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College, Hard Stuff

The Beast: College and Anxiety

anxiety (n.) – a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically concerning an imminent event or situation with an uncertain outcome.
Up until about ten minutes ago, this post was going to be about pillow talk. Late night laughs, early morning chats, waking up to your roommate hanging her head down from the top bunk and whispering, “Hann? Hey Hann, are you up yet?” (Jules gets bored up there pretty fast.)
But I couldn’t focus as I sat down to write that post. My eyes kept wandering from the computer screen. My palms clammed up. I looked at the clock and realized almost ten minutes had gone by, and I’d done nothing but stare out the window and wring my hands.
I was feeling very anxious.
Rationally, there was nothing abnormal I needed to worry about. Julie and I had been laughing over breakfast with Andie only a few hours before. But my chest tightened, my heart began to race, and I could feel my thoughts start to turn dark. Anxiety attack. Just thinking the words made my stomach jolt. No Hann, you’re not having an anxiety attack. You’re okay. You’re okay.
I took three deep breaths and looked away from my computer screen, relaxing the muscles in my shoulders and recognizing that my workload had me feeling stressed. The breathing slowed my heartbeat. The knot in my chest loosened. Phew. I’m good. I’ll try to get to everything tonight. I’m good. When I returned to my laptop to keep brainstorming ideas for my post, I realized that pillow talk was going to have to wait.
Anxiety and the college experience. I think this one’s important.
If you’re not in college, it may surprise you to hear that anxiety can be a major part of your educational adventure. College is where you pursue your interests and meet your best friends and maybe your soulmate and go to great parties every weekend, right? What could there possibly be to worry about?
I’m not saying college isn’t awesome, because it is. The friends, the parties, the sporadic realizations that you’re actually excited about what you’re studying– it’s all here. But college can be really hard sometimes too. Living away from your parents for the first time presents challenges. Professors demand a different kind of work than they did in high school. Relationships can be tricky to navigate, and money becomes this mythical thing that you can only aspire to one day have. There’s more to worry about than you might expect, and everything feels heightened by the seemingly constant reminder that this is as good as it gets, kid, enjoy it while you can.
We are adults, but we are not quite adults. The uncertainty of the in-between can be an unexpected trigger for anxiety. (Not to mention college-age students are still kind of in the wacky hormone stage of human development, so sometimes we just get the irrational urge to cry or punch things. Always a good time.)
Jules and I usually like to share our happier adventures with you guys, because we are very lucky and have quite a lot of them. But today I’d like to share something a little more personal. A few months ago, I had a pretty serious bout of anxiety. I started having frequent panic attacks at school. I had trouble falling asleep. The simplest of decisions made me so nervous I wanted to cry, and when I did cry, I couldn’t even explain why I was so upset. A sadness set in that I just couldn’t shake. It was a strange, pervasive uneasiness that left me feeling nutty, helpless, and alone.
I tell you this not to depress the hell out of you, but to share with you what I’ve learned since then. Anxiety is scary, but it is normal, and it is everywhere. In evolutionary terms, it motivates us to do the things we need to do in order to not die. (Eat food. Drink water. Avoid killer snakes.) But sometimes it sticks around for longer than we need it to.
Anxiety comes in a lot of forms, and everyone experiences it differently. Some people feel anxious as the result of situational experience. Others are genetically predisposed to worry and depression. One of my biggest struggles in overcoming my anxious episodes was the fact that I couldn’t pinpoint why I was so unsettled. Sometimes there just isn’t a logical explanation for anxiety or depression, and that’s okay. Brain chemicals can be weird.
Above all else, I learned that anxiety is more common than I ever could have imagined. I began opening up to people I felt comfortable with– my family, my friends, even that weird roommate I share a blog with– and almost all of them answered with something along the lines of, yeah, I’ve felt like that before too. I was floored by the number of fellow college students especially who told me that they’d recently had feelings of anxiety/depression. It was like we’d all been secretly struggling to fight the same beast, too embarrassed or scared or proud to admit that we’d let the beast out of its cage in the first place.
If you’re dealing with symptoms of anxiety or depression, please know that you are not crazy, and you are not alone. It’s almost silly how hard we fight to keep it all inside sometimes. Admitting you’re not okay can be the hardest part, but I’ve learned that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength.
With support from the best group of family and friends a person could ever ask for, I was able to get the help I needed to befriend my anxiety. Befriend it– not conquer it. Anxiety is still a big part of my life. It always has been, and it probably always will be. But that’s okay. I have my people, my yoga mat, my journal. I can get through whatever the beast may bring.
So I’m going to leave you with 1) this song, which seems a tiny bit relevant in an angsty-soundtrack kind of way, and 2) the challenge to try to be honest with yourself and the people you love. I didn’t admit that I wasn’t okay for a long time, and it made things a lot worse. I know it can be scary, but if you’re feeling anxious, confide in a friend. If your roommate’s not being himself, ask him if he wants to talk. We don’t have to take this beast on alone.
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Sweaty

What’s A Ski?!

For most of my life, I assumed I was a pretty cool person. I did things. I had talents. I could do back flips on trampolines and off of swingsets. I could rollerblade like a champ. One time I caught a massive purple jellyfish at the beach in a plastic bucket. Hell, one time I even jumped out of a plane.

Then I moved in with Hannah. As we made our beds and unpacked our bags after Christmas break, she asked me if she could keep her skis by my bed. Of course, I’d said. Roommate harmony continued. When friends walked into our room and looked around, their eyes always seemed to stop on the skis propped against my desk.

“Do you ski?” they’d ask. And every time I answered no, I got the same incredulous response.

 

“You don’t ski??”

This was usually followed by a “lame,” or a “what the hell,” and after a while I got defensive about my lack of mountain experience. I refused to apologize for never having skied and insisted that it wasn’t that cool anyway. That is, until I tried it.

Over winter break, Hannah invited me to her ski condo, fed me chocolate chip cookies, took me snowshoeing, lent me gear, and taught Andie and I to ski. (In case you were wondering, it is in fact possible to have a roommate that is this cool.) On day one we snowshoed.

Despite what it looks like, we had a good time.

Then the day arrived. We put on all of the necessary articles. (There are so many things you have to wear when you ski.) We tried helplessly to adjust to walking in ski boots. Hannah made sure we looked legit (though I’m not even sure what “legit” looks like), and we tried not to blow our cover by saying something stupid. A second after I said this, Andie shouted, “What’s a ski?!” while flailing her arms in the air.

The day went by incredibly fast, and we had so much fun. Our friends were patient and helpful and they laughed at us when we fell. The cold air tasted so good. And the day was basically one big photo op.

So now that I’ve seen what I’m missing, I feel a little bit more lame for not actively skiing more. I’m not too worried though, I can still rollerblade.

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Family

I Have a Sister

Up until this point in my blogging career I’ve really only mentioned my sister in passing, which was brought to my attention when she recently texted me something along the lines of UGH WHY AM I NEVER IN YOUR BLOG POSTS. So I thought I’d take this time to tell you a little bit about my darling, talented, funny, compassionate, pain-in-the-ass sister, with whom I am now madly in love with.

But I’ll get to the madly in love part a little later. Because before around 2008, my little sister was the Devil.

Sarah was the kind of younger sister who would hit me and then put herself in timeout. (She was three and I was six.) I was the kind of older sister who cried when Sarah bit me, but refused to retaliate because even at a young age I understood the importance of nonviolent conflict resolution. (My mom has often referred to this affinity for wisdom and understanding as “being a wuss,” which I have chosen to respectfully ignore.) Sarah used to make fun of me, jump on me, swear at me, and imitate me until I thought my brain would fall out of my own head. To be fair, I was an even nerdier child than I am a college student, so Sarah had a lot of good material to work with. But the sisterhood was pretty rocky there for a decade or so.

To say I never retaliated would be a bit of a lie. I sang at the top of my lungs a lot, especially when Sarah was around. (My mom particularly enjoyed this phase.) My nerdiness got me some stellar grades, and the older-sister-academic-legacy is a surprisingly powerful weapon in the sibling game. One time I got so fed up with her bullying, I stuck my foot out and pushed her onto the hardwood floor, hard. My parents punished me, but revealed years later that this was actually a pretty proud moment for them (look at the wuss! she’s standing up for herself!).

Then sometime around my sophomore year in high school, it dawned on me that Sarah was actually kind of cool. She had turned twelve and no longer tried to bite me. She was tall and gawky and funny and good at sports, and she could sing. Boy, could she sing–way better than I ever did when I belted in the backseat of the car to drive her crazy. That girl had a voice like a chorus of baby angels.

Smack dab in the middle of our awkward phases, we had a photo shoot. Sarah’s going to kill me but I really think these pictures are important to your understanding of us as humans.

 

So I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but the Devil and I became friends. Best friends, actually. And the Devil wasn’t the Devil anymore– she had been replaced by this really witty and wonderful person who shared my DNA. I suppose that person had been there all along, I’d just been too distracted by the abuse/assault to see her.

After I went to college, Sarah and I went from best friends to soul mates. (It’s a lot easier to be someone’s soul mate when that someone is too far away to clog your shower with her hair.) I call her to tell her about my day. She consistently sends me this snapchat.

She and Jules get along well enough I guess.

And now, I’ve put her in a blog post.

So Sar, this one’s for you. Never stop doing that thing with your hip.

 

 

 

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College, Goofy

On Perms and Procrastination

Are you looking for new and exciting ways to actively not do schoolwork on the weekends? Of course you are. Lately, Hannah and I have taken to a new form of procrastination that comes in handy especially on Sundays when you have nowhere to be except the library. So if you’re ever bored and kind of hungry, try our latest tip:

Sitting in the dining hall for hours on end.

You know the drill. You go there for breakfast and take your time. You wait those extra ten minutes for a fancy omelet (entirely worth it), and you settle in. There’s something about the dining hall on a Sunday that just feels homey. Maybe it’s the seemingly-endless supply of muffins. Maybe it’s the whimsical combination of Michelle Branch and the Backstreet Boys that plays on a loop. Maybe it’s the fact that walking out the door means you have to acknowledge the mountains of work that you’ve been ignoring all week. You’ve got no classes or meetings to attend, and this booth is just so comfy. And you’ll never get bored when armed with this list of fun suggestions to keep you busy while you loaf for hours in your dining hall of choice.

Experiment with different hair styles. (This is me considering a perm).

2. Find new ways to accessorize with scarves. (Andie’s specialty).

3. And, if you’re feeling really adventurous, you can go for the full teletubby transformation. (For advice, see Hannah).

Then, there’s always the art of leaving. You stand up and survey the cluttered mess of dished you’ve managed to accumulate over the hours and wonder how you’re going to carry it all out in one trip. The game of dish-Jenga begins. Cup fits inside the mug, fork and knife on top of the napkin so it doesn’t flutter away while you hopelessly swat for it with your hands full. Then, as you walk down the stairs with the careful deliberation of a pageant queen, something goes clattering to the floor. It was probably the knife. Goddammit.

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