Anxiety has been with me the majority of my life, I knew that much. It was always present. I’d check my grades online every day at least 5 times, sometimes more, just to be absolutely positive that my immaculate GPA remained intact. At night I’d lay and replay conversations in my head and beat myself up over things that I might’ve said wrong. I’d sit at the lunch table with a group of girls and be afraid to speak on topics of conversation out of fear that I’d say something to throw them off or make me seem unlikable. I would convince myself that my life was a wreck, and no matter how in-order everything was, I still told myself I needed to get my shit together- and that’s when it got bad.
Anyone who even remotely knew me could tell you that my life was more in order than 98% of kids my age. From the beginning of my sophomore year of high school I could tell you my exact plans for college and my drive was unmatched by any other student. I excelled in chemistry, so much that by the end of the year I was correcting my teacher on test questions. It thrilled me to know that I mastered a subject that many other students struggled endlessly with. My love for chemistry and interest in medicine led me to pursue a career in pharmacy. Once I had the idea of pharmacy in my head, it was the only path I gave any thought to. By the time I graduated a semester early from high school with a 4.3 GPA I was still dead-set that I would be a pharmacist and I began taking pre-requisites courses as soon as I left high school. I had a bright future, and I could see that… and then I couldn’t.
My first semester out of high school went swimmingly. I didn’t want to start at a university as a freshman second semester, so I chose to take classes at a local community college and then begin at a university in the fall with other freshmen. I had plans to go to the University of Missouri and finish up my pre-requisites there for two years and then go into the Doctorate of Pharmacy program. But as the fall semester neared, my anxiety began taking deeper roots. I began having severe anxiety attacks that were triggered by things that I’d previously enjoyed. For months I couldn’t listen to music in my car because one slow song could set me into hysterics. I found myself scared to be alone, because the silence often brought on these attacks. Then, my future, the thing I had once been so passionate about, began to wreak havoc on my anxiety. Something I had once loved talking about and planning for became my biggest fear. I started to think that I was no longer stable enough to go away for college.
So my anxiety took reign over my life. It was June, 2 months before I was set to move into my dorm at Mizzou, and I told myself I couldn’t do it. I chose to attend a college that was 20 minutes from home, a college that I had absolutely zero real interest in. My anxiety forced me to settle.
Though I now only had to live 20 minutes from home, the anxiety attacks didn’t subside. When it came time to pack for my move into the dorm, I couldn’t stop panicking long enough to actually pack. As my move in date drew closer, the anxiety attacks became more intense and were triggered by pretty much anything. I remember riding in the car with my parents the day before move-in and completely lost it at my step-dad singing “Party In The USA” by Miley Cyrus, it was at this point that I realized I had no control over my anxiety and confronted my parents about it for the first time in my life. So there I was, the night before I moved to college, weeping in my parent’s bed and telling them “I can’t do it, I don’t want to go”.
I tried my best to go into Lindenwood with a positive attitude, but despite my efforts- my entire life took a nosedive. I spent the majority of my time in solitude, one of my main anxiety triggers. I’d never felt more alone in my life, I had no one to turn to, and even if I did how would I explain what I was feeling? I didn’t even know what the hell was going on, all I knew was that I couldn’t remember the last time I didn’t feel the sinking feeling in my stomach. I couldn’t remember what it felt like to not have my hands shake uncontrollably at the thought of leaving my room and carrying out daily activities. It became increasingly more difficult to hide my breakdowns from my roommate, and would retreat to the shower where I was free to cry hysterically without being asked “whats wrong” because at this point, I had no idea, but everything felt wrong.
After enduring these inexplicable emotions for about a month, I began to lose interest in everything and everyone. I no longer tried to talk to my friends, and completely began to shut out my boyfriend at the time. I found that the only thing I looked forwards to upon waking in the morning was when I could go back to bed. Being conscious and dealing with my thoughts and emotions felt like a full-time job, and it was exhausting. It was hard for me to focus on my courses, and I tried to remind myself of the big picture, what I wanted for my future. But, I realized I could no longer see a future for myself and it was terrifying. My future was always something I loved to imagine and plan for, but now I couldn’t even imagine myself being anything other than what I was in that moment. I no longer felt I had a purpose, my entire life felt pointless.
Suicide began to fill my thoughts. I didn’t necessarily plan on killing myself, but it was something that often crossed my mind. I knew that I was no longer dealing with just anxiety, and I decided to bring it up to my doctor. I walked into my appointment, with an evidently heavy mind because she began to ask me about my mental health before I could bring it up to her. She asked how I was doing and I broke down into tears and couldn’t stop. She knew I wasn’t okay and diagnosed me with depression less than 10 minutes into the appointment and prescribed me an antidepressant, and I felt crazy. The thought of having to rely on a daily pill in order to have control over my life disgusted me. I filled the medication but refused to take it.
I began to blame the way I felt on my surroundings, because I didn’t want to believe that I had an illness. I planned to transfer to Mizzou at semester, and I told myself that the change of environment would make everything better. I finally felt I had something to look forward to, and this hope was what carried me through the remainder of my semester at Lindenwood.
When I went to Mizzou I felt I could finally be who I wanted to be. Everything felt right, I had a perfect apartment on a beautiful campus and I knew that my surroundings would never cause the feelings of depression the way that Lindenwood did. I knew things would be different, I already felt better. This feeling of “okayness” lasted two months and I felt myself slipping again. Classes were harder, and less interesting. I started wondering if I could do handle six more years of courses that made me miserable, and if I were this miserable just taking the courses, how miserable would I be in my actual career as a pharmacist? I felt lost, pharmacy was the ONLY plan I had and it was no longer what I wanted. I felt like a failure, like I had to revise my life plan because I wasn’t smart enough. Academics had always been my strong suit, and I felt I no longer had control over even that. I was disgusted with myself for ruining my plans I’d had since 10th grade. I felt worthless.
I quickly reverted back to isolating myself and rarely left my apartment. I hated myself, and I was the only person I was ever around. My mind felt like a warzone that could only be escaped by sleep, but I couldn’t sleep anymore. No matter how exhausted I felt, I was awake the entire night staring at my ceiling and desperately wishing for sleep to come and relieve me of my heavy mind. I talked to my doctor about this issue and was given a prescription for a sleeping medicine and was advised to begin taking my antidepressant. So I did.
The first two weeks on my antidepressants were the worst two weeks of my entire life, I was in hell. Antidepressants require an adjustment period before they help you to feel better. During this adjustment period, your feelings of anxiety and depression are often intensified. Not only did I feel legitimately insane, I was physically sick. I spent several nights on my bathroom floor because the nausea was so intense. I cried from the moment I woke up until I fell asleep, and I had no idea why. I was such a wreck that I didn’t leave my apartment for an entire week, mostly because my anxiety had me convinced I would legitimately die if I left my room. It was at this point that I told myself I didn’t want to live anymore.
I knew I had to talk to someone who understood how I felt, and could talk me out of killing myself. I reached out to a girl that I went to highschool with that had recently posted a few things about her struggles with depression. I messaged her on Facebook and asked her when she knew she needed help, and even though she had no obligation to help me she talked to me with more care and understanding and genuine desire to help me than anyone ever had. She didn’t say “it’ll be okay” or “I’m sorry, be happy”. She shared her story with me, and gave me hope that it would get better, hope that I wouldn’t have found without her. That night after talking to her, I decided I wouldn’t kill myself. I would give myself the chance to heal the way that she had. Our contact with each other did not end that night, she continued to check on me every single day and talked me through the lowest point in my life. I never thought I’d say that depression brought anything other than despair in my life, but it did, it brought me my best friend, Madelyn.
I’m not fixed, and I’m not sure I will ever be completely over my depression and anxiety, but I am so happy that I chose to live. I do still have my bad days, I am still fighting a battle. But now I have a person to fight my battles with, and I have the ability to help others the way that Madelyn helped me. I will not be defeated by mental illness, and you won’t either.