By Helen Ross
In this blog post, 25-year-old guest blogger Helen Ross shares her story of struggling with anxiety, depression, and crippling panic attacks as a young adult attending college and playing competitive sports. According to the American Institute of Stress, anxiety and depression are the two most common reasons that college students seek mental health services.
My first time away from home was as a teenager going off to college. I had always had anxious tendencies when I was growing up: my hair would fall out, I would vomit, start crying when I would go to social events, or shake my legs constantly.
My bottled up emotions were only heightened by scenarios at college, and I experienced my first-ever panic attacks. For me, a panic attack is when my heart starts beating incredibly fast and I can hear it throughout my body. My breath gets shorter and quicker. My chest tightens and it feels like I am drowning. I’m grasping for air. My body shakes with a tremor. My vision is blurry and my head is delirious. I start crying and hyperventilating. I am dying – I know I am – or at least that’s the only thought racing through my head. Deep breathing exercises eventually calm me down, and at the end I tend to throw up, a final act to complete this excruciating experience.
During my sophomore year of college, my depression and anxiety only worsened as I had left it untreated. I brushed my teeth and showered maybe twice a week. I barely left my bed. My energy levels were shot and my motivation level was nil. I’d have a panic attack at least once a day that would wipe me out and put me to sleep.
I had hit “rock bottom” where my anxiety and depression affected my health, schooling, hygiene, and participation in sports. My soccer coach suggested I try some medication. I knew that I was suffering from these illnesses, but I thought I could fix it myself. This was the jarring moment when I realized I needed to make a change and ask for help.
I reached out to my doctor and described my feelings, thoughts, and physical distress to her. She listened to me and assured me that anxiety and depression is especially common for young adults my age. I was relieved to hear that I am not the one in a million person who is affected by this. More people than I probably could imagine were going through exactly what I was.
My doctor prescribed a generic anti-depressant (a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor or SSRI). It worked relatively well for about a year until it didn’t. Then it drained me. I didn’t have panic attacks, but I could literally sleep for 12 hours, wake up, and go right back to bed. My body felt like I was taking a sleeping pill every day.
After speaking to my doctor about the change in the medication’s effect, we weaned me off of it and changed to a different SSRI. So far I’ve been on it four years and it seems to be working relatively well. I haven’t had panic attacks, except for maybe one. I am still anxious sometimes, which is normal. These medications have a tendency to give you no feelings, therefore, you want to be able to experience the normal highs and lows.
In addition to the medication, I’ve also made other lifestyle changes that help me feel well. I now stay organized with a planner and lists, keep my house/desk/room clean, take vitamins daily, see a therapist, and do something I like at least once a week like making art. I am also honest about how or what I’m feeling.
Some of the biggest challenges I still face are feeling alone even when I’m not, getting worried over the smallest tasks, feeling impaired by anxiety, lack of motivation and drive, and distancing myself from people.
Throughout this process not only have I gained knowledge but I am maturing. I have realized that everyone deals with depression and anxiety, to varying degrees, at some point in their life. There is nothing to be ashamed of in asking for help or telling people what you’re feeling. It’s normal. I’m normal. Experiencing anxiety and depression is a side effect of life.
Helen Ross is a 2019 graduate of Lycoming College in Williamsport, PA, where she was a standout goalkeeper for the women’s soccer team. She currently works as a Social Media Manager for a non-profit trade group. She enjoys creating art in any fashion and spending time with her dog, Cammie, and cats, Snowbuka and GracieBelle.
Thank you, Helen, for sharing your story of courage and hope with our readers.
If you have a story to share with our readers about participating in a clinical trial, overcoming adversity, or living with a chronic condition, please let us know. We’d love to have you guest blog for us. Guest blogging helps others learn about your struggles and increases awareness and understanding. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to get started sharing your story now!