Anxiety disorders are the onions of mental health. They pertain to a variety of different levels and layers, each one more intense and eye-watering than the last. When undiagnosed, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) can make people feel hopeless, lost, and sometimes, even invalidated. In high school, I had a very difficult time staying calm and focused in classrooms due to excessive worry and unavoidable wandering thoughts. I consider myself to be somewhat of an “intuitive learner”- I don’t necessarily need to understand what the teacher is saying to do well in the class, I pick up cues from other students and mimic their actions. This method successfully got me through high school, but my decent grades were not an accurate reflection of my internal emotions. On several occasions, I suffered unexplainable breakdowns and found being in the public school environment to be extremely painful. Being an underfunded public high school who feared that my unusual attitude was actually suicidal behavior (and obviously trying to avoid a lawsuit if that was the case,) I was often called down to the nurse’s office, and once sent to a hospital for an evaluation. The reality is, however, I was not suicidal, and I never had been. I actually has undiagnosed GAD, and the school was putting in no effort to properly help me explore my resources. It’s extremely difficult to talk about your anxiety with a figure of authority if you’re consistently afraid of being wheeled off to a psychiatric hospital.
After being diagnosed with GAD, I began taking a “selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor”- or SSRI. The medication I have been prescribed since and take daily is Lexapro- a powerful medication for reducing depression and anxiety. I have been taking Lexapro daily for about a year and a half, and have already noticed a remarkable positive change. Yes, I still experience some depression and anxiety, but my symptoms are nowhere near as extreme as they once were.
One of the biggest challenges I faced with starting college was adjusting to a new, strange lifestyle. I, like many other people, was uncomfortable with the idea of having to make brand-new friends and learn to live in a dormitory with a roommate. In my particular situation, living with a roommate for my first semester of college was an extremely traumatic experience. I felt targeted and ostracized by my former roommate and her friends- eventually reaching the point where I considered sleeping on benches to avoid going back to my room. For my spring semester, I was offered a single dorm room in the same building where I already lived, and I took that opportunity immediately.
This segways nicely into my first recommendation for anyone struggling with GAD: if you are uncomfortable with your rooming situation, do not hesitate to ask for a medical accommodation. With a medical note from your doctor disclosing your anxiety, it is possible your school will be able to offer you a single room. Unfortunately, my school has informed me that there are not enough available singles to acquire my medical accommodation for the next fall semester. Because of this, I’m going through the long and somewhat irritating process of transferring to a school that will accomodate. It may sound like a drastic move, but after my diagnosis with GAD and rather horrifying experience with my roommate, the situation is very black or white. If I have the accommodation, I will stay. If the school will not offer it, I’m going to take my twenty grand somewhere else.
Don’t forget, you’re paying for this. This is your education, your future, and your initiative. If there is something you really, truly need to make your educational experience the best it can be, never hesitate to reach out and make a request. Your mental illness is valid.
While having GAD can make it difficult to socialize and join organizations on campus, I highly recommend getting involved in something. It doesn’t even have to be a club! Consider picking up a new hobby to keep you occupied, like blogging or knitting, or getting a small pet to improve your personal accountability. And yes, while making friends can be a difficult and tedious game of chance, it’s inevitably something you will have to go out of your way to do. As of right now, I only have one relatively close friend on campus. Despite the fact that we (basically) only have each other, having a shoulder to cry on and a dinner companion has reduced my general anxiety considerably. Exploring campus, registering for classes, and even studying can become loads easier when you have a close companion to ramble with.
Obviously, it’s almost impossible to completely eradicate GAD, especially if it’s causing a toil on your daily life. There are, however, a few little helpful pointers I’ve picked up along the way. I cannot speak for everyone dealing with anxiety, nor would I ever want to. GAD is a very individualized disorder. That being said, if any of my suggestions can make even a smidge of a positive impact, I’ve completed my job here!
Ultimately, the best advice I can leave you with is to understand that you don’t need to be okay every second of every day. College is about finding yourself, making mistakes, screwing up, and then laughing about it later. If you use your resources wisely and take care of yourself to the best of your ability, I promise that you will make it out fine. My journey so far has been quite a rollercoaster, but I’m learning to appreciate it and make the best of what this experience has taught me.