I'm just your average college girl, 19-years-old and trying my best, except that I'm medicated for something that has prevented me from living my daily life as others do. You probably couldn't tell just by looking at me, but that's the problem really. You see, mental illness is an inside problem that can't be seen with just one look.

One year ago I started taking medicine for what I can only describe as severe social anxiety. I've had social anxiety for as long as I can remember, but college amplified my symptoms to an unbearable degree. I had panic attacks daily as opposed to my usual monthly-ish flare-ups, I couldn't bear the thought of talking in class, and most devastatingly I felt like I couldn't tell anyone about it.

And yet here I am telling everybody about it a year later, happier and healthier. These are just my experiences with mental illness and medication, though. Many people live lives like mine, some much worse, but there's still a lot of stigma around mental illness and medicine. I want to help clear some of that up.

Before Medication

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Life before medicine was hard for me, I thought I just sucked at dealing with a normal life. Going to college is a new experience for everyone, how was I to know my anxiety-fraught first semester was out of the ordinary? I didn't know that how I was feeling wasn't how everyone else felt, and was indeed mental illness until it came to an unhealthy level. It was hard feeling like that, thinking everybody was just better at dealing with life than I was. 

It pushed my social anxiety further along the more I thought about it. I felt very isolated like nobody could ever know about it (which is really not a great way to start off college). I had a very difficult time getting involved on campus or making new friends because my unchecked anxiety took small insecure thoughts and just ran with them.

"Those people aren't really your friends, if you talked to them or tried to hang out with them you'd just be embarrassing yourself. Nobody wants to hang out with you so you shouldn't even ask." While I had immediately connected with Towson (so much so that I had made the decision to enroll during my only visit with no regrets) I was unable to feel at home here because I was unable to feel at home within my own mind.

I knew something was wrong when I had systems and plans in place for having panic attacks in my dorm room without anyone knowing, they were happening so often. I would be able to hold off the tears and hyperventilating until my roommate went out for the night or went to sleep, and when it was unavoidable I just went into the bathroom and ran the shower until the panic passed.

I couldn't even think about spending time with people I know without panicking in fear of embarrassing myself. And the worst part was knowing that it didn't make any sense. "Normal" people could handle situations like that just fine, but I couldn't.

I felt like I was failing, it became impossible for me to do seemingly easy tasks that others did every day. I couldn't even speak in class anymore. Even still, at first I resisted the idea of medication. I felt like admitting I couldn't handle my own mind would be an even bigger failure. I didn't know that it didn't mean failure but instead recovery.

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Talking about the problem to anyone was terrifying, even telling my mom brought me to tears. Having to tell my doctor everything would be even harder, I thought there was absolutely no way I could handle that. What if they didn't believe me or just told me to deal with it? What then? I would have been worse off than ever. But I knew I needed help, so I made an appointment.

My biggest fear during that appointment was crying in front of my doctor. I'm sure now that it would have been no big deal if I had, but at the time that was the most embarrassing thing I could think of. I went through what I was going to say in my head so many times I practically had it memorized. But I was lucky enough to have met with a very understanding nurse before the doctor came in who had gone through the same thing herself.

Knowing that she understood helped me calm down and I was able to sit down with the doctor and share my troubles with a little more confidence after that. That nurse saved me from a lot of panicking, and after my doctor sent me off with a prescription for a daily anxiety medicine as well as an as needed medicine I felt so much better.

After Medication

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So now we're up to part way through my second semester of my freshman year of college, and I'm back to school with new medicine and some hope. I had been told my daily medicine had some side effects early on and I would have to let my body slowly get used to it, and it might not even be the medicine that would work best for me. I would just have to try it out and see.

The first few days of me taking sertraline (a generic form of Zoloft) were kind of awful to be honest, the side effects hit hard. My stomach was constantly upset and I got dizzy super easily, and obviously since it would take a while for it to fully affect me I didn't feel any better anxiety wise.

Slowly life got better for me, I got used to my medicine and things started improving. It wasn't super noticeable at first because it was a slow transition, but my anxious habits (like picking at my skin or constantly needing to fidget) started to fade. I had panic attacks less and less, and using my as needed medicine helped me regain control a lot easier than before. It wasn't until I forgot to take my medicine one day somewhat early on that I realized how much it affected my life.

I was just trying to go about my day as usual, so, of course, I was getting a bagel from Einstein's, when I started to feel a little off, a little jittery even. I got anxious for no discernible reason. I was just doing a normal everyday activity but there I was, suddenly feeling like I needed to get out of there and away from all of the people. It wasn't even a panic attack, it was just a return to my pre-medicated anxious state. And let me tell you, it felt bad.

I hadn't known how much anxiety affected my life until I had a break from it, and it' return was so awful. Now that my body is all the way used to my medicine just missing one day won't do that anymore, and for that, I'm grateful because I'm a pretty forgetful person.

And here I am, almost a year after starting anxiety medicine, so much better for it. I'm able to tell you my story with no tears and spend time with my friends without fear. I've been lucky that the first medicine I tried ended up working for me, many people go through numerous different medications before finding the right one. I still have panic attacks sometimes, and I still have anxious thoughts, but they're no longer overwhelming. Being medicated has its own problems, though.

Planning medicine around class times can be tricky, and sometimes embarrassing even. You're in a routine of taking medicine at a certain time but now you have class then, what do you do? Do you re-adjust your whole medicine schedule? Do you take it before class or after? Or do you bring your medicine to class with you?

I chose to bring my medicine to class with me and take it when I'm used to. I pulled out my little orange pill bottle as quietly as I could during my math class and hoped nobody would judge me as I took my medicine.

See being medicated is weird in that it feels like it should be private or hidden. And I know that makes no sense but it truly does feel like some kind of secret sometimes, and I hate that. Who cares if the people in my math class know that I take medicine? They don't even know what it is, and half of them don't even know my name. It's not like they'll remember it or somehow use it against me for some reason.

But still, I have a small fear. I don't like to take my medicine in front of my friends, just in case. I haven't named my needed medication which is a controlled substance here, just in case. And it doesn't make sense. I've been fighting that urge to keep it secret because honestly, being medicated has made college so much better for me. And I am no longer ashamed.

If you're struggling with your own mental health issues I suggest going to this website for information and resources. I know it can be scary and you might feel alone, but I promise that so many other people have gone through or are currently going through the same thing and they understand. You are not alone.