A Student’s Story

This story is posted with permission of the author. It was originally published in the January 12, 2006 edition of The Goshen College Record (vol. 108 No. 1).

Many of you have asked me why I was MIA the first couple days of this new semester. Well, I’ll tell you. I am diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Last week I had my first anxiety attack in over a year.

I guess I had reasons to freak out. I’d been uprooted a lot in the past few months. I’d been in China last semester, hadn’t had “real” classes since last April, I have a busy schedule this semester, I was excited and yet anxious about being with my friends again, moving into Avon house in gray wintery Goshen, and generally being in another new situation.

For about five days, I couldn’t stop shaking. I was so tense, my stomach in knots. I couldn’t eat, I was so nauseous, and could barely sleep. I don’t think I left the couch, I was too weak. I couldn’t rationalize to myself that everything would be fine, couldn’t talk myself out of my anxiety. It got to the point where I couldn’t tell myself why I was anxious anymore. I finally was able to receive some medical help and am now back on track.

I’m talking about this because I feel like stress and anxiety in college is one that should be addressed. Despite as far as it has come over the years, the stigma of mental illness ( I hate those words – “illness, disease, disorder”) still can persist today.

By writing about this, I want to do all I can to help refute the stigma, and humanize it.

According to the National Mental Health Association website, anxiety disorders affect about 19 million Americans. Anxiety levels with college students have been rising since the 1950s. In 2000 about seven percent of college students experienced some type of anxiety disorder. Women are five times as likely to be susceptible.

In addition, the website states that college students are feeling more overwhelmed and stressed than fifteen years ago, according to a recent UCLA survey of college freshman. More than 30% of college freshman report feeling overwhelmed a great deal of the time. About 38% of college women report feeling frequently overwhelmed.

Finding the right language to describe this has always been a challenge for me. Saying I “suffer” from GAD is totally wrong. I do not suffer. It’s a chemical imbalance that can easily be taken care of. I am Megan, I like reading American Splendor comics and listening to Frank Zappa with my boyfriend. I occasionally get anxious. I don’t let it control or define who I am.

I suppose I’ll end with exactly what I was hoping to avoid – a “Dr. Phil” ending. But seriously, friends, if any of you are overwhelmed, truly overwhelmed, this semester, for whatever reason, please get help. Second semester is one that is rough for a lot of people that I’ve talked to on campus.

Listen to yourself and what your body and mind are trying to tell you. It’ll be ok. I didn’t think it at the time, I can forget it, but it’s true.

~megan blank