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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Confessions of a 98th Percentile Neurotic

<ir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-97c4df5f-c447-cb42-c1cc-408531ba1041">Actually, I’ve tried sharing this story before—in high school, I attempted to publish a draft of this article in my school paper, but the administration wouldn’t let me, claiming that it was too controversial and personal and that I might regret it later. Well, it’s later, and I still regret not being able to say what I wanted to.

Most of my friends quickly discover that I’m just a teeny bit neurotic. I find it hard to go through life without mulling over every little aspect of my existence, even as I understand how petty and irrational the ruminations are.

In order to block these nagging thoughts, I need to distract myself, or else I start thinking this way again. Most of the activities I do are at least in part because they prevent me from thinking about the supposedly catastrophic state of my life. Granted, I do enjoy my activities. But even when I’m doing something I like, there can still be some panicky voice inside that makes me think, “What if?”

The People in White Coats give a name to this condition. They tell me I have “generalized anxiety disorder.” Well, I guess it’s somewhat satisfying to have a label to stick on myself, in the sense that it describes my experience. But it does no good to fix the problem. No, instead of solving the issue, knowing I have “generalized anxiety disorder” only makes me feel singled out, targeted, accused.

And I used to be less at peace with my state of mind. For about two years of high school, most mornings before classes I threw up. If I hadn’t eaten anything, I would have convulsions and dry heaves that felt even more miserable. Looking back, there was too much going on—too many pressures, both in and out of school. Every activity, every test, every day gave me flutters of panic. Throughout the day, I would be tense, jittery, and uncomfortable. It was near impossible to tolerate.

I did as much as I could to decrease it all—in addition to seeing a therapist and taking SSRIs, I exercised, made myself busy with activities, meditated, read. But throughout high school, I never quite rose above it all. Even now, here at Carleton, where I’m surrounded by so many activities I love and people I enjoy being around, there are still moments when I feel stressed, or even anxious or panicky, and there are certainly moments when I worry about the future, or a class, or my life, or whatever. But I will say it’s much better now than ever. I finally feel comfortable enough to share this, for one.

Far too often, mental illness is swept under the rug of discussion, even as other forms of marginalization take the spotlight. Just look at what my high school did—and I was willing to share. And when we do discuss it, in many cases, mental illness is portrayed as something romantic and fascinating. The source of creativity, or the impetus of a moving struggle toward success. But the reality is very different. There’s not much good at all to say about a topic that’s responsible for harsh stigmas, little sympathy, and untold personal suffering. Carleton may be much more open about discussing mental health than my high school was, and much more than society as a whole, for that matter, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement, here and in the broader world.

As long as we ignore mental illness, or refuse to think of it as a real issue, or only talk about it in hushed whispers, we victimize millions, if not billions, of people who need help. I know I would’ve benefited from more support from people throughout my early life, but I felt too afraid to ask. Many others feel the same way, I know. And since mental illness is largely invisible, people won’t know to help unless the topic of mental health is breached. And to do that requires an environment conducive to discussing it.

It’s perfectly easy to say we should talk about mental health in practice. That doesn’t matter if we don’t do anything about it. There is, after all, a lot you can do. Talk about your own struggles and listen to others’. And when you need help, ask for it. Talk to your professors, your friends, your family when you need to. They’re here to help you. Don’t be afraid to see a therapist or take medication if you need to. If it helps you, it’s a good thing. Let’s stop the stigma. Let’s make mental health a positive topic of conversation.

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