"Hannah I think you're having a panic attack." My supervisor at my on-campus job said to me calmly as I tried to catch my breath.

Did I have anxiety? I mean sure, but everyone does. I could go for a run, go to the gym or sleep and it would go away. I didn't need help. Everyone had anxiety, and I was just like everyone else.

But in my last semester of college, I realized I wasn't okay.

I think the anxiety got really bad when I started checking, double checking and even triple checking the locks on my apartment doors.

I rationalized that it was just safe to do since my bedroom was on the third floor of the apartment, and I couldn't hear if someone tried to get in. I was just being responsible, right? Our apartment complex was unprofessional and didn't take steps to ensure the safety of its residents. So I was just being cautious, right?

These thoughts weren't completely incorrect, but they were more justifications of actions that weren't really healthy. I would come to find that these actions were Obsessive Compulsive.

It was my extra semester of college, and I was on edge. A lot of my friends had already moved on to the real world, and I was in a weird transition period in my life. I never really handled transition well. I would rather just move onto the next thing. But I had a semester of waiting.

I think the panic attacks started settling in before my first essay test of college. How did I make it four years without an essay test? I'm not entirely sure. But my professor for this class was super old school and a little sexist so I was already nervous. I studied for weeks for that test. I knew all the answers, but I went through the test in pencil to make sure I didn't have any errors, and then thought I would have time to go over it in pen. I did not. Half of the test was in pen when time was called. I went up to him after class and explained and he said it was fine. “Next time just to be sure to do it all in pen.” Easy enough right? Wrong.

I left the classroom and called my dad in a panic. "Dad, Dad, Dad." He walked me through the situation and he talked me through it. "Hannah, if he said it's fine, then it will be okay. He wouldn't tell you it's fine and then take points off your grade." I knew that he was right, but my mind was still racing, I was still in a panic but I didn't know why because I knew everything was fine. I couldn't slow my brain down. I still had another test in two days. "Hannah, go home and lay down. It will be okay. You did your best and that's all you can do. You told me you knew the answers. So if you did, then you did great. It's going to be okay."  I knew he was right.

I was burned out though. As I got off the bus at my stop and walked to my apartment, I felt weak. I felt empty and tired. I was fried. I didn't know how that could be possible though. I had chipped away at the material for this test, and the test I had the next day, for almost three weeks. I had studied and studied again the whole semester thus far. It was an extra semester that my parents were helping me make happen, and I didn't want to let them down. And I wasn't. They never made me feel that way; it was just pressure I put on myself.

A lot of my friends had already graduated and were working full time jobs. So I got to see what life would be like when I moved on to the real world. However, there were still a lot of uncertainties. I didn't know where I would work. I didn't know how long I would stay at home after moving back to Chicago. I didn't know exactly when I would be able to move back to the South. These are all completely normal experiences when you graduate college, but I also put an added pressure on myself. I always had jobs, internships, a social life and school work. I always filled my time and made the most of it; I always exceeded expectations. I'm the kind of person that if someone tells me I cannot do it, I work and work until I can prove them wrong. This mindset can also burn you out. It was common for me to break down and need a day to myself every couple months. But it was fine. I was fine.

That's what I kept telling myself.

Around the time of this essay test, I also made some pretty big decisions and my community was shaken up by some tough student situations. Personally, I put an end to a toxic relationship in my life that was way overdue to be dealt with.

Around that time two students also passed away on campus. A pledge in a fraternity (in which I had several friends) died from hazing. Another student took his own life. I couldn't stop thinking about these students’ families. How they were so young and had so much life ahead of them. Although I never knew either of them, knowing that they were a part of the student body of a place I loved, it definitely affected me.

There were a lot of things coming at me in this span of two weeks. Also, you can throw my 23rd birthday into that mix. Granted, that wasn't stressful; it was fun, but it was a busy time.

In college I was used to balancing internships, jobs, school work and a social life. I had friends and I laughed and I loved it. Everyone gets anxious about stuff, everyone experiences stressful situations and everyone reacts differently. But sometimes it's too much and you need help. As I crawled into my bed after my essay test. I had no appetite, I had no attention span and I was zoned out. I knew that I needed to study for the test. But for the first time in my life, I didn't care. I couldn't make myself get up and focus.

The next morning, I dragged myself to my test. I took it. I thought I did okay. I pressed the submit button on the computer and when my screen flashed my score, I was in disbelief. I scored a 43%. I had never scored so low in my life. What was happening?

I walked across campus to work. My heart rate spiked. I couldn't control my breathing. My thoughts were racing. I couldn't relax.

As I walked into my office I started crying. I couldn't slow anything down.

"Hannah I think you're having a panic attack."

Luckily, I worked on campus, and my coworkers knew what to do. My college has a really great Mental Health program and, for the rest of the semester, I saw the right doctors, worked through my thoughts, and got prescribed the right medication.  

It wasn't that I had to be fixed. I think people are often afraid that their head has being shrunk, and that they have to do all these dramatic things to feel better. But that is not the case. As my counselor started asking questions, it started to make sense.

I couldn't sleep. I had nightmares where I would wake up gasping for air. I didn't trust myself or my heuristics, and I constantly doubted myself. My thoughts were centered around small, insignificant things, and they would consume me for days.  I couldn't focus on important things because I was fixating. And at those times when I felt drained and had no appetite, it was me coming down from a panic attack.

I realized that all my "freak outs" were actually panic attacks. I had been coping with talking, working out and believing that everyone felt this way. I started medication and for the first time in a really long time, I could relax. I was actually doing well in school and could focus on things that mattered. I finally had control in my life.

Sometimes, we need more help than others. It's okay. I was lucky that I had an amazing support system of my family and friends to support me while I did what I had to do to learn to cope with my diagnosis. You cannot see mental health, but it is very real. If any of the symptoms I've mentioned sound familiar, it's okay! You're not alone. There are so many support groups, hotlines and people who care about you and can help you. You just have to speak out. Even if you only tell one person, you can start coping and learning how to live with anxiety.

Having anxiety isn't the end of the world, but not dealing with it and being honest with yourself might be. I'm not "cured" per se. There are still days when I have panic attacks, when I fixate about things that don't matter, and sometimes feel hopeless. But knowing that I have anxiety, knowing the signs and knowing how to cope makes a world of difference.

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