My mental health story began my Junior year of college.
But before I take you there I’ll tell you a little about who I was before that. I was a happy, young man; talented in a lot of ways and coming from a fairly well-off upbringing. I had a good childhood, great family, lots of friends; my life seemed like it was right where it should be. Everything appeared to be in place until I got blindsided by anxiety the beginning of my Junior year.
It hit me hard, and it seemingly came out of nowhere. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is what they called it for lack of a better term. Whenever I was in a stressful situation my mind would tell my body that I needed to leave, my body would get nauseous if I didn’t leave, and then I would throw up on the spot.
Now when I say, “stressful situation” I do have to be clear. Anything could be a stressful situation to me. Whether it was a presentation for one of my business classes or just a get together with my friends, these anxiety attacks could be triggered at any moment without any warning.
I was terrified to go places, scared that an attack would occur. I found that not-eating would at least make my attacks less disgusting because I would only dry heave. I was constantly worried about being in a public place, throwing up and embarrassing myself.
Because of these worries and constant associations (public = anxiousness, people = anxiety attack/embarrassment, food = throwing up) I drove myself to a point of increased isolation. Out of fear of anything outside my little room, I took to seclusion as a safe haven. This, in turn, only made matters worse.
Since I was in school pursuing a degree, I desperately wanted that schooling to not be affected by this random anxiety. I would somehow force myself to get up and go to my classes, if only the absolutely necessary ones. Seclusion and isolation would not protect me now, and life became absolutely horrifying to me.
One of the worst moments I remember was when our house hosted a get together. I was doing just fine until people started to show up. Shortly I found myself upstairs locked in my room, crying. Happy people were all around me; my friends having a good time. They even knocked on my door trying to get me to come out, unaware of what was happening on the other side of the door.
But this isn’t supposed to be a sad story.
This is a story of triumph. A story of hope.
This is a story to promote awareness and show people that there are thousands, millions of others out there just like you and me.
I started receiving therapy both in person with a campus counselor and online in any form of research I could find. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) was the path recommended for me. If you aren’t familiar with CBT it can essentially be summed up by saying, “change the way you think or behave and it will change the way you feel.” Some days it worked, others it did not. I was putting a lot of effort into getting better, and most of the time it didn’t feel like it was paying off.
It was a constant struggle. I just wanted to be rid of that feeling. Sometimes I would get so frustrated that I felt I would explode in anger if I didn’t do something about it. I would find myself throwing things in my room or physically hitting objects in my house. It was not an easy time in my life.
Fighting to get better was almost harder to deal with than the actual anxiety itself.
But the fighting was worth it. Because I eventually did start to get better.
And fighting to me is defined multiple ways. Some days it took everything in me just to get out of bed in the morning. You don’t have to be actively pursuing treatment or intensely striving to get better to fight. Even a little thing like coming downstairs to make breakfast can be seen as a victory.
This was how I got through, slowly but surely.
Music helped me through. My faith helped me through. The CBT helped me through. In the end I had all kinds of avenues directed at attacking my anxiety.
If I would want you to learn anything from my story it is these few things.
- There are tons of resources out there waiting to help you. Some will work and some won’t, but if you are willing to find these resources and use them, it will help.
- This won’t last forever. There will be better days in your future. And you have so much to look forward to. Even if it seems like that is not the case at all! Always keep fighting, always keep striving, even if it is just getting out of bed in the morning. That takes courage!
- Always hope.
It’s been a few years since the worst of my anxiety attacks. I can say with immense joy that I have overcome that period in my life. I still have the occasional anxious feelings that remind me of the past. However, I am back to living my normal life. I graduated college in four years with a degree in business and now have a full time job.
I know what it’s like to live with and without anxiety. I know you can too.