September 27th. Approximately 10:11 PM. I’m sitting outside Healy Hall at Georgetown University, knees brought to my chest and tears running down my face. I’m in utter panic. I can hardly form coherent sentences as I talk to a former high school teacher on the phone, highlighting my extreme level of anxiety and fear.
How did I get here? Why am I outside hyperventilating instead of doing my French homework due the next day? Why did I leave four of my closest friends in my room without saying a word about where I was going?
In that moment, I feel like I’m short-circuiting, as if I’m about to burst into flames any minute. I feel broken. I don’t understand why I feel that way; for the past two weeks, I had been raving to my parents about how much I loved it at Georgetown. What went wrong?
Something that night tells me that I had to leave. I had to get away from the stress of classwork, the loud music playing in my room, and my social life. I put on my shoes, grab my phone, and I walk out of the door without a word.
I plan on going for a short walk to clear my mind, hoping to return to my homework that awaits me on my desk. “You’ve had a busy week; you’re just exhausted,” I keep telling myself as I navigate across the Georgetown campus. I don’t expect to sit down a bench and immediately start crying hysterically, wanting to talk to my high school mentor so badly.
As we carry on this largely panicked conversation, I start getting floods of texts from the friends I left in my room.
“Hey where’d you go?”
“Are you ok?”
I neglect to answer any of these, not because I enjoy leaving people on read but because I am not in a place to be with the people I called my best friends.
Out of concern, they come looking for me, which only makes things worse when they finally discover where I am. In fact, it leads to me to do what I had always had a secret urge to do in high school: run away, even for a little bit.
I walk out the front gates, not looking back. I hear the hurried footsteps of my friends as they try to stop me from walking into the empty streets of D.C. at night. But the thought of going back to a place where there are people anywhere felt suffocating.
Long story short, I manage to calm myself down and return with my friends back to Georgetown. I get about five hours of sleep, which is not nearly enough to make up the mental and emotional exhaustion that results from this night — the night I suffer what many call a panic attack.
Unfortunately, this incident is not the last. It happens again on October 24th, October 28th, November 14th, December 1st, December 12th, December 13th, December 28th, January 4th, January 12th, January 14th, February 16th, February 24th, March 8th, March 20th, and April 26th. These dates are imprinted in my mind, making it difficult to forget those moments of breakdown and my mind going haywire. A few of these days I run into the streets. During some of these incidents, I find myself in a corner, unable to stop crying and scratching myself. Some other nights when this happens, suicidal thoughts rage through my mind, terrifying me and leading me to cling onto my friends.
Throughout this difficult time, I seek therapy and started taking antidepressants because I would not leave this issue which had been affecting the quality of my life unresolved.
Lucky for me, I had resources on campus. I had friends who cared, an academic adviser who was grateful that I let her know what was going on, and a therapist who seemed to validate all my feelings: the frustration of not getting better, the sadness, everything. I felt supported and loved no matter who I talked to.
Unlucky for me, I had difficulty telling my family about what was going on. For most of first semester, I had hidden what was happening from them because I feared that they would worry. The shock after hearing what I was going through wouldn’t go away until well into second semester. Moreover, it took me about a month to see someone on-campus due to the business of both my schedules and theirs, making it difficult to coordinate. Lastly, there was the issue of the roommate, who did not want to room with me our second semester because she found it difficult to handle my problems and even talked to our community director about it. Although she later changed her mind about this, the guilt of being so much of a burden unto others continued to plague for the rest of the year.
Navigating through the murky waters of anxiety and depression is not easy to do in college. With the wild party culture along with the fact that there are people just about everywhere you go, it’s difficult to be able to decompress and have some needed alone time. And this isn’t just an issue for those of us who have social anxiety. Even my most social of friends said they too occasionally wished to spend some time by themselves but had difficulties doing so on a college campus. These friends were especially jealous when I told them that I was able to land a single my sophomore year thanks to medical housing.
Throughout my freshman year, I resorted to sitting in our chapel or in the fire escape stairwell if I needed alone time, which wasn’t always ideal. However, it was probably the calmest place I could be and not pressure my roommate to leave the room so I could be alone. That’s why I’m so excited to have a space to call purely my own for the next year. I imagine it’ll be a safe haven for me to decompress and de-stress from the headaches of college.
However, not everyone gets this privilege. There are still individuals who face social anxiety and are unable to find a space just for themselves on campus. What do we do for them?
Don’t get me wrong: I love college. I’ve accomplished so much inside and outside the classroom and I’ve had the most memorable experiences of my life. Even though it hasn’t always been easy, I’ve made great progress in understanding who I am as well as learning to cope with my mental illness. Nowadays, I rarely have panic attacks, but if I do, I take steps to overcome them or I reach out to friends to talk about it. I’ve become more responsible of myself and I’ve started celebrating the times when I’ve been able to take charge of my mind when it’s at its worst.
College is one of the first big transitions anyone can have, and this can have mental tolls. Despite this, mental health resources on campus aren’t always equipped to help a large population with this issue. This isn’t a problem unique to one university; it’s one that plagues colleges across the world.
I know that there are difficult financial and bureaucratic obstacles to getting the best mental health care on campus, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t look for ways to overcome them. This year, I’m proud to say that the Georgetown University Student Association helped create an off-campus therapy stipend for those who need financial aid in order to seek resources outside of Georgetown. This is just the first step to making campuses more sympathetic to those who suffer from anxiety and depression. While I don’t have all the answers to making college better equipped with helping those that have mental illnesses, I do want to help start conversations that urge individuals to help me look for the answers.
At the end of the day, I’m just an average girl who’s proud to call herself a Hoya and a mental health advocate. My mental illness isn’t always on my mind, and I don’t plan on entering a field related to mental health. However, I’m tired of running away from my problems, and I want my experiences to be heard, hoping that it will one day bring substantial change. In the meantime, I’ll still be undergoing therapy once a week and keeping that alarm on my phone that reminds me to take my Zoloft at 8 PM.