Anxiety disorder takes its toll on one student

Julia Kuhn, In Depth Editor

Imagine feeling nervous about everything, for no rational reason. You cannot relax, fall asleep, and you suffer from headaches, trembling, sweating, and nausea. This may sound like you are suffering from an obscure disease, but if you have these symptoms, you would actually be suffering from the most common mental illness in the US: anxiety.

Anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults, or 18 percent of the US population, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. John Smith, junior (*name has been changed) has been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and depression.

“I think people don’t realize what I’m dealing with because in general I try to seem happy. I’m not trying to be fake, but if I’m with people I don’t know well, I’m not going to go into detail about my emotions. I definitely am less vulnerable with my emotions around people I’m not close with,” Smith said. “My anxiety started as social anxiety in elementary school. I was really nervous around people I didn’t know. That kind of led to my depression. I knew I was always sad, and I had bad thoughts, suicidal thoughts. A lot of the reason I was depressed is because I was bullied in middle school. I had a lot of suicidal thoughts and I was feeling really worthless. In high school, the bullying stopped, but I was still bullying myself. I was not able to get over what people said.”

It is not uncommon for someone with anxiety to also suffer from depression. Nearly 50 percent of people diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s website.

“Sophomore year, I told my parents about everything. They sent me to Alexian Brothers. After Alexian I saw a psychologist, which I still see currently. Then things were still bad junior year, so I went back, more by choice this time. I went there for six weeks. This last time helped a lot more because I was more honest about everything,” Smith said. “When I told them, my parents were really sad. My mom cried and they were both really surprised. I was really good at hiding it from them. They wanted to get me help and they are really supportive about everything.”

Alexian Brothers is a behavioral health hospital in Hoffman Estates, IL, which treats addictions, anxiety, OCD, and eating disorders. To learn more, visit alexianbrothershealth.org. Smith said he was intimidated by the idea of treatment, but that it has helped him immensely. According to Smith, a misconception of mental health is people think being hospitalized is really bad and scary but it is actually really helpful.

“Before I got treated, I was always sad and I didn’t talk to my parents or friends about anything. My anxiety was really bad because I didn’t have medicine and I bottled everything up. I couldn’t focus or even be normal around people. It was scary when my parents told me I was going to the hospital,” Smith said. “Now, after two times [at Alexian Brothers], I am behind on school work and had to make up so much work, but since I am a lot healthier now, it is easier for me to make it up. I’m on medicine now for anxiety and depression. I didn’t go on these until this year. It helped a lot, mostly with anxiety.”

This year alone, Smith missed six weeks of school while being treated at Alexian Brothers. Smith said he does open up to people about dealing with anxiety and depression, and he is not as secretive as he was before he got treatment.

“Now I am more open about what I’m going through. When I missed that much school, of course people asked me why. I was honest with them. I am a lot better now, so I’m not ashamed of it. Before I got help for it, only a few people knew in my friend group, and they were freaked out. It took a toll on my friendships. There was this pressure for them to watch me, and that wasn’t fair to them,” Smith said.

Smith’s battle with mental illness has affected his relationships, self-image, and day-to-day life. As a result, Smith said his perspective on life has changed drastically from his worst point in middle school to now.

“I think the most important thing I realized is that it’s a choice if you want to be happy. No amount of therapy or medicine is going to make you happy. You have to do that,” Smith said. “I learned that I am a lot stronger than I thought. I was always had a ‘woe is me’ attitude, but now I realize than you can do anything that you focus on.”

*Name has been changed.