Much Easier: A Letter To Anxious Students
Sarah writes about the stigma attached to mental illness
This is an opinion of a young person and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of SpunOut.ie. It is one person's experience and may be different for you. If you'd like to write something for SpunOut.ie please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Perhaps one of the most persistent struggles as a student dealing with anxiety is what people get wrong about the disorder. There are so many misconceptions when it comes to anxiety disorders, and that can make dealing with them more difficult. These misconceptions are a common reality for those who either have the condition, know someone who is battling it or think they may be on the brink of a diagnosis. People that proactively seek & receive help are taking a courageous step on the road to recovery. As a society, we need to support this. And as a society, we need to encourage this.
While there are public awareness campaigns being run throughout Ireland, and indeed Irish universities, misconceptions and stigmatizing attitudes are still prevalent. Since I started college, I have been told on more than one occasion that I'm complicating things. I'm overthinking, I'm not eating the right foods, I'm not doing enough exercise, I should sleep for longer. Life would be "much easier" if I just looked after myself and stopped being anxious. Much easier.
It would be much easier if I wasn’t tired all the time. Any activity from having a shower, to shopping for food, to partaking in a lecture just exhausts me. The mere thought of having to get out of bed to do anything is exhausting. People think I’m lazy and that I can’t be bothered. I wish I was lazy. I wish that I could put my failures down to laziness. It’s easy. But I’m not lazy. In fact, I’m eager to achieve. To learn, to immerse myself in this crazy but amazing college atmosphere. To enjoy life. But you can’t do any of that when you’re tired all the time. You can’t go out and socialize when it gets to 8.30pm and you’re already drowsy. You can’t read for long because you end up falling asleep and usually losing your page. You can’t attend every lecture because sometimes you wake up unable to move or think or feel.
Life would be much easier if I wasn’t like this all the time. If I wasn’t ill. I know that a lot of people think those with mental illnesses are making it up, that we’re exaggerating it. How many times have we heard: “you’re always sick” “what’s wrong now?” “why are you still in a mood?” It’s not an excuse. It’s really not. I wish I was making it up. I know those people who understand what it's like to feel this way wish they were too. I spend hours in bed in pain or being sick. There are days I can’t keep anything down. My stomach is victim to my emotions. Stress causes stomach pains which then causes stress which then makes it worse. It’s a cycle, much like everything else. It’s not in my head. Mental illnesses have real and physical effects. Sometimes my head is so cloudy that I can’t think straight. I wake up confused, unsure of my surroundings or who I am. I don’t recognize the stranger I’m looking at in the mirror. Sometimes my head is so heavy with this confusion that I can’t function properly. I get headaches from stress and even when I sleep, I have stressful dreams.
It would be much easier if I wasn’t perpetually anxious. I used to think it was normal to be anxious about little things. My whole life revolved around thinking that everyone did the same. But they don’t. Crying yourself to sleep the nights after attacks on European cities because you’re terrified we’ll be next is not normal. Getting up 2 hours before a lecture simply to just convince yourself it’s okay to leave the house is not normal. Putting aside 10 minutes in an exam for the inevitable panic attack and therefore cutting your exam time is not normal. Attacking yourself because you can't understand this particular grammar topic is not normal. Crying because you put the wrong plate in the microwave is not normal. Nor is constantly looking around, hearing people laugh and thinking it’s directed at you. This state of constant anxiety dictates my life.
It would be much easier if I didn’t cry all the time. I’m not a baby, nor am I a wimp. I pride myself on my bravery but the tears are involuntary. Sometimes it’s over something ridiculous like dropping some food on the floor. Sometimes it’s nothing. Sometimes it’s due to pure frustration that I can’t explain myself coherently. How can you put your feelings into words when you don’t even know what it is you’re feeling in the first place?
It would be much easier if people understood. If they understood that this thing, this inexplicable weirdness in my head, isn’t me. The way it makes me act is not the way I want to act. If it was common knowledge that mentally ill people are not pathetic or making this up, not faking it or exaggerating things, then it would be much easier. The hardest part of mental illnesses is feeling like you’ve let people down, that people don’t believe you. A self-fulfilling prophecy is created. You start believing what other people say about you and subsequently, not believing in yourself.
It would be much easier if the people around me knew how much I appreciated them. It’s difficult to show that kind of gratitude. They’re all like buoys in a turbulent sea for me to hold onto and keep afloat. They are all patient and kind and love me when I can’t love myself.
It would be much easier if I wasn’t like this. But I am. It’s the way that it’s going to be. I can’t erase it. I can deal with it though. I can get through my education, enjoy it even. So can you. And some day, you'll realize that life really has become easier.