Fighting the Voices of Anxiety and Depression While Still Trying to Be a Good Student
I get it all the time.
You’re so positive.
You’re always smiling and laughing.
You’re a bright person, Marina.
Beneath the positivity and optimism, there is more to me than people realize. There is more to me than I allow myself to show. I grew up with an alcoholic father. I did not realize having an alcoholic parent is considered trauma until I started seeing a counselor at my university. When I think of the word trauma, I think of a car accident, an abusive spouse or a soldier fighting in battle.
I grew up “walking on glass” because my father could take any little thing said wrong and blow it out of proportion. I grew up with having to take care of my younger brothers because my mother was busy tending to my father. I grew up thinking I was a problem and my family would be better off without me. It was only until my junior year of college when I realized I have depression, anxiety and PTSD because of my childhood.
I was recently asked to describe my mental illness and while the answer could be written as a novel, I summed it up as best as I could.
For me, depression is when I lose my spirit after I have a good, busy day. My smiles feel like impostors and they lack a genuine response. Some days, my body throws itself on autopilot and my movements are not my own. I’m numb to everything and fatigue smothers my body. It is as if I try to make the day something good in the morning, but by afternoon, my attempts are useless because of the ever-growing darkness building within me. My eyes seem heavy with not only fatigue, but with the ache to cry the tears that always threaten to fall. And most of the time, the tears are triggered by pent up exhaustion, a little bit of frustration, a life setback or because the negative voices in my mind are getting to me.
For me, depression is the negative voice telling me I am a lousy college student. If I get behind on work, they make me feel like I should give up because I can’t seem to work at the same pace as everyone else in the class can. I have been told countless times to talk to my professors about this, but it’s a daunting task. I don’t want to talk to my professors about why I am behind on work or why I have to miss class because the voices keep me from going. All I believe myself to be is a walking excuse and I believe all my professors will see it if I talk to them.
The voices tell me no one really likes or cares about me. Behind a text message from me are hundreds of worried thoughts and “what ifs.” Because of my anxiety, I worry about coming off too strong, too weak, too emotional and too pathetic. The voices stop me from enjoying everything. A compliment on my work, my actions, my looks. Anything that is praise towards me is never truly believed because the voices believe them to be wrong. I struggle to love myself because they won’t let me. It is a battle within my mind I fight every day and sometimes I come out victorious but other days I do not have the strength to repress the darkness.
My life and schedule revolve around my mental illnesses. My student worker position at my university requires socializing — something that takes a toll on my mind and body mentally, physically and emotionally. I tend to take shelter in my room when the darkness is too much. I lie in bed and curl up with a blanket to release my tears and shut out the world. I never used to nap much when I was younger, but because of the battles in my mind and in life, I find myself needing a nap to reset my circuits.
It is a day-by-day kind of life with depression and anxiety, but with the right kind of support system, it is manageable. I take the little things like getting out of bed and dressing myself as accomplishments because they mean I am choosing to live. I take someone’s “How are you today?” or their greeting hug as a form of care because I know the voices cannot take them from me.
Seeing my counselor at my university has helped me counter those voices and calm my anxiety. She has introduced me to eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) to break down traumatic events within my life and make them smaller. Doing this assists my mind in processing and letting go of the things that fuel the negative voices. I actually recommended this kind of therapy to many of my friends and now they go and see her too. When the EMDR session is successful, it is as if some of the weight I carry on my shoulders lifts and breathing becomes a tad bit easier.
Living with this darkness and the constant anxiety is not easy, but I manage. I follow the “Heart of a Leader” lifestyle that reminds me “energy is everything.” Your life is about how you show up to it. It’s about changing your story when it turns for the worst. It is about holding yourself accountable and seeing every challenge as an opportunity for personal growth. I also remind myself why I open my eyes, why I get out of bed and why I try. I remind myself it is OK to have “off” days, just as long as I don’t let them get the best of me. Remember, no one is perfect. We all go through our own struggles and that is OK.
Follow this journey on Marina’s blog.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
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Thinkstock photo via AntonioGuillem.