A Minnetonka Student’s Personal Look On Their Journey With Mental Illness

Art+courtesy+of+Gwen+Bowdish
Art courtesy of Gwen Bowdish

Art courtesy of Gwen Bowdish

Art courtesy of Gwen Bowdish

Abby Schindel

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In recent years, mental illness has become more apparent in teens. One in five teens from years thirteen to eighteen has a mental illness, statistic courtesy of NAMI.  I am one of them.

It all started my freshman year, two years ago. The week before my AP Human Geography test, I had one of the worst panic attacks I’ve ever experienced, while sitting in my 4th hour class, listening to the rules and procedures of the big AP test. I had never experienced a panic attack before. I soon realized I was having trouble breathing, and the room was feeling very small. The bell finally rang and I ran to the bathroom with tears in my eyes. I don’t even remember the day now; the only reason I know what happened is through my friends who saw me that day. My mind tends to block out days that include panic attacks.

I thought it was normal to have panic attacks like that in high school. But it wasn’t. I realized that this was out of the ordinary when the panic attacks increased during sophomore year. AP US History was one of my favorite classes. The teachers made it interesting and I love US history, but it was the most stressful class I’ve taken in high school so far. I couldn’t make myself focus on reading and I could never cram all that information in my head. I retook almost every test during the first quarter. Second quarter’s tests started to include stimulus questions, or document-based questions. I couldn’t wrap my head around them and that only increased the stress.

Along with school stress also came the toxic people in my life. Sophomore year included people coming into my life that were not the best for me, and I did not realize it until much later. One person sticks out the most. I simply wanted to please them in every way possible, and it was just never enough. Because of that, I thought I wasn’t good enough and that every relationship was like this. I thought that every fight, every problem, was my fault, even though I couldn’t control my anxiety and things just happened. This stress completely drained me for more than half of sophomore year.

After they were gone, I looked back on what the relationship was and I realized it wasn’t my fault. Not completely at least. The little fights got worse because I stressed about what could happen, instead of trying to fix it. I don’t blame them either. How could they know what to do when I got this stressed? I don’t blame them but they did unconsciously push my anxiety of the cliff. They just didn’t know that certain things would stress me out more. I didn’t know how they could help me either. We were both just clueless about the situation, which actually ended the relationship.

On a completely unrelated note, last February I got a concussion in choir. It is the stupidest story of my life, and if you want to hear it, come find me. But the headaches and memory problems got pretty bad. I ended up having to go to the hospital because of it. They gave me a clipboard that asked me roughly fifty questions about your eating, mood, and health. Questions like “how often do you feel sad?” or “do you often feel stressed out about little things?” My answers ended up being ‘somewhat often’ or ‘very often’ for almost every question.

The doctors sat me down and told me, as of then, I have a general anxiety disorder. It wasn’t terrible but bad enough that they suggested medicine, medicine I could take during panic attacks to calm me down. But there were so many other symptoms, like mood changes and headaches, that after a discussion with my parents, we decided that the medicine wasn’t necessary at the time. I had ways to calm myself down, including music, writing and blankets, all of which did work back then.

The attacks and anxiety got worse in the months of August and September of this year. It felt like I was constantly shaking and my eyes were filled with tears. It didn’t seem to end. I acted happy but I felt like I didn’t exist inside: one of my worst, yet skillful, talents. I was in a never-ending black hole that I didn’t know how to get out of. But I did try to get out of feeling like this and it worked. I focused on what I loved and did my best to look past the stress.   

I have not had a panic attack since October 10th, the day before the PSAT. That was the craziest week of the school year. I ended up staying home to work on everything I had to do. I finished a world history project, completed every homework assignment and slept in until nine. I got better.

For my own sake, I decided not to include certain parts of my story that are more personal. If you feel you could benefit from hearing the in-depth story, I would love to have a conversation with you. I know I am not the worst case of mental illness out there. This could be irrelevant to many people because of the minority of my case. But I like to think that writing this will create a new awareness because it’s hard to share these things. It might even show people that they are not alone. Someone, somewhere, will listen. I will listen. I will be that person because I know the feeling of needing someone, of feeling alone. So please, add me to the list of people you can talk to, because I am here.

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