The answer is of course that I don’t. I’m not supposed to! But that didn’t stop me from calling my mom in a frenzy of tears and desperation. She immediately picks up the phone and the first thing that comes out of my mouth is: “I feel like I’m dying…” And for an hour she endured me wailing about these two tests, my impending doom (I mean my future) and all of the stuff I would have to do to get to said future. I was pushing myself out of control and she somehow had to calm me down. The best thing about my mom is that she has been through the hardest part about college: not knowing exactly what you want to do with your life or thinking you do and then changing your mind. There she was at Longwood thinking she wanted to go to law school and then in the midst of her second year deciding Accounting was the best route for her. This wasn’t exactly an easy switch but she got help and made it work. So she reminded me of this and said: “If I can do that then you can certainly change your mind, you have plenty of time!” And thankfully she also kept reminding me that these two tests were way more important than worrying about things happening in the future. So she told me to take a walk, shower to clear my head, and come back to studying. She also told me that I can only do what I’m capable of on these tests and that even though she wants me to do well, nobody is perfect. So after an hour of hardly being able to catch my breath and going slightly crazy I finally did what she said and got through the week. And this summer will definitely be a time of reflection in order to figure out what I truly want to do with my future. A much better time to think about my career options than the night before two big exams.
Hey I’m only eighteen I still have time to make bad decisions.
Long story short, I am writing this to talk about something extremely important. Mental health is something a lot of people struggle with in this world. I for one have been riddled with social anxiety and anxiety in general that sometimes has led to panic attacks for a while now. It is never easy. But being around supportive people is always helpful and you can never give up on yourself. Getting help when needed is always an option and I know there are so many people around me that are there if I need them.
But unfortunately college is such a stressful environment and only seems to bring on more intense symptoms of my anxiety. Just a few weeks ago I was in the discussion section of my Philosophy course, a class I love and always want to talk about. But being in a room of only fifteen people having to raise my hand and ask questions or discuss our current topics for a participation grade seemed like a complete nightmare. I had been sitting in the fifty minute long discussion course for about thirty minutes already trying to muster up the courage to raise my hand and ask a question I had been waiting to ask. Finally my TA calls on me and I tentatively ask him my question and quietly listen to his answer. As he is speaking to me I can barely write down his words as my heart is beating out of my chest and my hand is shaking uncontrollably. My hand doesn’t stop shaking and my heart doesn’t reduce itself to a normal rate until I have left the room to the solitude of my headphones and an elevator to myself. Now unfortunately these symptoms come along with everyday situations that I have to go through constantly and it will never be easy. But I am certainly not alone in this and plenty of other people are going through the same things.
I encourage everyone reading this to always be sure to take care of their mental health just as much as their physical. It is amazing what our minds can do. There are plenty of medical cases seen by psychiatric professionals where physical symptoms harming a person are manifesting from purely psychological conditions. Our minds are very fragile yet very powerful and we must take care of them. And if anyone is struggling with mental illness you are never alone and not only am I here for you I am sure there are plenty of others around you that you don’t even know could help you. My anxiety does not define who I am and those that know me well know the crazy and fun person I am once I get past that barrier. It is all about working through your problems to get to whatever good is on the other side.
Thankfully the good on the other side of those two exams is a trip to the beach to see my Grandmother. I don’t know about you but that seems like quite the reward to me.
Whatever any of you are going through you can get through it, as my Grandmother told me tonight: “We may have gone through some pretty hard times but we always had fun! And there is always good on the other side.” Get to the good, it will be more than worth it.
The best thing to do is to give yourself things you know that you need. Such as featured at the top of this post is a picture that I have been wanting to take of a house I see every other day on my long walk to class. But I could never bring myself to stop and take a picture as once again, my anxiety strikes and I didn’t want to have people see me take it. But after weeks of contemplation I just did it and I felt so happy afterwords. I know myself well enough to know that very small things make me happy and I need to just give myself those things to keep me going. Such as I hate walking and not looking at the ground because I am so anxious about tripping over something or making eye contact with people I am walking past. But I love looking at the sky especially when it has been so sunny and pleasant outside. So I just give myself those moments and I forget about the people who may be (but probably aren’t) looking at me.
Give yourself what you need. Take care of yourself and your mind. It will make this long journey that much easier.