Caught in the rapids: My battle with anxiety and depression

Abbey Marshall | Managing Editor

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On my most recent trip to the Smoky Mountains, I was enjoying a hot day of leisure splashing around in a refreshingly cold river when I decided it was time for an adventure. Now, I’m not a big thrill-seeker or much of a risk-taker in general, but after watching a group of reckless teenagers repeatedly tumble over a waterfall injury-free, I was ready to do something a little crazy. I wasn’t by any means prepared to topple over a drop off like that, but I was planning to take a ride through the rapids at the bottom of the waterfall. Cautiously sliding off a mossy rock, I was whisked away by the churning water. I swam back to my starting point, laughing as my brother followed my lead. My confidence and sense of bravery soared as I decided to take the plunge again.1085

The second time was torturous. I got swept away, unprepared and afraid as my head was thrashing around the depths of the river. I opened my eyes in a panic, attempting to find my way to the surface, but instead I only saw a terrifying kaleidoscope of blue hues and bubbles. The rapids consumed me as I lost control of my body and had an overwhelming sense that this would never end.

“This is how I’m going to die,” I thought.

My head popped back up after what felt like ages only to be greeted by my concerned looking brother and my sister with her hand clamped over her mouth. Relief flooded over me as I hurriedly swam back to the big rock where my siblings were standing as they repeatedly asked me if I was okay. Their words became a hodgepodge of “I couldn’t see your head for a long time” and “I was so afraid” and “Don’t do that again”. My parents, seated from afar called out to me with looks of terror plastered on their faces, unable to comprehend what had just happened. Trying to fight back tears of shock and utter dread, I assured them that I was fine, though my entire body was shaking and I felt completely out of control.

That’s what anxiety feels like.

I was diagnosed last summer with obsessive compulsive disorder, severe anxiety, and depression. The words sound foreign on my tongue, so fresh and so terrifying as I rarely speak them aloud, but make perfect sense, like a discovery of myself that I have struggled so long to try to comprehend. The past two years of my life has been riddled with unexplained and volatile panic attacks and a generalized feeling of anxiety at all times, no matter what I’m doing. I knew that something wasn’t right when I would sit in my bedroom late at night shaking and crying uncontrollably over things that I shouldn’t be so worried about. I knew that there was something extremely wrong when I couldn’t drag myself out of bed, feeling so hopeless and empty on the inside. I knew I had problems when I’d restlessly lie beneath the sheets at night for hours on end, anxious thoughts provoking me with every attempt I made to get some rest.

Infographic from interchangecounseling.com

My therapist believes this began when my mother passed away; I suffered from post traumatic stress as a three-year-old. That extreme event carried over into habitual anxious behaviors that strengthened over time, which ultimately lead to my lifelong OCD and issues sleeping. I fixate on perfection with my every action, no matter how small. This past year brought all sorts of social and academic pressure to me and for the first time in my life, I couldn’t handle it. I cracked. My chemical balance changed; I was in a constant state of heightened nerves and mental stress, sporadically spurring on panic attacks, and I felt a sort of sadness, emptiness, and loneliness I’d never experienced before.

Most people would be surprised to hear that I am depressed. Oftentimes, I am complimented on my cheery personality and optimistic view on life. This is why I’m writing this article: to change the stigmas associated with mental disorders.

It took me a long time to write this. Shaky fingers drafted this over and over, unsure of what to say or how to say it. What will people think? Will they think I’m weird or unstable? What am I even trying to accomplish? It wasn’t until I stumbled upon the series Going Off by New York Times writer Diana Spechler that I realized that this was bigger than me. I can use my writing to not only release myself, but bring forth an important, yet touchy subject that is slowly coming to the forefront of current social issues.

The problem becomes that when you hide it, the situation worsens. I know this all too well. When I began to have panic attacks early last year, I kept them hidden from my parents for quite some time. Of course, having the burden of a secret that large only increased my anxious feelings and ultimately ostracized me even further, creating the illusion that I truly was on my own.

Infographic from behance.net

I’m here to address those so crippled by what society thinks that they’re too afraid to get the release and closure they need. You are not alone. I am still fooled by those notion every now and then, but I promise it’s not true. If just my saying it isn’t enough to sell you, look at simple statistics. 40 million adults in the United States are affected by an anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Also, according to ADAA, “Nearly one-half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder”.

My mind is flustered by the idea that 18 percent of the U.S. population is suffering from such a severe disorder, yet it’s still such an ill-addressed topic. The solution seems simple: get people talking. It’s such a taboo; we know it’s there and we know it’s getting worse but we don’t want to feel uncomfortable so we just won’t talk about it.

One of the inaccurate stigmas behind mental disorders is that if you simply try hard enough, you can make yourself happy. Let me be the first to inform these confused individuals: it doesn’t work that way. I can’t even keep track of how many nights I’ve tried to force a smile upon my face and think about how grand life is. The reality is, the brain is very complex and delicate, leaving plenty of room for the errors of chemical and hormonal imbalances. Serotonin re-uptake can occur too much and too often at an unhealthy level, depleting people with depression of their happiness. The New York Times reported in 2013 that one in 10 Americans are currently taking anti-depressant medication.

As someone who takes anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication in an attempt to calm my nerves and balance my hormones, as someone who attends doctors appointments routinely, as someone who sits on an over-sized leather couch as a psychologist analyzes me regularly, let me tell you that despite my lengthy analysis of mental illness, it can be summed up in two harsh, blatantly honest words: it sucks.

I wish I could say that in the end, everything will be perfect and this is just a bump in the road, but I know firsthand that it feels like more than a bump. It feels like a roadblock. Having anxiety and depression is like standing on the edge of a jagged crevasse, gazing over at what life could be like, but instead you’re trapped for what seems like forever. I’m not going to be one of the people who will tell you to just “get over it and move on”.

My personal account isn’t about the triumph or the resilience of the human spirit. Actually, it’s quite the contrary. I’m trying to say that it’s okay not be perfect. It’s okay to be human. It’s okay to be broken. It’s okay to feel emotions and cry and not smile every second of your life. I want to start a conversation about how people battling a mental disorder are not damaged goods and we shouldn’t have to be ashamed of who we are.

I am exposing my deepest, darkest secret, describing the inner-workings of my brain, and sharing this to spark conversations about the taboos of mental illnesses in today’s society. We need to start changing the way people view psychological disorders in order to move forward and help those suffering.

If you’re feeling caught in the rapids the way I do, remember that you’re not alone. Everyone is battling something. No matter who you are, there is someone that cares about you beyond belief. See 1 Peter 5:7 for details.

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This is a snapshot of the location where I fell victim to the raging rapids. I like this picture because it shows just how small the scariness and anxiety of this world is in comparison to God’s great beauty.

“The pain that you’ve been feeling, can’t compare to the joy that’s coming.” ~Romans 8:18

Originally published in The Chronicle on May 13, 2016.

OPINION: ‘Spotlight’ win is a victory for all journalists

Abbey Marshall | Managing Editor

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Last year, CareerCast named “newspaper reporter” as the “worst job in America”. Going to college with the goal of becoming a journalist is becoming less and less common; the future for journalism oftentimes seems bleak.

As a student with the eager intent to major in journalism, this bothers me. I am told by skeptical relatives that I won’t get a job or make a decent living. I am told by die-hard conservatives that all media is slanted and is just a way to promote the liberal agenda. I am told by college grads that they once-upon-a-time began freshman year majoring in journalism but discovered there was no future in it. I always wanted to beat the odds, and planned on it, but that’s a tough thing to do when nearly everyone is telling me “no”.

In comes “Spotlight”. Directed by Tom McCarthy, this movie followed a 2001 team of investigative journalists in Boston responsible for uncovering the scandal of priests sexually abusing children. The movie was real; it didn’t glamorize the newsroom or make it anything more than what it is: hard, frustrating work. They were rejected by sources, denied permission to view legal documents, and had to overcome plenty of obstacles to print the story and expose the truth. This movie rejuvenated and affirmed my passion for journalism. I knew I wanted to do that important work, no matter how much money was in it for me.

I, among the rest of the journalistic world, rejoiced when “Spotlight” won the Academy Award for Best Picture. It was a nod of gratitude to those who grind away at the difficult task of daily journalism. We aren’t in it for the fame or the money or the acknowledgement, but this film brought up the importance of what we do. I know one movie will hardly change the entire national view of journalists, but perhaps it will alter the perception of the necessity of investigative reporting.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof tweeted, “Hoping Spotlight’s Best Picture win will result in not just applause for investigative reporting, but also in more resources invested in it.” Journalism is important. It holds people accountable. Unless more money and faith is put into the work we do, it will become more and more difficult to expose the wrongs in the world. Being a journalist is one of the most selfless jobs; it is about telling the truth and asking nothing in return.

I commend the real-life journalists who inspired the story of “Spotlight” and all those still fighting for the field of investigative reporting.

 

Originally published in The Chronicle on March 11, 2016.

OPINION: Buying the dream is not a true reward

Abbey Marshall | Managing Editor

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Most adults graduate from the head-in-hands, glassy-eyes-out-the-classroom-window childlike hopefulness, but that doesn’t mean they stop dreaming. Adults dream in a different way, a way some people might deem practical and tangible, but is just as unrealistic as the ten-year-old wanting to become a pop star. As the powerball jackpot surpasses an astronomical $1.5 billion, researchers are gaining insight as to why exactly people purchase lottery tickets. It has less to do with winning and more to do with dreaming.

From an economic standpoint, buying a lottery ticket is an awful deal, as many are aware. The chances are paper thin, not to mention the huge tax hit even if you were to win. Yet the industry continues to flourish. Many Americans are “buying the dream”: all the results of hard work, minus the hard work.

In an era where the Kardashians are rich for no apparent reason, everyone wants to make it big without the grunt work. Americans’ judgements are clouded by fantasies of lounging around on the beach without a care in the world, as seen on TV. People want the “easy way out”.

The state of Kansas is suffering about a $10 million shortfall at the moment. Its plan? Hope that someone in the state wins the lottery. A Kansas winner would be forced to surrender at least $40 million to the state government in taxes, dragging them out of their economic slump and then some. Instead of actually solving the problem, the state is investing in sheer hope.

In an ideal world, we would all win the lottery and quit our jobs and sip ice-cold drinks with little umbrellas on the sandy beaches of Mexico. Unfortunately, it’s not practical. That’s not to say we shouldn’t dream; in fact, I would say quite the opposite. Dreaming is what propels reality. Dreaming is what forces us to work hard and achieve success. The key is hard work.

The working class works hard for its money. Instead of wasting your nine-to-five paycheck investing in someone else’s dream (statistically speaking), invest in your own. Start a savings account to invest in your education, take out a mortgage to invest in your family, book a flight to invest in leisure with your loved ones. That’s worth more than millions.

 

Originally published in The Chronicle on January 15, 2016.

OPINION: Paid parental leave crucial to all workers

Abbey Marshall | Managing Editor

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Silicon Valley may soon become a family-friendly suburb.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently announced his extended paternity leave to care for his newborn daughter. “Studies show that when working parents take time to be with their newborns, outcomes are better for the children and families,” Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post made on November 20.

Now, Zuckerberg is extending this valuable familial time to all Facebook employees, offering a four month paid parental leave. This offer is extremely progressive in the United States because for many working American parents, it’s not a reality. The U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world that does not mandate paid leaves for parents after the birth of a child. Though federal law does offer at least twelve weeks off, pay is not a required factor. In fact, according to the New York Times, only 14 percent on American companies offer paid leave. In comparison, European countries put American policies on parental leave to shame. Both Britain and Sweden offer a full year off to new parents with pay (mandated by law).

American legislation needs to change. Silicon Valley, the technology development hotspot of the country, is offering the sorts of benefits all American parents should be able to enjoy. In August, Netflix offered unlimited paid parental leave, pioneering the way for other companies to follow their lead. With Facebook in tow, expanding their benefits, other companies are likely to follow.

That being said, there are certainly other business that will not offer the benefits that all parents deserve. Facts and numbers aside, it ultimately comes down to a newborn baby and a mother and father who desperately care for it. American parents are stuck in a limbo on whether to stay home and bond with their child, or go back to work because they cannot afford to be without income to raise their baby.

America needs to join the rest of the developed world and show it cares about the hardworking families and the children fueling its future.

 

 

Originally published in The Chronicle on December 11. 

OPINION: Love your fellow muppets

Abbey Marshall | Managing Editor

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Elmo has a new friend on the block.

Sesame Street, whose mission is “to help all children grow smarter, stronger and kinder”, just got one step closer to that goal. The producers recently announced their newest character, a bright-eyed, orange-haired muppet named Julia. Julia is just like every other muppet: she likes laughing, playing with her friends, and having a fun time on the happiest street in America. The only difference? She has autism.

Motivated by the desire to increase awareness of childhood disabilities, Sesame Street’s decision to incorporate such an unconventional character is a noble one. Yet, despite all the good they’re doing, writers are being highly criticized. Skeptics are questioning why the autistic character was written as a girl. According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 42 boys are affected with autism, while only 1 in 189 girls are diagnosed. Why, then, is Julia a girl? This question is not lost on executive vice president Sherrie Westin, who responded that since children are more likely to see an autistic boy, they wanted to show that girls can be autistic as well. Nevertheless, angry Americans’ cries rage on.

As their faces bloat crimson, they forget the more pressing question: why are they attacking something that will do such good? I applaud Sesame Street and its quest to combat ignorance at a young age. According to the senior vice president of U.S. social impact, children with autism are five times more likely to be bullied by their peers. This is deeply saddening; kids with autism often become deterred by this and want to avoid school at all costs. That’s why it’s so inspiring that an educational program targeting young children is tackling this issue by introducing a character who is sensitive to sound and lights, as well as some other seemingly odd characteristics, but she still likes to play with others.

Sesame Street is making strides in the right direction, but I hope someday she isn’t viewed as Julia, the little girl with autism, but as Julia--just another muppet.

Originally published in The Chronicle on November 13, 2015.

OPINION: The homeless deserve respect, not apathy

Abbey Marshall | Managing Editor

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We see them downtown, grasping onto tattered cardboard signs, begging for any loose change jangling in your pocket. We seem them curled up in a moth-devoured wool blanket, trying to stay warm on a bitter winter evening. We see them meekly shoving a shopping cart piled up with our garbage in an attempt to salvage anything useful.

They’re always there, so why do we pretend like they don’t exist?

According to The National Alliance to End Homelessness, 578,424 people were without a home on any given night in the United States in 2014. The sad stigma attached to those 578,424 people is that they’re drug addicts, and it’s their own fault that they’re in that situation. This deceptive stereotype hinders society from assisting those in need.

A couple years ago, my family went on a mission trip to Nashville. At a soup kitchen I was serving in, I met a man named John, a black man who served in the Vietnam War. His noble service to our country was hardly appreciated, however, as he returned to a country filled with racial inequality and outrage surrounding the soldiers who served in the war. Post-traumatic stress overcame him, causing him to spiral into poverty and eventually homelessness, as the government and the average citizen sat idly by. It deeply saddens me that nine percent of the United States homeless population are veterans.

Furthermore,  216,197 of the national total are families. So many children are heartbreakingly growing up on the streets, not knowing where their next meal is coming from, most likely deprived of a proper education. It is apparent that kids are not the cause of their own homelessness; they are apart of a vicious cycle that is hard to break. Growing up in poverty results in less opportunities, due to increasingly expensive college tuition. Oftentimes, they will have their own kids who experience the same thing, over and over and over.

Yet we will continue to walk down the streets, quickly stealing a glance out of the corner of our eyes before racing off. We are afraid to give them money, terrified that they’ll use it for drugs and contribute to increasing city crime rates.

My proposal is a modest one, and though it will not enact a monumental change the way a much-needed government reform could, it will definitely make an impact. Sit down on the park bench beside them with a frosty Coca-Cola or even an icy bottle of water and start a genuine conversation. Give them the respect that every person deserves. Not only are you treating them to something they most likely don’t have the money to splurge on, but you are making a tremendous impact by giving them the time that no one else will. It makes them feel appreciated and loved.

I’ve seen it in their eyes.

 

OPINION: Americans capable of reducing gun deaths

Abbey Marshall | Managing Editor

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Reports of the two journalists who fell victim to a shooting in Virginia on August 26 littered social media and news platforms. Shocked teenagers tweeted, “People in this world are sick”, reporters delved into the shooter’s past and exposed his unstable mental history, while concerned U.S. citizens posted statuses with condolences to the victims’ families.

Then, like every other case, it vanished in a matter of days. People returned to their daily lives, relatively unaffected by the deaths of two random people. Why is it that with every despicable act that occurs in our country we care for about two seconds to express our grief, only to return to the same routines we’ve always known?

As creatures of habit, it’s hard for us to make a change, but it’s apparent that current gun regulations aren’t working. Since 1968, more Americans have been slain by a firearm than casualties of all wars in U.S. history, according to PBS commentator Mark Shields. This is just an example of the growing rate of dangers that guns pose to American citizens. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof notes that the Occupational Health and Safety Administration created a seven page document regulating ladder safety, which only results in 300 deaths per year in the United States, yet there is little restriction on guns, which account for 33,000 American deaths annually.

If the American government can impose traffic laws and car regulations, which also account for a majority of deaths, then why can’t the same be done for guns? Don’t get me wrong–I’m not saying we should redact the second amendment by any means. Americans should have the option to own a gun if they choose to do so, whether it be for hunting, protection of property or self: whatever it may be. I do not believe, however, that any citizen should be able to legally purchase a semi-automatic assault weapon. In no scenario do I see a gun like that being used for good. Weapons of mass destruction are just that–there is no reason to own a machine gun or assault rifle for hunting or recreation. Especially with the lack of extensive background checks and mental examinations prior to gun purchase, you never know who will go slaughter unknowing citizens. It will continue happening until we minimize threats by these weapons. How many Americans need to die for us to break our apathetic cycle and actually do something?

Although there will always be evil people in this world with evil intentions, there is a way to reduce their impact. Imagine if the government could eliminate even one-third the annual deaths to 22,000 instead of 33,000 using background checks and limitations of what guns may be legally purchased. What if it was even more than that? We could live in a country where we wouldn’t have to fear going to a movie theater, or a church, or a mall, or a university, or even our own job. So sure, the second amendment is in the Constitution, but so is the pursuit of life, which is what we should be focused on preserving.

 

Originally published on thecspn.com on September 18, 2015.