College Life and Mental Health

4 Jul

When I was at a graduate school working on my dissertation, I suffered anxiety attack. I didn’t know it was anxiety attack but I felt like I was going to die. Symptoms included waking up in the middle of night, shortness of breath, chest pain, and uncontrollable shaking during a meeting or having lunch with a friend. I got scared for no reason whenever I was indoor. At night I went outside to take a deep breath. If I was with someone at a meeting or a restaurant, I pretended going to a restroom but I rushed outside.
This “dark cloud” or “scary feeling” choked me without any sign or warning every day. I had the enormous pressure from my advisor to publish my research, and I expected big accomplishment myself. But I could not function as a normal person. I honestly thought I might have to go to a mental institution. I wished I had some physical illness like broken leg rather than suffering from a mental illness. Many people including me still see a person with mental illness as a crazy or nut and somehow that was his/her fault. Mental illness definitely carries some stigma. I thought of burning myself on campus or jump out from my second floor window rather than being locked in a mental institution.
How did I recover from it? I was exhausted, mentally and physically, and really wanted to feel normal again. So I sought any help I could think of. I received some counseling from an on-campus psychologist. I even called a suicide prevention office in the middle of night because I was so lost and desperate. Also, I went to see a medical doctor to verify what I was really suffering from. A MD confirmed that I had an anxiety attack. It was a very sad diagnose. I was shocked and thinking, “Me? Anxiety Attack? I am not crazy, am I?” Finally I conceded the fact that I was having anxiety attack, I made a decision to share my secret to some trusting friends. What a relief I felt! I found out some of my friends had a panic attack from work or school in the past but I never knew about it until I told them my story. “You are not alone.” “You are OK.” These were words from my friends set me free. Consequently I decided to drop out from Ph.D. program. I felt like a failure but I remembered the encouraging words from my pastor. She said, “Just because you failed one thing, you are not a failure. A failure is someone who never try anything new or challenging.”
College can be stressful. If you are not a traditional college student, it is more stressful. If you don’t have a good friend at a school you attend, it is stressful as well. If you receive a bad grade at college courses – C, or D, or fail a class, it makes you cringe, especially if you used to be a top student at high school.
You might get well-adjusted in college life but if you face a problem, do not keep it yourself. Keeping it a secret make you more depressed and helpless. Talk to someone you can trust and not judge you. They are more likely your friends, parent, mentor, a counselor, or psychologist. Find someone you can trust and talk about it. There is no shame in sharing your struggle!

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