Addie Downs, right, with her sister, Eliza, 12. (Used with permission)

Meet Adelaide Downs, an 18-year-old from Athens, Georgia, who is now a freshman at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. So far, her college experience has been “half spectacular and half living hell,” the latter because of the severe anxiety she has battled throughout her life. When she was a kid, Addie said, she “never spent the night away from home, and when my mom had to go out of town I would spend her whole trip in tears, not really eating and unable to focus.”

A lover of dogs, theater, books and music, Addie decided to start a blog  to express how she is learning to thrive in the face of her anxiety. She hopes it will help other young people who might be dealing with debilitating anxiety or other mental health issues. The blog is called “nolitimeresite” and this is her explanation, from one of her posts, for that name:

In 2013, a famous Irish poet named Seamus Heaney, as he was being taken to the hospital, texted the Latin words to his wife right before he died. It means “don’t be afraid.” When it hit news, my dad called me and told me, and I liked what it stood for – he looked death in the face and knew he wasn’t going to make it, but he wasn’t scared. (SIDENOTE: if you know my dad, you know he gets very easily emotional, meaning he cries like a baby literally any time of day, and naturally, as we hung up, he chokes back tears and says “noli timere, Addie.” And I rolled my eyes and hung up. But I digress.) I spent most of my anxiety-ridden junior [high school] year looking for “the perfect quote.” I found a lot, but nothing I liked as much as noli timere. So it stuck.

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems affecting college students. In fact, the New York Times reported last year that it “has now surpassed depression as the most common mental health diagnosis among college students” and these young people are putting strains on campus health centers as they flock in for treatment.

Addie calls her blog a survival guide to college for the anxious and everybody else. Here is part of one post, titled, “What It Feels Like,” in which she explains how anxiety affected her life. You can read the full piece and other posts, here. She gave me permission to publish this, in hopes that it might help other highly anxious college students who need to know they are not alone.

 

By Addie Downs

Everyone experiences anxiety. We have to, or we would all get hit by a bus or eaten by a lion or something. But I do know that I am not the only one who thinks “OK, YOU MADE YOUR POINT GET OUT.” Anxiety affects everything. It made me not able to focus on homework or eat or sleep, or even call my mom. And it sucked.

For me, it starts with restlessness. Whether it’s beginning a new assignment that stresses me out, or going to a new place alone, or even calling or ordering takeout. I always hated calling people or doing anything alone. At school during the “periods” I always felt like I was going to cry, and my heart would start beating too quickly and my hands would shake and I couldn’t shake the thoughts away. Breathing wouldn’t work, and then the panic attack would come. It felt like my heart was on fire and a hippopotamus was sitting on my rib cage and crushing me. It was in these moments that everything I had ever learned left me. I would call my dad weeping, so scared that it would never go away and that my friends would stop hanging out with me because I was a burden.

My parents said the same things every time.

“You are so loved, Addie, and you are never alone.”

“We are here for you no matter what, and you are going to get through this.”

“You got through this before and you can do it again, I promise you.”

Part of me knew these were true. I had spectacular friends at school and at home, and my parents are quite possibly two of my favorite people on the planet, even though they can definitely get annoying. They’ve been through their own periods, but I think at school they finally understood how bad mine actually was, and I hated that I made them and my little sister hurt. But when you’re in the throes of it, everything feels like a lie and it feels like you’re breaking. Even when I knew my friends were having a hard time adjusting too, it felt like they were just bending but I was falling to pieces and I had run out of glue.

I remember when my mom came back up after parent’s weekend, and we were sitting on the beautiful porch at the B&B where she stayed. She said, “Adjusting is part of being an adult, Addie, and you’re doing great!” I looked at her and said, “Being an adult sucks, and I’m not even paying taxes yet.” And it’s true. There’s a list about the most stressful things humans go through. Number one is death, and two is moving. Tell me about it. But I nested. I made my room comfortable and I took things from home that I loved.  I had pictures of all of the important people in my life hanging on my wall, and a picture of all of my dogs together on the dock in New Hampshire….

What I’m trying to say is that it gets better. And you always have at least one person in your corner, fighting for you, even if it’s a gesture as small as sending you a picture of your cat or wishing you luck on a test. During the periods, it feels like you’re ending, and you don’t remember that it goes away or that you are never alone. But it does … And when the period is over, you have proof you can do it, and that you did in fact do it again.

Noli timere, friends. Breathe deep.