I always knew that I was more stressed out than my friends, but I never understood why. Every time we had an exam, I would find myself throwing up or having extreme chest pain the night before and I just thought this was normal. I never thought that I could have an anxiety disorder.
I hid my anxiety from everyone, including myself. I would tell myself that how I was feeling was normal and that everyone gets stressed out about school or big life events. I refused to acknowledge that I was sick until my anxiety got so severe that I was physically unable to get through my day-to-day life. I was throwing up multiple times a day and had a crushing weight on my chest at all times. My hair had begun to fall out, and I found myself hyperventilating and starting to panic at the mere mention of anything stressful. On top of that, once I realized that I was sick I became even more anxious about what would happen if other people found out. What would they think of me? Would they think I was weak and be dismissive towards me, or would they hate me for worrying over nothing?
I was terrified to get help. I was afraid that no medical professionals would believe me. I thought that I would be told to stop over-exaggerating. These thoughts stem from the stigma surrounding women who seek help for mental illness. It is said that oftentimes medical professionals won’t take you seriously because ‘women are just hysterical to begin with.’
On top of that, I am a college student, and all college students are stressed out, so why should my anxiety be worse than anyone else’s?
I knew about the free counseling services on campus but I was afraid to go. I had heard so many horror stories about counseling centers on college campuses not taking people seriously. My anxiety was also so severe at this point that I was terrified to even tell someone. I just kept thinking about how everyone would look down on me if they found out that I could not even handle the stresses of school.
Finally, once I got to the point that I had not really been able to sleep for more than an hour in four days I went to Health Services. Unfortunately, I was unable to see the psychiatrist on such short notice, so I saw a general practitioner. He was afraid to play with the anxiety medication that I was already on, so he prescribed me Valium to take before bed. Eventually I started going to cognitive behavioral therapy and was able to sleep without taking the valium after a few months.
My anxiety should have never been allowed to get to the point that it did. Why is it that if something is wrong physically it feels more acceptable to receive treatment from the doctor than if something is wrong mentally?
The stigma surrounding mental illness prevents so many people from seeking treatment because they are afraid. If I had had an ill body instead of an ill mind it would have been considered more socially acceptable to receive treatment and I probably would have gone to the doctor much sooner. We need to get rid of the stigma surrounding mental illness so that people feel comfortable getting help. It is imperative that everyone feels comfortable getting the treatment and care that they need.