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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

How Depression and Anxiety Don't Mix Well in College

From the HuffPost College Blog

By Jacqueline Gualtieri
Student, Emerson College

January 13, 2016

"In some strange sense, I'm grateful for my friend, the ever growing ball of anxiety in my stomach. It keeps me going when I'm ready to quit."

I've never been a bad student. I always got As and, while the occasional B upset me, I could usually push past it. I had so much else going on in my life: extracurriculars, great friends and a family I loved spending time with.

I didn't love high school, probably because of the occasional teasing, but I moved past the bad parts and such good.

Mentally, it wasn't all roses. I spent time with a therapist trying to figure out exactly why my mood fluctuated the way that it did. He said bipolar once, but over time came to say that he thought it was more depression, since I tended to have not very high highs, but very low lows.

The one thing he did believe for certain was that, even when I was happy, anxiety was a constant presence. I have very high social anxiety, but I was able to move past that as a child and make friends that lasted all through grade school.

I get anxious about grades and the future and who I am supposed to be as a person, but I was able to brush all those fears aside because of what I had that was so good.

High school doesn't last forever, which a lot of people are grateful for. I was too. I was looking forward to a new chapter in my life. Although the ball of anxiety in my stomach that I'd become accustomed to was still there, I was able to calm it, just thinking about the excitement waiting for me.

Until that excitement didn't really happen.

Over time, that ball in my stomach just kept getting bigger and bigger and, all the while, the happiness started to fade. I didn't really realize it at first. I wasn't until I hit sophomore year that I started to find it difficult to smile. Laughter became forced. I'd silently cry myself to sleep, until I became an insomniac, no longer sleeping and instead just crying through the night.

It was around that time I wanted to talk to someone who would understand and I came to understand that I really only had one good friend on campus, my roommate. Second semester, she left to study abroad and I had no one.

All throughout sophomore year, I started to notice a trend with more people being open about their mental illnesses, which is great, don't get me wrong, but I noticed a fairly common thread. All these students kept saying, they weren't getting out of bed, they weren't going to classes, they were failing their classes.

I was still getting As, and the occasional B which now bothered me to the point of tears. I felt like something was so wrong with me. Clearly, these people had it worse than I did. I must not be depressed at all if I can still keep going on with my day.

Each morning, the ball of anxiety woke me up and dragged me out of bed, my mind kicking and screaming, just wanting to stay in bed all day. I went to class, only missing the amount of days I was allowed before dropping a letter grade.

I hated nearly everything I did. The small moments of companionship, even just a three sentence conversation with a stranger, were the only things that kept me going. I was so grateful, so happy to imagine those people cared.

Day to day, doing anything else became torturous. I didn't like my classes, I didn't like my job, I didn't like any of the clubs I had joined thinking they would make me more social and happier. But I did them all, because my gut was keeping me from doing anything else.

"Medication quelled the depression but not the anxiety. Meditation helped the anxiety but not the depression."

If I didn't work all the time, I would never succeed. I'm surrounded by people already succeeding in their fields of choice. I'm just a loser who is already falling behind.

Every day I try to find some way to fix this, but I can usually only find one answer to one problem and not both. Medication quelled the depression but not the anxiety. Meditation helped the anxiety but not the depression.

Every day I wake up I think, "Well at least, I'm functioning." At least, I'll still graduate, early even, since at this point I'm basically rushing through the years people keep saying are the best years of my life.

In some strange sense, maybe I'm grateful for my friend, the ever growing ball of anxiety in my stomach. It keeps me going when I'm ready to quit.

Mentally, I know it's not healthy for me, but thinking about it that way is the only way I can get a glimmer of hope, the only way I can believe that one day I'll be able to function like a normal person and I won't have to live with either demon.


If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.

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