My anxiety spiked this semester during my history midterm, making it all the more cruel, but it didn’t stop there. The anxiety continued through the next few weeks, and though I managed to maintain my composure over the following weeks, my anxiety grew and the effects started showing. With my heart throbbing, problems with breathing and the butterflies in my stomach fluttering, I constantly felt like a heroine in a romance novel — but in a bad way. Most annoyingly, I couldn’t be left alone because the isolation I felt was already overwhelming. One day, feeling as bad as one could possibly feel, I called my ex-boyfriend, despite the fact that he had made it very clear that we were not on speaking terms. Surprisingly and luckily for me, he answered.
I had ended the relationship two months in because I knew we weren’t in love. Though it may have seemed hasty, the stakes at hand were high, considering that summer was approaching. Long distance wasn’t a feasible option for the summer because I’ll be in London, and the time difference would make communicating difficult. He told me that he planned to cut me completely out of his life because seeing or talking to me pained him too much, and I agreed. After a full day of crying and ordering everything on my “Save for later” list on Amazon — which I later justified as retail therapy — I felt in control of my life and content with my decision.
A week later, my mom called to share that she had an ovarian tumor and that my grandparents had decided to no longer support my schooling. Suddenly, those three papers that were due seemed far less manageable. I was no longer able to comprehend the rough drafts I had written just a few days prior, put together coherent sentences or thoughts or even type properly. Every time I reminded myself how critical it was that I finish my essays, panic kicked in and settled in my stomach, making progress on them all the more impossible. When I finally forced myself to write a full paragraph, I rewarded myself by prancing around my room, with the door locked, shutting out the potential judgment and pity from my housemates. It was impossible for me to be productive because the panic-inducing energy that anxiety gave me made me feel like I was high on coke all the time, but without the pleasure.
Social media didn’t help either. The energy I felt was all-consuming but worked to my disadvantage. Instead of sleeping, I buried myself in social media for hours, scrolling through every single post, afraid of missing anything important. When I ran out of friends’ posts on my newsfeed, I went on random Facebook groups and stalked group members whose posts I found funny. Every night, I’d lose sleep obsessing over the accomplishments of people I barely knew and catastrophizing everything wrong with my life. Not being able to keep up with the virtual Joneses only increased my self-loathing. Yet, I stayed glued to the screen. Feeling depressed and alone, I started regretting having burned down bridges with the one person I felt would understand. I wasn’t content with being alone anymore.
I asked my ex-boyfriend to help me through my anxiety, and right off the bat, he agreed to take on the burden of dealing with me and my metaphorical appendage. Every single time I felt anxious, he helped me regulate my breathing, held the trashcan in front of me when I felt nauseated and sang duets with me in the shower in order to keep me from crying. He talked me through my essays and kept me on task.
Most importantly, he suggested I turn off my phone for hours a day, which proved to reduce my anxiety. Everything I worried about suddenly didn’t seem as daunting: Getting loans for school did not seem like the end of the world, and those essays managed to get done.
The symptoms of anxiety differ from person to person, but it is definitely not an uncommon phenomenon among college students. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “forty million U.S. adults suffer from an anxiety disorder, and 75 percent of them experience their first episode of anxiety by age 22.” It can be easy for us to trivialize symptoms of anxiety because seeking help can seem burdensome and weak. But taking preventative measures early can prevent claustrophobic loops of anxiety — more severe anxiety, at that. Though having one midterm and a few essays negatively affected by anxiety may seem minor, if gone unchecked, anxiety could have had a more permanent impact. It is critical to confide in those who care about you and seek professional help if necessary.
I’m glad that I sought help when I hit rock bottom this semester. I am also content with whom I decided to seek help from: What initially came at the expense of my academics ended up mending a burned bridge with someone who cares about me. I could have cut off contact with my ex, and he would have ended up just a stranger. Instead, a friendship grew from my episodes of anxiety and brought back someone who loves me platonically.
“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the Summer semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected.
Contact the Opinion Desk at [email protected] and follow us on Twitter at @dailycalopinion.