By Andrew Fader
I have a severe anxiety disorder. There, I said it. My name is at the top of this page. It’s out there, public knowledge. Before college I wouldn’t have admitted this to many people. None of my close friends knew at the time what I struggled with. I practically lived a double life. I tried my damnedest to appear as a calm and collected individual. But a black cloud only I could see, only I could feel, followed me. It still follows me. It will never stop following me. Before college I think I held out a glimmer of hope that I would one day be free of the constant worry. I was clearly being naïve, because what I have won’t go away. It’s a part of me. It’ll never disappear. Coming to Fitchburg State University gave me a clean slate though. Instead of putting on the façade of being “normal” I’d approach college differently. I’ll choose to be honest with myself and others.
It was in my Writing I class during Freshman year that I took the plunge and told my story to a class full of strangers. Our first writing assignment of the year was free form. We could be as creative as we wanted. So, sitting at my computer at home, I typed. It came effortlessly. It was years’ worth of words that I could never admit to most people. It wasn’t a winding, drawn out story of my anxiety disorder. It was straight and to the point. No more bullshitting from me. That next class I volunteered to read my paper aloud while at my seat. I’ll admit, I was nervous to do it. It was the first time but something inside me tuned out the worry in my head. So I raised my hand and read.
From that moment onwards I’ve been vocal about my battle with an anxiety disorder. I took a Psychology class and decided to do a presentation on anxiety disorders, where I told people about my struggle. I had a similar experience in my Writing II class. Our first reading for the class was Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. The piece can be interpreted in several ways, but the takeaway for that class was to step out of the cave (ignorance) and into the sunlight (truth/reality). The allegory seemed to be written just for me. Just like in Plato’s story I was able to move from the cave, my shame and embarrassment in having my disorder, and step into the sun, embrace my shortcomings, and not let it win over me.
I don’t want it to come across that I have all of my shit together. I don’t. The anxiety is still with me, still just as bad and pervasive as it always has been. Panic attacks still happen. Breakdowns still happen. I still need help when the anxiety becomes unbearable. I’m not cured. I’m just learning how to manage it. And if there is one thing you can take away from this it’s that none of us have our shit together. No student, no adult, no human on this planet is content with themselves. We’ve all been dealt a bad hand in life. But that’s what being human is. It’s getting through the adversity and the sadness and the stress, and coming out on the other side knowing a little more about yourself.