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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Perspective: Coping with anxiety in college

I consider myself to be an open book. I used to have a fake tooth attached to a retainer; in second grade I had to go to the guidance counselor because I told my classmates that babies didn’t come from the stork; I post the songs that I write on TikTok despite knowing how embarrassing they are.

But apart from my first-year therapist, I’ve never told anyone that I regularly used to clutch the porcelain toilet bowl in my freshman-year bathroom because I was too anxious to keep the smallest meal down. I’ve never really talked about how my anxiety has sometimes become so strong that I dissociate from reality, lose track of space and time and stare at a stranger’s hands when I glance down.

When I was at my lowest points, I wished someone would just tell me they understood. That I wasn’t disgusting for throwing up every time I had a panic attack, that I wasn’t insane for feeling out-of-body, that as much as it absolutely sucks to be consumed by nerves, I wasn’t alone.

You’re not alone. My story — however vulnerable, blunt and unglamorous it may be — proves it.

My journey with anxiety has been nonlinear and nonsensical. I’ve seen a therapist on and off since I was 16 years old, going months at a time without needing to talk about my anxieties to sometimes needing to discuss them twice a week.

For me, anxiety isn’t just being nervous. It isn’t just bouncing my leg all the time, though I do that as well. In clinical terms, I suffer from generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder. In personal terms, my anxiety largely feels like I’m standing still in the middle of a highway tunnel, cars whizzing past me while the yellow, flickering lights cast an eerie glow over me.

My anxiety can cause deep depressive episodes, like it did my first year of college, and it takes someone else to pull me out of the dark. I went to my general care practitioner back home about a year ago when I was in the worst of it, and my resting pulse was 131 beats per minute. My psychiatric test came back 17 out of 21 for the severe anxiety score.

And my panic attacks always start the same. I’ll be fine one minute, then consumed by a storm of my thoughts the next.

My throat closes and my jaw locks. I feel like I might be sick. Chills run down my limbs and hot flashes attack my skin in quick succession. My heartbeat races. I feel dizzy, like I’ll collapse if I don’t stare off into the distance to fixate my eyes on something.

I check my pulse repeatedly and wring my clammy hands like a dish towel. I try to reason with my physical body. After all, my mind is telling it to calm down; it’s overreacting. Sometimes it’s too late to calm myself down. I feel like I have to get my panic attack over with while no one is watching. Like it’s a bandaid I need to rip off.

They end after five minutes. I always throw up and then have to take a shame nap. I feel guilty and embarrassed for usually a full day afterward, and then I go on like nothing has ever gone wrong, ever.

If you’re like me, then you never feel like yourself when you’re anxious. I’m that shadow of myself, standing still in the tunnel. Unable to move while the world continues to pass by me in a blur.

But anxiety is a peculiar thing, because while I’m always okay in the end, that never matters in the moment. Anxiety muscle memory doesn’t capture our successes. It only replays the image in our heads of perceived failures.

Nothing is too small or too stupid when it comes to mental health. I’ve had an anxiety or panic attack about tests, clothes, airplanes, pets, scars, friends, siblings, sleep, weight, grades and cars. I once had a panic attack about a junior varsity field hockey game because I had to wear a mouthguard and I thought I wouldn’t be able to breathe (I was perfectly fine).

Anxiety makes us feel ridiculous, makes us panic over the smallest endeavors. But it’s never our fault.

From 2022 through 2023, my anxiety was causing extremely intrusive thoughts and mental health spirals. Now, it’s been more than a year that I haven’t suffered a panic attack or an episodic incident. I take daily medication to regulate my anxious thoughts, which was both the scariest and best thing I’ve ever done for myself.

I still get anxious, but it passes quickly, and I move on with my day. I feel like myself again. And now I can write about my lowest, vulnerable moments without feeling ashamed or weak.

I would not call myself a particularly optimistic person. Climate change is coming for us all, no doubt. And, dear God, don’t even get me started on this year’s presidential election.

But I promise you, with every ounce of sincerity, that it gets better. It takes time, but it gets better.

I am many things, but I am not my anxiety. Neither are you.

Paige Baratta, a sophomore majoring in political science, is the editorials assistant.

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