This is a guest post from a youth from the Mavrixx community – Ashni – sharing her college and mental health experience. If you’d like to share your story on our site, please visit our contact page and let us know your ideas.
Anxiety. Panic attacks. Depression. These are things that I have struggles with as a university student. We all have our own form of anxiety and to the extent in which it impacts us, varies for each individual.
Our experiences and triggers are unique – we must not compare our own pain to another’s nor say that our pain is less than theirs and therefore, can be endured. No one feels your pain but you.
I am a perfectionist; I want everything to be perfect and for me, it has to be. In high school I was the student that wanted nothing less than a high ‘A’ on tests, assignments or homework. I stressed myself out by believing that perfectionism is achieved through obtaining a high grade-point average. This lead to the academic average I set for myself each year, being higher than the previous.
I felt like I was letting people down if I couldn’t attain that grade point average. In reality, it was only myself that I was disappointing by setting unrealistic goals. The stress was entirely self-inflicted and as a result of my determination to make certain that I would be accepted to the University of British Columbia.
I received an early acceptance to UBC and was beyond excited, but I had no idea the mental health struggles I would face in the upcoming winter session.
University was my trigger. The anxiety started when I began to meet new people – I psyched myself out thinking they were better than me. I did not understand why I felt this way, I just did – I felt like I had to prove to them that I was just as smart as them.
I experienced my first panic attack during a chemistry midterm. I walked into the exam room feeling unusually uneasy. When I sat down to begin the exam, I went blank. I felt sweaty and my chest felt like it was hurting; my heart was beating so fast. I flipped open to the first page of the exam booklet and could not recall what ‘pH’ was.
After that, I experienced panic attacks frequently, whether it was during class or during the commute home in which I drove on the highway. I remember being so scared that I was not going to be able to get home; I had to pull over and tell myself to just breathe.
Maybe my anxiety and panic attacks stem from fear of failure but it started getting worse – I wasn’t able to pin-point what the cause was anymore. I could be watching TV or eating dinner and just feel like I had no control over my mind or body.
I began to hate everything. I hated going to school. I hated talking to people. I just wanted to sleep and cry all the time. It sounds cliché or ridiculous but I had many times where I would just cry as I drove home for no particular reason. I was depressed. I wasn’t getting enough sleep or gaining my “freshman 15” – I was losing weight and was tired of not feeling good enough.
I used to come home to my mom and just bawl, telling her how much I hated life. I couldn’t even tell her all the reasons why I did, I just did. There were times that people were contributing to my state of unhappiness maybe without even knowing it. One person had said, “Oh, she’s going to show us how to do it?” – in reference to a calculus question when the “smarter kid” didn’t know how to do it, but I did. I tried to play the part and laugh it off.
For some reason, we always think that pretending to be okay is what we have to do – what we’re supposed to do. We think it is so bad to show others how badly we’re feeling as if it’s a sign of weakness. We guard ourselves in fear that we may be judged or persecuted for our struggles.
I was planning on not going to school the following year. I needed to just get out of there. I wanted to stop going out, stop talking to people and just be alone. But, I knew I needed to get help. I couldn’t feel this never-ending anxiety attack forever and so I went to see a counsellor.
My counsellor showed me coping mechanisms, validated my feelings and helped me navigate how to deal with school difficulties. For some this isn’t enough. For me, it was at least something – something that I could look forward to each week where I would be free from judgement and free to talk/cry or whatever I wanted to do.
It is not weak to admit when you need help. Help from a counsellor or medication. It is strong and courageous to ask others for support.
I am now entering my fourth year at UBC and I tackle each day as they come. It is extremely hard at times as I have had other obstacles that have contributed to my depression and anxiety. I still need to learn how to hone in on breathing techniques and meditation for my anxiety, but I am getting better at it.
I have seen three different counsellors so far and am trying another quite soon. Sometimes it takes several counsellors before we find our fit – just because one person didn’t find a counsellor to be helpful, does not mean you will have the same experience. All of our experiences are individualistic and our help must be tailored as so. Do not be discouraged if you do not find a counsellor to be helpful or if it’s hard for you to meditate – it is still hard for me.