In Her Words: Living With Anxiety

By Aliya Schneider

Earlier in my college experience, anxiety made eating, going to sleep, getting up, sitting through class, finding a place to study, getting a cold, facing an interaction that didn’t go as expected, and basically any decision, feel harder than it had to. Things like getting up in the morning can be difficult for everyone, but I reached a point where my anxiety was actively preventing me from living my life the way I wanted to, and should have been able to.

Art by Sadie Kramer

Art by Sadie Kramer

I never really thought about myself as having anxiety until those close to me started mentioning it, during my first semester at Barnard. In high school, I had the same heart-pounding scramble anytime I had to be somewhere, and the same long-ended thoughts that made me obsess over certain sounds or situations. But part of the trick of my anxiety-driven, jam-packed schedule was that there was no time for me to figure out how I grapple with anxiety, or, ironically enough, that it’s something I experienced at all. College lifted previous structures from my life and forced me to figure out new ones. I learned that I had been gradually putting more and more heavy rocks into my metaphorical backpack, that, once at Barnard, was no longer able to stay intact.

With intentions of comforting me, people at Barnard told me that everyone experiences anxiety. At the time, this caused me to minimize focusing on improving my mental health. Since other people experienced anxiety in worse ways, or had struggled more with mental health than me, or because people prescribed the same word to more minor disruptions in their lives, my experience did not feel valid. I thought people thought I was lazy while I was using so much energy for everything. I couldn’t control my energy in class or at home. Even when I pretended to feel better, my inner dialogue had constant worry. Feeling a loss of control over myself was disempowering, and feeling like it wasn’t a valid experience was worse.

My anxiety isn’t going to go away. But I’m much more content with my friends making fun of me for needing to wash away the warmth on my hand from the subway pole, or breathing through my irritability at the person chewing popcorn behind me. I still overthink things, but in a way I can accept how I’m skewing them in my head.

Now, I actually respect the sentiment that everyone experiences anxiety. Accepting that anxiety isn’t a giant wall surrounding me helps me see things with more perspective, instead of blaming my anxiety for everything. However, it is important to acknowledge that people experience and react to anxiety in very different ways, similar to how other parts of our shared identities shape our experiences in different ways.

Addressing my anxiety wouldn’t have happened in a healthy way if I didn’t utilize my resources. Furman didn’t make everything magically better overnight, but it definitely guided me in feeling like I have more control over myself, even through all the times I told myself I didn’t need or deserve help. Furman listening hours, Nightline, Well Woman, Title IX, and Being Barnard are all great resources on campus. I am now able to better identify what makes me anxious and how I can respond in ways that don’t throw me into a cycle. It’s not that I can always control my anxiety, but I don’t let it always control me.