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What Helped Me Get the 'University Experience' With My Mental Illness

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When I announced to my friends and family I was planning on going to University there wasn’t a lack of shocked faces. Me, the shy, anxious little girl who had never been away from home for more than a few nights was announcing she was moving hours away to study for a degree. Not only have I never felt the “smartest” one in the family, I have definitely never felt the most confident. My choice to go to University was the result of a burst of confidence I had on a “good day.” This choice changed my life path.

There’s many expectations when you move away for University:

“You will become best friends with everyone you live with.”

“You will have so many great new experiences.”

“These will be the best few years of your life.”

When I arrived at University and I wasn’t immediately having the best time of my life, I felt cheated. Apparently, it doesn’t actually work quite like that. With the expectations of University life playing on my brain, I got frustrated when I couldn’t join in with all the “normal” aspects of life due to my struggle with anxiety and depression.

My anxiety often stops me from going to lectures and seminars, and when I am able to go, I can’t hear through the voices in my head rendering my attendance useless. I will frequently have panic attacks over mundane tasks, such as getting a book out of the library. When it comes to the social side of University life — well, many people with anxiety and depression might agree on how mentally excruciating things like meeting new people and nights out can be, and this tends to be a big part of University life.

I didn’t quite imagine my University experience to consist of days stuck in bed due to anxiety, or countless visits to the doctors and a number of desperate visits to the “Student Life Center.” All the expectations I had for University seemed shattered right before me by my mental illness. Mental illness doesn’t seem to take days off for important events, and it doesn’t disappear when something exciting and important happens to you.

A lot of University involves self-motivation. No one is going to care if you don’t go to a lecture, no one is going to chase you about your assignments, no one is there to check if you’re feeding yourself. Illnesses such as depression can make self-motivation hard, like getting out of bed in the morning, go to a lecture or write an essay. I struggled with this a lot in my first year of University and still struggle with it daily, but I’ve learned ways to help me through it.

My tips:

  • Routine — routine is so important, write out a very simple to-do list with achievable targets.
  • Forget all expectations — when you expect something to happen and it doesn’t, it can be a setback. If you put less pressure on these expectations you might feel more relaxed.
  • Ride the waves — in my experience there are always going to be ups and downs at University, especially when you add mental illness on top on everything else. In my experience, accepting defeat on the smaller things helped me accomplish bigger things.
  • Praise yourself — sometimes simple things aren’t so simple for someone with mental illness. If getting out of your room was the biggest thing you did in the day, don’t be hard on yourself, be proud.
  • Get to know your University — your University may offer help for students with a mental illness, get to know what they provide and make good use of it.

It helps to remember these feelings are “normal” and help is out there. I have made some amazing friends who have helped me through a lot, and I feel I am in a very supportive environment. You are not weak if you reach out for help. You don’t have to have the stereotypical #unilife experience; everyone’s University experience is different, just “ride the waves” and try to make the best of it.

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Thinkstock photo by: Wavebreakmedia Ltd

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Chuck Mullin of ChuckDrawsThings Uses Pigeons to Illustrate Anxiety

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When you think about anxiety, pigeons might not be the first animal to come to mind, but for Chuck Mullin, the city-dwelling birds are the perfect fit for illustrating her anxious thoughts.

 

“Pigeons have always been my favorite animal, partly because I think they’re cute, partly because I find them to be loveable, silly and relatable,” Mullin, 22, told The Mighty. “They’re generally looked down upon for eating trash and being everywhere, but they’re weirdly funny to watch. I think everyone can relate to being kicked about despite having so much personality to offer, so they seemed like fun little emblems for comics.”

http://chuckdrawsthings.tumblr.com/post/158753397188/cycle

Mullin, who shares her illustrations on social media as “ChuckDrawsThings,” lives with anxiety and depression. Illustrating her anxiety, she said, is cathartic.

“It’s mainly as a coping method, a way to express my feelings in a constructive manner,” the London-based illustrator shared. “Having anxiety means I struggle to vocalize what I feel sometimes, so if I draw something about it, I feel liked I’ve vented in a relatively healthy manner.”

http://chuckdrawsthings.tumblr.com/post/159988906648/stability

Although it’s hard for her to pick a favorite, one illustration Mullin particularly loves is a cartoon of a pigeon going to therapy. “Extreme close ups always make me laugh,” she said. “I think it captures the sense of futility and the struggle that comes with trying to get help.”

http://chuckdrawsthings.tumblr.com/post/157874811683/therapy

Beyond allowing Mullin to express her thoughts, her illustrations have helped others living with anxiety as well. “I really wasn’t expecting it,” she said of the positive feedback she’s received. “It’s been lovely receiving such nice messages from others and connecting with people going through the same thing. I never thought I’d be able to do that on such a massive scale.”

http://chuckdrawsthings.tumblr.com/post/159277000903/sounds-fake

If she could share one thing about living with anxiety, Mullin said she’d want others to know she’s not being shy or rude. “I genuinely can’t control my anxiety,” she said. “It’s so much more than just being a bit nervous – the mental and physical side effects are overwhelmingly powerful.”

http://chuckdrawsthings.tumblr.com/post/158639806088/a-bitter-pill

Header image credit: Chuck Mullin. 

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Why I Hate When Publications Say You Can 'Beat' or 'Overcome' Anxiety

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Because I’ve been writing about stress, anxiety and overthinking for the past two years, nearly every day I receive a new trending anxiety article via text or Facebook messenger from a smart, well-read friend or family member. The piece usually gives advice on how you can “beat,” “overcome,” “conquer” and “escape” anxiety.

I always stand at my computer and groan. This is perceived as what will garner clicks. Whether the writer chose the title or not, this is often how anxiety articles are framed and sold.

The problem is: what gets clicks wends its way into hearts and minds. This framing will not help people who actually have anxiety. In fact, it only exacerbates the problem. In my experience, those of us who have anxiety are always looking for answers. We Google until our fingers are numb. We read every book we can find. We covertly study. We slyly interview. We believe that if we work hard enough, we will find a way to beat, escape or conquer anxiety.

Alas, all of this trying and searching is only adding to our anxiety. It is part of the problem, not the solution. There is no path “out of” anxiety. If you have an anxiety disorder, then anxiety will likely be some part of your entire life. Does this mean you can’t be happy? No. You can find many ways to feel safe and comfortable with who you are, anxiety and all. Here’s a good place to start. But the false promise these headlines are selling in order to get your click — that you can no longer feel the pressure of anxiety if you just read what someone else did to work on theirs — is a lie. And it needs to stop.

We all need to stand up to clickbait anxiety titles, but this critique is really aimed at my fellow writers. Ask yourself, “Do I really mean what I’m saying when I write “beat anxiety?” Or am I just wanting a dopamine hit from getting a bunch of clicks?” If it’s the latter, then perhaps you too need to ride the wave and adjust your expectations.

What I want people with anxiety to know: you’re not alone in feeling confused. There are many tactics to try, but since no two anxieties are the same, what worked for others won’t always work for you. Keep experimenting and you will find calmer, happier shores. And good luck on that wave!

Follow this journey on Beautiful Voyager

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Unsplash photo via Steinar Engeland

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How My Life Would Have Been Different If I Had Mental Health Education in High School

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In high school, everyone has their worries and fears.

Every teenager overthinks what to wear and what people think of them. Almost every teenager worries about college and stresses over school work while trying their best. So as a high school student, I always thought I was like every other teenager.

I thought it was normal to swallow back the puke every morning on the school bus as I was worried about getting to my locker on time. I thought it was normal to worry so much at 15 years old that my hair started to fall out. I thought it was normal to think my friends would just up and leave me one day. I thought it was normal to worry so much about college I would cry almost every day and spend my time leaning over the toilet, throwing up.

As I continued to college, I thought the worries of being a teenager would go away, but I was quick to realize that was not the case. My worries and fears stayed and new symptoms popped up. I found myself secluded in my dorm room in fear of socializing with new people. I experienced my first panic attack and found myself waking up not being able to breathe far too often. I was in a foreign land and was homesick. I had many sleepless nights. I thought everyone I met was talking badly about me. I was stuck in my own thoughts which would not go away.

Colleges seem to be more concerned about students’ mental health than high school is. You see signs displaying the counseling available and other resources of people to talk to in the dorm hallways. I started to question if my worries were something I needed to worry about. I took some psychology classes where mental health was finally introduced. I did some researching myself and found I had many signs of anxiety. It started to make some sense.

After two years away at school, I quickly found out I could not do it any longer. I found myself in a small room by myself, unable to breathe, with the feeling the walls were closing in. I called my mom crying, said I could no longer do it anymore and I came home. I was lucky to be able to transfer to another school and commute from home.

I spent the next couple of years finding ways to relax as much as I could, finding ways to distract my mind to the best of my ability. Finally, at a doctor’s appointment, I had to fill out a worksheet. This worksheet had a list of symptoms and it asked if I ever experienced some of these symptoms and how often they occurred. One after another, I viewed these symptoms as a part of my daily life. My doctor reviewed the worksheet and for the first time, someone external from my personal life mentioned to me about seeing a counselor. Even after thinking I had anxiety for so long, this referral made it so much more real.

High school health class teaches students about safe sex, the dangers of drunk driving and drugs. But why is mental health never a focus in high school health classes? If health classes taught about mental health, I would have realized it was not OK to swallow back the puke every day. I would have realized it was not “normal” to have my hair falling out at such a young age or to believe that one day my friends would decide to hate me. I would have realized it was not OK that the thought of college would make me physically ill. I lacked in self-confidence in high school and I believe if I had this education then, my confidence would have been greater. I would have realized what I was experiencing and feeling was something I should be concerned with, and not every teenager felt this way every day. I would have been able to get some help.

I have been out of high school for five years now, so I am not sure how high school health classes are or if they have changed. I hope they now offer mental health education because mental health is just as important as understanding the signs of the flu. Mental health education could help students understand themselves and their loved ones.

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Thinkstock photo via Wavebreakmedia Ltd

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The Anxiety I Feel With My Entire Body

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Anxiety. We all have it. However, when my anxiety is bad, I pass out. I throw up. I get dizzy. I lose my vision and hearing and feeling in my body and become numb.

Anxiety isn’t just being nervous about a big exam. It is, for me, a physical response, coupled with an unknown autonomic nervous system disorder I have that can paralyze my entire body.

Imagine waking up in the morning and not being able to move any part of your body. Imagine waking up barely able to breathe and feeling like there is a boulder laying on your chest.

Anxiety isn’t just sweaty palms and rapid breathing. Anxiety is waking up drenched in sweat because you can’t face the day ahead of you and standing up only to sit back down because you are so dizzy and cannot breathe.

Anxiety is more than just being nervous for an exam. Anxiety, for me, is not knowing if I will become violently ill while walking the dog or working in the lab carrying harsh chemicals.

Anxiety, for me, is a full body response where my body becomes so confused it doesn’t know how to respond. It is a response my body has to an external or sometimes internal trigger. I sometimes wonder — will I even be able to survive?

Anxiety, for me, is not just in my mind. It is in my body.

So next time you are trying to talk to me and you see my eyes glaze over, remember it could be my anxiety acting up again.

Please just understand that it is not you, it’s me. And my anxiety.

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Thinkstock photo via Rutchapong

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The Roar of My Anxiety Only I Can Hear

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Pay attention to your body and what it tells you.

But that isn’t always easy, especially at times when your body is rebelling. When it’s doing things that don’t feel good. That you feel you have no control over.

I’m in a dark room right now. Everything hurts. I want to sit at my computer to type this out, but I can’t physically bring myself to do so, and emotionally… the small screen of my phone feels safer somehow.

I want to pay attention, though. I want to fight this. Anxiety is wearing me down. I can’t manage it anymore. Control of it slips further and further away, like a feral animal through a gate in the night.

So this is what my anxiety feels like. This is me paying attention and putting it to words. This is my experience. It may not be someone else’s. But keep it in mind the next time someone says they have anxiety and you think they look fine.

I start pretty OK. I had a meeting to attend this evening, and I expected it to be pretty low-key. I felt a low level of nervousness, just in regards to getting the kids where they all needed to be, making sure everyone would have dinner, and then getting myself out the door in time.

At the meeting, shit went sideways. Nothing awful. The outcome of the meeting was not affected at all. But dismissive language was used.

My eyes welled up. My breathing felt tight.

All because I knew I was going to speak. There was no way I would sit there and not speak up.

I used a break in the meeting to step outside. I sat in my car in silence. And I wrote out a two-minute speech.

The meeting resumed and I gave my speech.

By the time I got back to my seat, I felt lightheaded. As soon as the meeting was over, I left. Quietly, but immediately. Halfway to my car I felt tears on my cheeks.

I wasn’t upset.

The speech went really well, and I was proud of what I’d said.

Tears are just how all of the pent-up anxiety finally starts to release. Everything I didn’t allow anyone else to see. Like a pressure cooker finally releasing some of its steam.

There isn’t anywhere else for it to go. It finds its way into two tear drops that drag themselves from my soul in a bid for relief.

By the time I get home, just 10 minutes later, my head is aching. My shoulders are in pain.

By the time I get in bed, two hours later, I have a full blown migraine. The back of my neck is sore from the pain radiating out of shoulders. My lower back feels like I’ve spent the day moving into a new home.

And I’m silent.

I don’t make it known. I may mention I have a migraine as I take ibuprofen. Other than that, I try not to make a big deal of it. As if ignoring it might make it go away.

Tomorrow I’ll be exhausted. Physically wrung out from the emotional turmoil.

Which always perplexes me. I spend the day in awe of my body and its reaction.

How can I experience so much physical fallout from something nobody else can see?

A roar only I can hear.

Follow this journey on Allison Writes.

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