Anxiety and depression are like an identity crisis — a cancer of the soul

“Pull yourself together,” I repeated this command to myself in the mirror as I splashed cold water on my face washing away escaped tears. It was supposed to be a happy family gathering and apparently my emotions hadn’t gotten the memo.

“Oh yeah I’m fine, it’s just allergies.”

But my lie was as translucent as the pain behind my families eyes because they knew there was nothing more they could do to help.

I’ve been battling extreme anxiety and depression from post traumatic stress disorder (PSTD) since I was 8 years old. I was diagnosed after being taken under the loving care of my aunt and uncle. I take the prescribed meds, I see a therapist and I do all those things that are supposed to naturally help: eat well, exercise, create… etc. While these do help, I still have my bad days.

Those who don’t really know me think I have everything figured out —  mapped out career, great friends, super involved on campus, four jobs and all of this done with a smile on my face. Thirteen years has made me an expert at faking normalcy.

But it’s the people that do know me that can see what happens behind the cheeky grin. They know the “me” that I don’t want them to know because the “me” right now is not the me I always was.

Anxiety and depression are like an identity crisis —  a cancer of the soul. They take over your mind and then spread throughout your body affecting everything you do.

The best analogy to describe it is that you’re drowning in an ocean full of people. You’re doing everything you can to swim but you keep sinking deeper and deeper, all the while blaming yourself for your inability to move. Some dart past you screaming, “Swim faster!” because to them it’s second nature. Others try to help by giving you instruction, but lose patience as you sink even deeper. You decide to just accept your fate alone and question if it’s even worth trying to learn how to swim.

Fortunately for me, some patient swimmer (a counselor at the Saltzman Center on campus) grabbed my hand and led me to the surface where I caught my breath. I’m working on swimming now, but it’s good to know I can get to the surface for help if necessary.

For many, the story doesn’t always end that happily. Like any illness that is left untreated, fatalities may occur and often do. We see it almost everyday from our neighbors to beloved celebrities who just couldn’t swim in the ocean of life and gave up trying.

No matter what you may hope to believe, society is not very accepting of mental disorders and how much they control one’s life. People cringe at the word “mental” and automatically jump to the conclusion that people who have these issues are somehow less of a person.

I would argue the opposite. In my own life, the people I’ve come across with anxiety and depression are some of the wisest and most loving spirits. These people know what it’s like to experience pain and sadness — often times an undertone to their existence — and therefore are privy to the pain of others.

In some cases, there are people who come off hard hearted and appear distant to others. They are simply putting up a shield because they’ve been injured one too many times in one too many battles.

Why am I exposing myself to an entire student body or anyone who comes across my attempt to explain such a suffocating illness? Much of what gives me the hope to go through each day is the ever-loving support system I undeservedly have. And I want everyone to have that resource as well.

To those who are struggling: you are not fighting in vain. When loneliness and sadness overcome you, sometimes a simple acknowledgement that someone out there understands can make life a bit more bearable.

To those without these disorders: this isn’t to say you don’t suffer or have never felt similarly. Each person has their own demons. The purpose of this article is not to belittle or compare what anyone is going through to another. Rather, I want to explain these often suppressed and overlooked feelings and in doing so promote understanding.

Whether you chose to admit it in writing like some, ahem, or silently in your head: we all need encouragement, positivity and, most importantly, love. But how can we expect to receive that if we are not givers first?

Maybe Bill Withers was onto something; maybe we all just need somebody to help us carry on. This campus is looking a little wobbly to me. Let’s build up that support system so that we may in fact have someone to lean on.

The views and opinions expressed in the Op-Ed section are those of the authors of the articles. They are not an endorsement of the views of The Chronicle or its staff. The Chronicle does not discriminate based on the opinions of the authors.

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