I remember being in 8th grade and even the thought of moving on to high school would send me into a panic. I tried talking to my parents about it, but they told me it was just high school jitters and that everyone gets them. As the end of the school year neared I became more and more anxious about high school. I actually tried to fail the grade entirely to avoid moving up, to no avail though. Eventually summer came and high school was constantly on my mind. Then in mid-summer at a friend’s house, I had my very first panic attack. I can honestly say it was one of the most terrifying things I had ever experienced. My stomach turned, my hands went numb, my heart raced, and the room was spinning. I called my mother at 6 a.m. to pick me up. She explained to me what had happened and said she goes through the same thing.
The first day of 9th grade was the day I had my second panic attack. I got to school and my mind and heart were racing. I went to my first class and I felt my stomach turn and the room began to spin. I ended up going home early the first day of school, which wasn’t a good sign. The time I spent at public high school was rocky; I was in the office for the majority of the day. I felt like an outcast because I realized that I wasn’t like my friends. I began seeing a counselor and at 14 years old, I was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder. I was put on Prozac and stayed on it for two years. I withdrew from public high school and attended a private Christian school. After two years of being there I found out we were moving from New Mexico to Montana, which sparked my anxiety and depression.
Moving day finally arrived and I was headed to a whole new state and the feeling of dread came over me, thinking about how I’m going to have to go through all this again. After a month in Montana my depression overwhelmed me, I wasn’t eating or sleeping. I went from 115lbs to 95lbs by the end of the summer. The night before my junior year at my new Christian high school my anxiety was high, I felt trapped. I went to school, anxiety ridden. When I got there everyone was so warm and welcoming and I didn’t feel as embarrassed. I started out the year feeling alone, everyone in my classes knew about the girl in the office who couldn’t go to class. Quite a few of them tried to make conversation with me but I was so caught up in my racing thoughts, conversation was almost impossible. After adjusting my Zoloft (which I was switched to from Prozac), my anxiety came down and I felt confident enough to go to class. I remember walking in and a few people clapping for me, it was a little embarrassing, but I smiled and laughed. It was the first time I had felt like a normal student. At 16 I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Finally it made sense; a lot of my episodes were surrounded by the fear of vomiting. The thought of doing that in front of someone horrified me. I always feared catching a stomach bug, or that I had one that was going to send me into an uncontrollable fit of vomiting. Most of my obsessions and compulsions were under control due to the medication. Then graduation arrived, the summer following I felt my OCD come in full swing. I had gone off my medication, due to not having a routine. Horrible thoughts flooded my head; my family dying, me dying, contamination.
Here I am today; battling OCD at 20 years old. I am going to therapy and it’s been helping so much. I’m a normal girl, I have my struggles but I’m not “crazy.” It’s hard to understand what people with mental illness go through if you don’t have one. If you have a person in your life who has a mental illness, the most important thing you can do is support them and support their recovery. When you feel discouraged don’t isolate yourself, reach out for support. The biggest lesson I learned was, “don’t be ashamed.” Whenever I go somewhere, for example the dentist, I make sure to let them know that I have anxiety and that there may be a point where I need time to gather my thoughts and regain control of myself; and they understand and allow me to do so. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, tell people about your illness; help them understand. Help break the stereotype, spread awareness.