Graduating college and determining what to do with your life (what kind of job to get - to move or not to move - when to have children) is enough to freak anyone out. I feel so weird knowing that, come January, I won’t be going back to class. It’s a relief on one hand but scary on the other. A relief, because I am SO TIRED of writing papers, studying for tests and doing discussion board posts. It's scary on the other hand because school is all I've known since kindergarten. That’s about seventeen years of your life (starting at kindergarten then going all the way up through senior year of college). It’s going to be weird not having that routine that I've had since I was a young child anymore. The idea that I'll have time to focus on life without life revolving around the school (I know that, ultimately, “work” will fill in for “school” but right now I'm trying to live my life around school and work as well!) is going to be so strange. To be able to just focus on working and to be able to just focus on life without something hanging over my head, like reading twenty pages before tomorrow's class, is such a strange concept!

But what does all of this have to do with anxiety? Well, for one thing, it propels it. Having to find work - and it’s not just “finding” work, but it’s finding work that has benefits that will keep my husband and me safe. Becoming a real "adult" and all that jazz! The idea that maybe in a few years we could buy a house, or even have a baby. Like, holy crap, life's about to get really real! And it really freaks me out.

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About three years ago I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Most people think that depression goes along with that, but it doesn’t. In fact, after I was tested for it, my doctor can in and was like, “Well, you don’t have depression, but you have anxiety…you actually one of the happiest anxious people I know.” It reminded me of that scene in Harry Potter where Ron goes, “Well, Harry’s got a wonky sort of cross - that’s trials and suffering. But this here could be the sun - that’s happiness. So, you’re going to suffer, but you’re going to be happy about it.” It’s funny, because I generally am a happy person. I love life and something that hubby always tells me that he loves about me is the fact that the littlest things bring me such joy (like getting stopped at a railroad crossing because of a train going by). But most of the time, I am dealing with anxiety underneath it all.

What upsets me the most about anxiety isn’t the fact that I have it - it’s the fact that people don’t understand it. So many people make judgments about people with anxiety, that they’re weak and can’t handle life. That they’re immature and are too sensitive and that’s not true at all. If anything, having anxiety makes you stronger. People also misuse the idea of anxiety as well. When someone jumps out and scares you, you are NOT “having a panic attack.” Trust me, if you had a panic attack, you would know. It’s not like, “Oh, haha, I thought I wasn’t going to get the last piece of pizza so I had a panic attack.” A panic attack is going to stop you dead in your tracks and until you regain control over it, you’re not going to be joking about it two seconds later. A lot of times when I have panic attacks, I have to get ahold of either my mom or my husband because I need that outside person to literally get me “out” of my head.

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Also, being anxious and having anxiety are two different things. You can be anxious about things like going on a trip (read: you are anxious for the work week to get over because you can’t wait to leave for the beach). But when you have anxiety you are anxious about everything. I get anxious during the winter months because it’s flu season - my worst fear in the world is throwing up. It instantly causes me to have a panic attack. So, during the months of October through March, I am constantly dealing with a heightened anxiety level because I am on the look out for “the stomach bug.” People post about it all the time on social media and talk about it so openly and it instantly triggers me.

The way I described my anxiety to my husband is this: It’s like my thoughts are split in two. My “practical” brain is engaging in all things life - I can have a normal conversation, I am able to deal with heavy machinery, etc etc etc. But there’s a part of my brain that, despite all of this, is just obsessively freaking out over something (depending on what the trigger is). For example…I can be sitting in class fully engaged in the discussion of the lecture, but because I heard someone mention earlier that they just got over the stomach bug, I am equally obsessing/freaking out over the fact that I could catch it, that I don’t want them to touch me because they were throwing up, and on the very of a meltdown.

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There was an episode of Glee where they specifically focused on Emma's anxiety problems, and I cried at that episode. I cried because it’s so real for a lot of people (even though most of the time, you feel like you’re the only one - especially when you’re in the middle of a panic attack). I cried because awareness was finally being brought to anxiety. Anxiety and/or panic attacks is not something that is funny, or that everyone should walk around claiming they have. Because, for the people who actually DO have it, it’s not funny. It’s not funny in the way that joking that you ADHD isn’t funny. It’s not funny in the way that using the word “gay” to describe something that is in other words would be described as “lame” isn’t funny.

When I was diagnosed with anxiety, I made a choice to not be on medicine for it for one simple reason: I, ultimately, wanted to be in control over it. I didn’t want to be on medicine because I didn’t want it to affect how much power I have over my anxiety. To me, my anxiety is something that is created inside myself (though, yes, it is more often than not triggered by an outside stimulus) and because of that, I wanted to learn how to, in a sense, reprogram my brain. In the three years since I've “officially” had anxiety - though I truly believe I've had it all my life - I have come a long way. I would never have thought when it first happened that I would be where I am now. But I am. Because, instead of using it as a crutch, I used it as a motivator. My panic attacks are getting fewer and further between and having an anxiety attack (which is essentially a worse and longer version of a panic attack) are very rare. While I will live with anxiety for the rest of my life...it is not going to be a daily thing. But I don’t think being someone who stresses easily or is a worrywart helps...I just won't allow it to consume or control my life like it has before. It’s simply something that has taught me to be a better and stronger person.

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If there’s anything I wish for people to take what I've said, it’s this: Anxiety does not make you less of a person, so get rid of all those stupid stereotypes that you have. Anxiety is a very real thing and, for a lot of people, is a very real thing daily. Getting mad at someone, yelling at someone, or otherwise telling someone how they’re feeling is wrong is NOT the right way to help someone who has anxiety and/or panic attacks. That’s only going to make things worse (I know from experience). And if you do have anxiety, talk to someone about it. Because of how open I have been about my anxiety to my mom and my husband, they know exactly what to do for me the moment I start feeling like I'm getting trapped inside my head. If it weren't for them, I'd be dealing with it alone, and the last thing I need is to be alone with myself in my head!

Finally, please find some other word to throw around instead of anxiety or panic attacks. And claiming that you have had nervous breakdown when don’t even know what that entails, isn’t right either. Trust me, I know from experience that when you have a nervous breakdown, they’ll be no doubt in your mind that you’re actually having one and not just saying it. As I like to think, some the greatest and most influenceable people wouldn’t be where they are/were without having a real nervous breakdown: Walt Disney, Albert Einstein, Tim Burton, Hugh Laurie, Oprah. To the people who are actually dealing with such things, it’s not funny or nice to have “normal” people joking about them. Just try to be as understanding as you possibly can be, and if you don’t understand it, ask: We’d rather have you ask and have a chance to explain than have you make judgments and be mean. Really, it’s that simple - just ask.

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