Teens with anxiety break their silence
BHS students who suffer from anxiety, OCD, and depression express their struggles and how they cope with everyday life.
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Depression, anxiety, and OCD have a few things in common: First of all, they connect to each other, and if someone has one of these illnesses, they most likely have experienced another; and second, no one likes to talk about them.
80 percent of kids with a diagnosable anxiety disorder and 60 percent of kids with diagnosable depression are not getting treatment, according to the 2015 Child Mind Institute Children’s Mental Health Report. Junior Lauren McCallum first started experiencing anxiety as a little girl, mostly in social situations.
“I can remember being a little kid and being invited to birthday parties but telling them my parents said I couldn’t go without even asking,” said McCallum. “I just couldn’t handle those situations.”
Like many who suffer from anxiety, McCallum also experiences depression and OCD.
“Anxiety is just a part of me; I’ve had it for as long as I can remember,” said McCallum. “But it’s definitely gotten worse over the years. The same goes for OCD. Both I couldn’t identify as a kid, so I just thought something was wrong with me. I’ve experienced depression seasonally around May which is the time when my parents got divorced.”
Senior Cassie Riley has also had anxiety throughout her childhood, and like McCallum, her parent’s divorce affected her anxiety as well.
“Since [my] childhood, I’ve always been very worrisome and anxious,” said Riley. “My parents divorced, and that made it worse, but I also was very competitive. I liked to be better at things like sports and school. I was also a social nightmare. [I] had very few friends and didn’t interact well with kids.”
Anxiety causes McCallum stress pretty frequently, but at different levels. Her most anxious thoughts tend to come in social situations.
“It[my anxiety] is kind of always there,” said McCallum. “A full on anxiety attack can come after long periods of stress, but it has also just come out of nowhere during a sudden overwhelming or scary moment. Personally, social situations tend to be really stressful, so I usually hold back and don’t say much because of my anxiety.”
McCallum gets stressed about schoolwork from time to time as a lot of students do, but her social anxiety seems to constantly nag at her.
“I definitely think it[my anxiety] shows itself more in groups,” said McCallum. “I mean, I definitely get really anxious about my homework load and stuff like that, but I think that’s common with a lot of students. Usually, when I’m around a lot of people, I don’t say much because my brain tells me that I’ll do something wrong. It’s just that constant fear eating away at me, so I either avoid it[social situations] or stick in the background.”
School counselor Jennifer Rowland confirms that many kids come to her with stress because of school, relationships, and home and after-school activities.
“A lot of times, kids are anxious about things that are happening outside of school, at home, drama with their friends, a boyfriend or a girlfriend,” said Rowland. “They get anxious about their schoolwork and activities they have to do on top of it. Students are very overscheduled and get very little sleep, which can cause a lot of anxiety.”
Riley’s anxiety worsened during her junior year as stressful classes and responsibilities piled on.
“I took AP Chemistry and Pre-calculus my junior year, and then I had a lot of stuff to do for my class,” Riley said.
Riley first noticed that she had taken on too much in August right before junior year began.
“[I knew I was overwhelmed] in August [before junior year] because I knew I had taken a lot of hard classes, and I was doing stuff for homecoming,” said Riley. “But I learned from the experience, and this year I enjoy my social and school life a lot more.”
Melissa* developed anxiety at just five-years-old, and she realized that she wasn’t like other kids her age.
“I just know that when I was little, my brain kind of developed differently than others,” said Melissa. “My brain is trained to think about the negative perspective of things before the positive. [Throughout] my whole life, I’ve just worried about everything.”
Melissa started going to counseling at five-years-old to figure out why she was acting different than other kids.
“I first started going to counseling when I was about five-years-old because I’d do strange things that weren’t normal,” said Melissa. “We’d go to Hannaford, and I would organize the items on the shelves. My mom was like, ‘Oh, that’s cool, they like cleaning and organizing.’ But then I started doing weird things where I was scared of certain things that didn’t make sense.”
McCallum also sought professional help, something she thought would teach her how to cope with anxious situations.
“For most of my freshman year I went to see a counselor, but not because of my parents; I actually wanted to,” said McCallum. “She[my counselor] helped me learn how to control anxiety when it gets out of hand.”
Students come to Rowland for help when they are stressed, and she has certain methods of helping them cope.
“If you’re having an anxiety attack, it’s focusing on breathing and keeping yourself calm,” said Rowland. “A lot of times, it’s breaking everything down into manageable pieces or analyzing it and seeing how we can make it less stressful. Just talking it out can really help, too.”
Riley chose to not go on medication or seek counseling, and instead she tweaked her everyday habits to help cope with anxious thoughts.
“My parents tried to force me [to go on medication and see a counselor], but I’m very stubborn,” said Riley. “I talked to my family doctor, but he said just to drink less caffeine and get better sleep, and so far it’s helped a lot.”
Contrastingly, Melissa sought medication to try to lessen symptoms of depression and anxiety.
“My doctor gave me a low-dose of a medication called Zoloft, but it wasn’t doing anything,” said Melissa. “If anything, all I did when I took it was sleep all day, and I did nothing else. It was awful. I didn’t want to go to school. I didn’t want to talk to people. All I wanted to do was sleep.”
Melissa started experiencing depression once she realized that she had no control over what happened to her.
As a child, McCallum wishes she knew what she knows now and accepted herself for who she was.
I’d probably say[to my younger self] that it’s okay to feel anxious and there’s no reason to hide it,” said McCallum. “It’s a part of my life I just have to learn to cope with, and that’s okay.”
Looking back, Riley wishes she would have enjoyed her childhood more and worried a little less.
“[I’d tell my younger self] to just enjoy it[her childhood] and don’t worry so much,” said Riley. “I’d like to think that sometimes things will always get better and many things work themselves out.”
For McCallum, a few close friends and her family get her to a better place when she’s having anxiety.
“I think it helps to have a couple close friends [who] really understand how you act when the anxiety is coming on,” said McCallum. “My parents, of course, help a lot because they’ve been there through it all.”
Melissa also continues to cope with depression, anxiety, and OCD, but she also continues to try to fight it off as much as possible.
“I used to do really well in school, and maybe it’s because it was easier, but I remember being able to talk intellectually, and I don’t know what happened to me,” said Melissa. “Anxiety takes over your life. I think of it as like this big, black blob that just comes over you and consumes you. Especially with depression, if you don’t fight it off, it can really consume you.”
If you or a someone you know suffers from anxiety, depression, OCD, you are not alone. If you think you might have one of these illnesses, see additional information for symptoms and help at:
*Names have been changed at the request of the student.