My name is Kailey. I’m a New Media Studies student at Eastern Connecticut State University. I’m someone who suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Social Anxiety Disorder, Depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, all of which can make life a bit difficult at times. I’m starting this blog to share some of my personal stories and what I have learned on my journey of healing so far. I’m hoping that by sharing my personal story, I can help others who are suffering from similar things.
When I was first diagnosed, I wish I had someone I could go to for guidance because I just felt completely lost. I was afraid to share what I was going through. I feared that I was going to be looked at differently if I opened up about my struggles. It was easier to just isolate myself. Feeling like I was alone was awful, so I’m here to show you that there are others who understand and know what you’re going through.
I also hope to bring awareness for people who don’t fully understand what it’s like to live with mental illness. Speaking out about the struggles of mental health issues isn’t the taboo it used to be, but I still feel like it’s something not a lot of people are open to discussing. There are still people who truly believe that mental illness is not real, which is just not true.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend like this life-long journey of living with mental illness is easy because it’s not. It’s definitely one of those things you take day by day. There will be good days and there will be bad days. I have spent years in and out of therapy and while I have made so much progress, I still have so much to work on. There are days where I feel like I can do anything, but there’s also days where I feel like I can’t go on. But I’m here to tell you, and myself, it does get better.
The coronavirus has put a halt to normal life. With social distancing being the norm, it’s hard to stay sane. Many people are feeling isolated. I’m feeling it too. Instead of focusing on all the things that I can’t control and the fact that I can’t see anyone, I’m focusing on what I can do during this time.
I’ve been using this time to connect with myself and the things I love again. I was working 24 hours a week and I was a full-time student that commuted to school. It’s hard to focus on yourself when you’re throwing all of your energy into work and school. While it’s stressful not having an income right now, I’m choosing to focus on things that I have been wanting to do. I’m starting to do things I didn’t have the time or energy to do before this forced break in my normal go go go lifestyle.
One of the things I’ve chosen to focus on is my small side business of reselling online. It’s something that I have really enjoyed doing and I’m happy to have time to learn more about reselling and time to list new items. I’ve been connecting with other resellers on my Instagram (kaimacposh) for a while and I really love the community. I’m so thankful that I have time to work on my little business. One of my goals for right now is to start updating some of my listings with pictures of me modeling the items. I finally have the time and energy to do it!
Another thing that I’ve been able to start getting back into is photography. I have always been so passionate about photography, but I never have the energy to go out, take the pictures, and edit them. Now though, I have all the time in the world! I have been going out on my own and exploring while trying to get some new shots for my website (something else I’m also looking forward to working on). I’ve been getting in some much needed exercise, getting fresh air, and taking some awesome shots!
I’ve found during this weird time that I’ve really been able to connect with myself again. Before, all of my focus had to be on school and work all the time. I never felt like I had a moment to breathe. Now, I have the time to focus on myself and work on my well-being. It’s been eye-opening realizing that I had really lost a lot of myself by over working myself with work and school.
This break from normal life has really given me some time to reflect and remember what’s important to me. While the circumstances aren’t great, I’m trying not to focus on the scary things being reported on the news and doing what I can to protect myself and protect the ones I love.
Take this time to focus on yourself. With social distancing, you’re not obligated to go out. You don’t have to feel bad about doing things you want to do. Read a book. Watch a movie. Video chat with friends. Create something. Learn a new skill you’ve been wanting to learn.
It’s a stressful and uncertain world, but try not to focus on the negatives. Do what you can. Protect yourself and those around you. Follow the guidelines. Focus on what you can control. Don’t think of this as a prison sentence. Take this time to reconnect with yourself.
In 2017, I had my first panic attack. I was at work at the time. When you’ve never had a panic attack before, it can be extremely scary. In fact, it can feel like you are dying. Your heart begins to race out of control. You can’t think straight. You’re hyperventilating. You feel like you can’t get enough air and that you’re going to drop dead.
The reality of it is your body is going into fight or flight mode. It gets everything moving quickly like that so you can fight or run from whatever danger is coming for you. The thing is, there usually isn’t a physical danger that triggers panic attacks. There was no danger I was faced with during my first panic attack.
At the time of my first panic attack, I did not even know what a panic attack was. I hadn’t known anyone who had had one and I myself had never had one. Because of this, I thought there was something seriously wrong with me. I figured I was having a heart attack or something. I was convinced that I needed to go to the hospital to get medical attention. I was really convinced I was going to die. Thankfully, I had a friend who knew what a panic attack was. She was able to explain what was happening to my body and why I was experiencing the symptoms I was.
I survived that panic attack and I have survived many more. I will say that they are not fun. I would not wish panic attacks upon my worst enemy. They’re scary, but it’s a lot better for me now because I understand what it is. It’s comforting knowing that it will pass.
Below is an audio story that I made about my first panic attack.
Resources About Panic Attacks
If you’re interested in learning more about panic attacks, here are some helpful resources:
There are so many people who love the college life. Living on your own, the parties, the friends. It’s not all fun and games for everyone though. For some, it’s a living hell.
I went into college not really sure what I wanted to do with my life. It’s pretty crazy that you’re supposed to know what you want to do with your life when you’re 18, but some people really do have it figured out by then.
I thought wanted to go for a psychology degree so I could help people. My parents though were worried about that path because you can’t do much with just a psychology degree. In fact they were so against it, they told me that they wouldn’t help pay for that particular degree. They thought it was a stupid degree to pursue because I wouldn’t be able to make enough money.
My mom suggested I go to Eastern and major in Business Information Systems. She said it would be easy and I would make a lot of money. My parents just wanted me to get a degree that would set me up for success, which I understand. They raised me to be independent. They didn’t want me to have to rely on anyone because people can leave. I didn’t know what Business Information systems was, but I went with it because I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t have any money to pay for what I wanted to pursue. Sports and school were always my “job.”
My time in the Business Informations System major was horrible. In high school, I had never taken anything close to a business class. I was always a good student. I got straight A’s while being a student athlete. None of it could have prepared me for business classes. I struggled like I had never struggled before in school. Not only was I struggling, but I didn’t like what I was learning. In fact, I hated it. I hated one of my classes so much, I stopped showing up.
During my first two years at Eastern, I became miserable. I wasn’t happy with what I was pursing. I was beating myself up because I was doing poorly in school. Instead of getting help, I turned to other things. I became very self-destructive. I hated my life and I just stopped caring about myself and my health. I began drinking by myself. I began smoking cigarettes. I wanted people who hurt me to watch me suffer and die a slow painful death (stupid, I know). I was smoking pot to get my mind slow down, even if it was only temporary. I just didn’t want to feel anything.
Eventually, one of my friends convinced me to go to counseling services at school. The therapy helped, but every time I left therapy thinking I was okay, something would happen to set me off. I did make a lot of progress though. It was nice having someone to talk to. I’ve had good therapists at school, and also some bad ones. The worst was an intern therapist who couldn’t hide her judgement on her face.
Eventually I got clean. I made the decision to stop hurting my mind and body. I began to care about whether I lived or I died. I’ve been sober for over three years. Still, getting sober didn’t change the fact that I wasn’t happy with what I was doing in school. I was going through the motions. I was barely getting by in my major.
In the summer of 2017, something just broke inside of me. The thought of going back to school after summer break was awful. Over break, I had moved out of my parents house for 4 months. I was working three jobs. A lot had happened while I was out on my own, good and bad. Right before the fall semester was going to start, my parents recommended that I move back with them so I could work less and focus on my studies. I left my apartment and moved back home.
I did not take being back home well at all. I had gotten used to the freedom that came with living on your own. I felt like a different person. The day that classes were supposed to start for the fall semester, I was a nervous wreck. I couldn’t stop crying. The tears were endless. I left for school that day, but I didn’t go to class. Instead, I took myself to counseling services.
When I got to counseling services, I was seen by the emergency counselor that was on duty. We agreed that it would be best for me to take a leave of absence from school. Never in a million years did I think that was where I was going to end up. I had to veer off of my four year college path. I pushed myself so hard because I wanted to graduate on time. I pushed myself so hard that I couldn’t even function. I was just broken. The counselor gave me some information on an intensive outpatient program (IOP) that I could go to during my semester off. I got into the program immediately.
I spent about two months in a dual diagnosis IOP. The program I went to was at Sound Community in New London, CT. In the group, there were people with substance abuse issues as well as people like me with mood disorders. After two months, I went into individual therapy with one of the social workers who led the group. It was there that I learned coping skills to deal with my depression and anxiety. I also learned so much about myself. I was finally making progress with my mental health (which honestly, I had ignored and tried to shove down for years).
After only a semester off, I went back to school for the spring semester. I planned to stay in the business major because I had already taken so many classes towards the major. After my first business class of the semester, I knew I needed to find a different major. I finally had the courage to change my major after 2 years of suffering. I ended up discovering the New Media Studies major. I was so excited to see that there was something that I was actually interested. The major had so many different routes I could go career-wise. I finally made the switch I needed in school.
I’m now a senior New Media Studies student. I’ve been in the major for two years now. I’m set to graduate this summer. If I had never switched majors, I probably would have ended up dropping out of school.
I’m in a major where I’m happy. I’m surrounded by people who are interested in the same things I am. I’ve met so many people that I now consider friends in my new major. I have been able to learn so many things. I’ve also been able to create so many things.
I struggled in my old major because I wasn’t able to do anything creative, it was all very technical. It was boring. I can honestly say that I have actually enjoyed my classes and what I’ve been learning. I’ve been doing all of my readings and my assignments because they’ve interested me. I’ve wanted to learn everything in my classes because they are things that I actually care about. I’m not having to pretend to be someone I’m not anymore.
Do I wish I hadn’t wasted two years hating my life in my first two years of college? Absolutely. I feel bad that I wasted my parents money. I feel guilty because my parents are paying for more than the usual four years of college. But, I’m so much happier now. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like if I had forced myself to stay in a major I hated just because I felt like I had to graduate in four years.
Everything happens for a reason. If I hadn’t been so stressed out about having to go back to school my junior year, I might have never gone into an IOP. I needed to have that experience, even if the beginning wasn’t a great one. I learned so many skills during my time in IOP that helped me a lot with coping with the stress that came with school and life. I definitely think my time there helped me to become a better student and a better version of myself.
Am I completely healed? Absolutely not. Anxiety and depression don’t just go away forever. It’s not a matter of if they will come back, it’s a matter of when. What’s important is how you choose to deal with it. I’m not going to say I’m great at dealing with it every time it comes. I do the best I can. Some days are great. Other days bad. Sometimes, I’m bad in the moment, but later I’m able to take a step back and reflect. You just need to be patient with yourself. Beating yourself up isn’t going to make things any better. Just try and work to be better everyday and do what’s best for you. Only you know what’s best for you. Don’t force yourself to do things just because other people think you should.
Many people have experienced anxiety in their life. Whether is from stress at work or school, most people have experienced it short term. While most people have had anxiety before, it doesn’t mean that they have an anxiety disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), when someone has an anxiety disorder, “the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. The symptoms can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, school work, and relationships.” There are various types of anxiety disorders.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
According to NIMH Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a disorder where people experience, “excessive anxiety or worry, most days for at least 6 months, about a number of things such as personal health, work, social interactions, and everyday routine life circumstances.”
There are various other symptoms that people can experience with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. According to NIMH, these symptoms can include:
Feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge
Being easily fatigued
Having difficulty concentrating; mind going blank
Having muscle tension
Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
Having sleep problems, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, restlessness, or unsatisfying sleep
I’ve experienced every single one of those symptoms. There have been so many nights where I haven’t been able to fall asleep because of my anxiety. It’s like my brain just won’t turn off. I could be so exhausted from the day, but as soon as I lay down, my mind starts racing. I think about all the things I didn’t get done. I think about all the things I need to do. I start to feel guilty for trying to go to sleep because I could be getting things done. Sometimes I’ll lay there for what feels like hours.
Other times, my mind goes blank. Someone can ask me a question, and suddenly it’s like my brain has stopped working. It can be something as simple as “what did you do today?” and it’s like my brain has left the building. Not being able to remember something so simple can bring on the full anxiety. It’s like how could my mind just suddenly go blank? It never shuts up, but as soon as I need something, it’s just blank. It’s never a good time. Especially since people who don’t know you will think you’re just some idiot. Most of the time I just let people think I’m an idiot instead of trying to explain that my anxiety makes me extremely forgetful.
Panic attacks are more intense than Generalized Anxiety Disorder. People who suffer from panic disorder experience recurrent unexpected panic attacks. A panic attack is described as, “sudden periods of intense fear that come on quickly and reach their peak within minutes” according to NIMH. These panic attacks can come on unexpectedly or be brought on by a trigger. A trigger can be anything from a feared object to a feared situation.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms of a panic attack may include:
Heart palpitations, a pounding heartbeat, or an accelerated heartrate
Trembling or shaking
Sensations of shortness of breath, smothering, or choking
Feelings of impending doom
Feelings of being out of control
Having panic attacks can be very scary for the person having them. Because of this, people with panic disorder will try and avoid places, situations, or behaviors they associate with panic attacks. Worrying about when the next panic attack will happen and trying to avoid triggers can negatively impact a person’s life.
One of my triggers is medicine. I avoid medicine because I had my first panic attack when I took steroids for a severe cold. In the 3 years since that happened, I’ve taken over the counter medicine twice, and both times I convinced myself they were going to cause me to have a panic attack. I ended up sitting by the toilet convinced I was going to throw up.
Panic attacks come with many symptoms. They’re different for everyone. Some panic attacks are worse than others. When I get panic attacks, I usually get nauseous and sometimes even throw up. I also often times feel like I’m suffocating or like I can’t breathe. The shortness of breath symptom from my anxiety was so frequent in 2017 that I begged my primary care doctor to order me a chest x-ray. They found absolutely nothing wrong. She told me to see a therapist.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Social Anxiety Disorder is characterized by a general intense fear or anxiety towards social or performance situations. This type of disorder typically happens in environments like work and school. The anxiety stems from a worry that actions or behaviors associated with their anxiety will be negatively evaluated by others. This leads to embarrassment.
This is something that typically manifests at school for me. I hate the introductions on the first day of classes where I have to say my name and major. I get panicky just having to talk about myself. I know everything there is to know about me, yet I’m nervous I’m going to mess up when it’s time for me to introduce myself. I work myself up and I repeat what I’m going to say in my head. By the time it’s my turn to speak, my voice is trembling the entire time.
Another thing that gives me major anxiety is giving presentations. I’ll never forget the time I had to give a presentation in my Introduction to New Media Studies class. It was just a simple presentation on something I had absolutely prepared for. Still, I had such bad anxiety about having to go up in front of everyone.
I always sit in the back so nobody will look at me. Before my presentation I was hyperventilating because I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was going to puke. I could feel my rapid heartbeat everywhere, just all over my body. My fingers felt tingly. I felt like I was going to pass out. Not only that, but I honestly felt like I was going to drop dead. And once again, like so many times before, I found myself up there shaking with my voice trembling in front of all my classmates. I thought for sure that was going to be the end of me, but I had survived another presentation.
What are the Risk Factors?
There’s not one thing that causes anxiety. It’s not black and white. Both genetics and environmental factors can increase the risk for developing an anxiety disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, some general risk factors include:
Temperamental traits of shyness or behavioral inhibition in childhood
Exposure to stressful and negative life or environmental events in early childhood or adulthood
A history of anxiety or other mental illnesses in biological relatives
Some physical health conditions, such as thyroid problems or heart arrhythmias, or caffeine or other substances/medications, can produce or aggravate anxiety symptoms; a physical health examination is helpful in the evaluation of a possible anxiety disorder.
While everyone has probably experienced some form of anxiety in their life, not everyone has an anxiety disorder.
With anxiety disorder, the anxiety doesn’t go away. The anxiety can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, school work, and relationships.
Anxiety is an umbrella term. There are various types of anxiety disorders, each with their own symptoms.
Risk factors for developing anxiety can be both genetics and environmental.
Everyone experiences their anxiety differently. Just because someone’s experience is different than your own, it doesn’t make it invalid.