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My Mono Was Taken Seriously. My Anxiety Disorder Was Not.

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The month of May in 2016 was undoubtedly the hardest one I have encountered in my 18 years of life. It proved to me that expectations are often faulty and I can never expect things to go exactly as planned.

Because it was my last quarter of high school, I figured things would go smoothly. AP tests were over, I didn’t have any finals that were stress-worthy and I was anticipating graduation with great excitement. At the beginning of May, my excitement was quickly snatched from beneath me and I encountered what was the first of my the two massive struggles I would face during the month.

In the early days of May, I began to feel extremely worried about trivial things and circumstances I could not control. I couldn’t sleep and I was hungry, but couldn’t eat. I was profusely sweating, shaking and constantly had headaches. I no longer enjoyed things I otherwise would have like soccer, watching Netflix or hanging out with friends. I figured it was just a phase and soon I would be able to get back to what I thought was “normal.”

But as the weeks passed and I kept my emotions and constantly racing thoughts bottled up, I began to lose control and ultimately had what can only be described as a panic attack. My mom became understandingly concerned and quickly scheduled an appointment for me with a physician the next day. At this point I knew what was coming, but it still came as a shock when I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

As I reflected on past experiences and an ever-present need to worry, everything began to make sense. With the help of medication and cognitive counseling, I began to reign in my anxiety and enjoy life again. I told a select few, but felt as though this was something that should be kept in the shadows–something that would detract from the image others had of me.

But as soon as this success with my anxiety came, I was met with my next hurdle I am still working to overcome. I began to feel exhausted and sick with everything imaginable. I figured it was the whooping cough or strep throat because both were making the rounds at my school. But lo and behold, both tests came back negative. We were at a loss as to what it could be, but it was soon suggested I get tested for mononucleosis (more commonly known as mono).

With six days left in my high school career, I got the blood test and waited three long minutes to hear the diagnosis. And with my school days dwindling, I found out I was positive for mono. While it was a relief to have a name for the extreme fatigue I was experiencing, there is no medication to help aid recovery besides over-the-counter pain relievers. I quickly watched my restored plans for the end of senior year go up in flames.

In contrast with my anxiety diagnosis, this was not something I kept quiet. Within two hours, everyone at school knew and teachers and students alike began giving help where I needed it. I am currently attending half days of school and have more time for assignments which has helped me immensely, but all the help made me step back and ponder the comparison between my two diagnoses and the contrast between the reception of the two.

Both plague me with extreme exhaustion, give me headaches and make me shake uncontrollably. Both make me lack motivation to finish assignments and get out bed. Both force me to lose touch with the world and people around me. But what differs is how people react to the two. When it comes to mono, I receive endless amounts of support and well wishes, likely because the effects are so visible. There is no stigma behind mono (besides being known as the kissing disease) and people know how to respond when someone says they have it. It’s easy to be open about having mono because there is no extra judgment tacked on to it. In regards to my anxiety, I’ve found myself being concerned about whether or not to tell teachers and peers in fear they would not see it as a viable excuse for missing school and turning in late assignments.

In May, it became crystal clear to me that mental illnesses are treated much differently than those of physical nature. When struggling with anxiety, I am still expected to get up at 6:20 every morning, attend every class whether or not I am having a bad day and finish my work on time. It is merely seen as an “excuse.” As I stated earlier, when it comes to mono the rules can be bent in order to ensure I am comfortable. And although I am grateful to the many teachers and friends who have helped me while I have had mono, it angers me that we are a society that does not treat mental illnesses in the same way we do physical ones. It comes down to this. We don’t make people with mono get out of bed, but we make those drained from anxiety get up and put on a refreshed face for the sake of appearances.

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Thinkstock photo via berdsigns.

Originally published: March 14, 2017
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