First off, this post was inspired by a fellow library student I follow on Tumblr, the common librarian. She studies in the UK where a library degree is a one year program! I can’t even imagine. Anyway back to the point, I was inspired by her frankness about her struggles with anxiety including seeing a therapist, and I find it incredibly brave, lovely, and honest. So here I am trying to emulate her. Hi everyone, I’m Sara a MLIS student in her second year and I suffer from anxiety (or as my medical chart says – General Anxiety Disorder).
During orientation we were warned about stress. Who goes into a graduate program without expecting stress? We all feel that surge of worry when a due date gets closer and you are balancing three other due dates along with it. However, stress goes away when the paper is turned in. Stress turns into a feeling of accomplishment. Stress is ephemeral. Anxiety is not.
I can not explain the shame I felt my first term when anxiety settled on me (like a fog, a wet blanket, something heavy that I could not dislodge). I tried to play it off as just stress (but I was only enrolled in one class how could one class produce this much stress when I balanced five classes and a job in undergrad just last year?). I couldn’t easily fall asleep. I worried about everything (including ironically my health). I didn’t find joy in cooking anymore. Every morning I awoke with a stiff back and headache and I went to bed with that stiff back and headache. I felt like a pressure was on my chest all the time. I was scared to be alone so I would go out to the library or coffee shop and feel alone in a crowd. However, I couldn’t figure out a way to communicate this to my fellow classmates in a way that I felt still made me sound sane. I just wanted to believe it was normal stress. Admitting something more serious was going on was an admission of failure, of weakness.
It wasn’t until after seeing my family over the holidays and admitting that I still didn’t feel like myself (I wasn’t even looking forward to my new classes. I always get excited about new classes) that I decided to see my doctor. I sat in the waiting room and filled out a mental health survey. It was one of those moments that reality just crashes in on you. I saw my symptoms quoted back to me almost to a tee. How? How had I waited so long? How didn’t I realize it? Why did I allow my pride get in the way of treating myself?
So why am I sharing all of this now? Well this is the time when we are all feeling the push. We see the deadlines. We feel the strain. However, sometimes it isn’t just stress. Sometimes the feeling is more intense and doesn’t go away when the due date passes. Sometimes a good song, a walk in the park, an hour of yoga, or a well baked cake doesn’t do a damn to alleviate the pressure on your chest.
If that is you out there dear reader, please speak up. There is no shame in mental illness. There is no shame in going to your doctor to seek help. I do not want any other person to go through the hell I put myself. This issue needs to be loudly spoken about in the academy. In stead of talking about “stress” during orientation lets talk about the difference between stress and anxiety disorder. Lets talk about the warning signs and how to know when you cross the line between normal stress and anxiety.
Because dear reader, you (we) are not alone. This issue is more common than you think. Suffering from anxiety is bad enough, but feeling like you are the only one and therefore weaker, weirder, and unworthy of your program is even worse. Anxiety shouldn’t been seen as a taboo subject. Overcoming anxiety during your years in grad school should be viewed as an example of strength not weakness. You overcame this obstacle because becoming a librarian means that much to you. If that does not show determination I don’t know what does.
Questions, Comments, Concerns? Let’s have a chat in the comments.
P.S. My anxiety is under control right now and I go in for regular mental health checkups.