OPINION: It Is Not a Sign of Weakness

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Hailey Stessman
OPINION EDITOR

It is incredibly important to treat yourself with kindness and patience when first starting college. Graphic by Hailey Stessman/The Gateway

***This article will mention topics such as anxiety, panic disorder and depression.

“Good.”

“Alright.”

“Okay.”

The above three words were always my default response to any question asked of me regarding my day or how I was feeling in the current moment. I had them at the tip of my tongue; loaded and ready to go. Who knew that a single vague word like “okay” could hold so much power, could protect me from unleashing an overflowing wave of months-old sadness and panic? For me, those words were a security blanket. By uttering those one or two syllable words, I knew I would never be drained of any emotional or mental energy.

“How was school?” “How was your day?”

Even though I could have responded with “I excused myself from class today because I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath” or “I don’t remember much from my day because I constantly felt like I was zoning out”, it was so much easier just to box all of my feelings up into a neat package and bury it deep inside my mind. I thought no one would have to carry the burden of my troubles and that life would be so much easier if I didn’t bother other people with my problems.

Oh, how wrong I was.

At the beginning of my second year of college, I was diagnosed with anxiety, panic disorder and depression. I had struggled with balancing a job, multiple positions in student organizations and a 15-credit hour semester the previous year, so stress wasn’t a foreign feeling for me. I would stay up until 3 a.m. finishing assignments due the next day, which I am sure many of you are familiar with as well. The unlimited intake of caffeine, the rush of panic minutes before an assignment is due, the emptiness that follows after a long day on campus– you know the drill. However, it wasn’t until I felt like I was going to faint every morning from nerves and horrible nausea as I walked to class that I realized something more than stress was bothering me.

It began to feel like I was floating through my classes. Time was blending together and I soon lost track of what day it was. Food was a struggle to keep down. My body ached as if I had just run a marathon. In between classes I would curl up on a couch in the Queer and Trans Services office to try and block out the world around me.

“Hailey, how are you?”

My defense mechanism. “Okay.”

“Hailey, how do you feel?”

“Alright.”

“Hailey, are you okay?”

No, I wasn’t. I was falling behind in all of my classes. I was losing the energy to talk to my friends and family. Slowly, I was becoming reliant on staying on autopilot every day. It was a terrifying sensation, to feel absolutely nothing.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, forty million U.S. adults suffer from an anxiety and panic disorder. Of those forty million, seventy-five percent said they experienced their first panic attack before the age of twenty-two. Another study done by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, eighty percent of students say they often feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities asked of them as students.

College students have the weight of the world resting on their shoulders. From trying to earn enough money to pay rent and fees to answering the looming question of what one’s purpose in life is, college can cause an immense amount of stress, worry and fear.

The world has high standards for us and, realistically, it can be impossible to fulfill those expectations. And yes, you may feel guilty for not being able to do everything. And yes, you may not be able to please everyone. And yes, you may not want to talk to someone because you don’t want to be a burden.

But you should also know that there are many individuals who want to help, including those at UNO. Mental health should not be taken lightly, but it is also something that you should not feel shameful for. Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) on campus truly helped me when I was struggling with my mental health. No matter how insignificant you think your problem is to others, they are there to listen, support, and help. CAPS will be offering telehealth appointments and sessions for short-term counseling this fall for any student who going through grief, depression, effects of trauma, unhealthy habits and anxiety– even if you are not sure that what you are feeling is anxiety.

The National Institute of Mental Health lists symptoms of anxiety as “feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge, being easily fatigued, having difficulty concentrating; mind going blank, being irritable, having muscle tension, difficulty controlling feelings of worry, having sleep problems, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, restlessness, or unsatisfying sleep.”

Anxiety and depression can manifest themselves in different ways. In my experience, my anxiety and depression cause me to disassociate, become extremely nauseous and hyperventilate. And yes, I have had panic attacks on campus. In fact, most of them do occur on campus.

I am not sharing my story with mental illness for pity or attention. Rather, I want it to reinforce the idea that mental illness is a very common thing, especially for college students.  I don’t consider myself a very open person when it comes to my feelings, and to this day I continue to build a wall between others and my emotions. However, the single phone call to CAPS could have been the very thing that saved my life. Whether you are a first-time student or a Senior struggling with their mental health, take advantage of the resources UNO offers on campus.

Going to therapy does not make you weak. Taking a medication prescribed by your doctor for your panic attacks or depression is not shameful. Your feelings are valid and are worth caring for. Others may not know exactly what you are going through, but there will always be someone there to listen and help you.

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