Editor’s note: Olivia Smith is an employee of the Rocky Mountain Student Media Corp., the parent company of the Collegian.
CSU student Olivia Smith has bouts of anxiety and depression.
“I didn’t know for a long time that they were a big deal until maybe middle school (or) high school,” Smith said. “I kind of always dealt with it … with that kind of thing going on in your life that’s the way it is and you accept it the best you can.”
According to Smith, her two biggest triggers are school and homesickness.
“Currently, I can’t really control how I feel about school,” Smith said. “It makes me really anxious. And most of the pressure is something I put on myself. I expect the best out of myself.”
Smith said she uses CSU Counseling Services for the tools she needs to handle her anxiety and depression.
“Anyone that’s ever been to counseling could tell you that it’s painful. It’s really tough,” Smith said. “I thought they were going to think my problems were stupid, or they were going to ask what is wrong with me –– this is not a problem, stop it, get over yourself, bye.”
The first time she used counseling services was her freshman year. A friend of hers got alcohol poisoning in the residence hall and as she was trying to help her, they by chance ran into a police officer outside the hall. Smith and her friend were questioned by the officer and while no police charges were filed, both students recieved charges through CSU’s disciplinary system. Smith’s charges were ultimately all dropped, but the situation caused immense emotional distress.
“It gave me like a terrible anxiety attack,” Smith said. “I was very much in crisis mode at that point, but afterwards I couldn’t stop crying because it freaked me out so bad. She was able to come through, but we got in trouble. We got caught by the cops. Our RA got involved and we had to go through the resident discipline system. I was just trying to help her and take her to the hospital.”
Campus police originally cited Smith for having alcohol on campus but later dropped the charges, she said.
“After that I wasn’t doing as well in some of my classes and my roommate at the time was never there so I was always alone in my room,” Smith said. “So, I just started avoiding everyone and hoping they would just leave me alone. Which wasn’t helpful and didn’t make anything better. Actually, I started to realize that I was feeling really depressed.”
That’s when Smith began using CSU Counseling Services.
“They try to help you understand and recognize that your responses to things aren’t actually the right way,” Smith said.
She said she would think of all the ways that everything could go wrong and had trouble controlling her thoughts.
“It’s called crooked thinking and is something the CSU therapists teach that’s not appropriate when you’re going through behavioral therapy,” Smith said.
Instead, CSU therapist Janelle Patrias recommends regular exercise and guided podcasts to destress. Asking for help, she said, isn’t a bad idea either.
“It’s always important to consider professional counseling. In addition to that I think there’s a lot of things that people can do to actually manage their stress,” Patrias said.
Between counseling and the antidepressants that Smith is taking, her episodes are more manageable, but she said it doesn’t make them go away completely.
“A lot of people think that if they take the medicine they won’t be depressed and it doesn’t really work like that,” Smith said. “I still can have panic attacks and things like that even while on medication. So it doesn’t fix your problem – that’s not what they’re meant to do.”
The medication doesn’t mask the symptoms but helps her deal with them a little better.
CSU Counselling Services pharmacologist, Andy Kline spoke about the most commonly prescribed and effective anti-depressant out there.
“For depression/anxiety I would probably say Lexapro,” Kline said. “There’s no anti-depressants that are listed by the FDA as having a potential for addiction … and there’s no antidepressants that are scheduled as a controlled substance. Which means they have potential for addiction. Does that mean none of them are addictive? No. People can become addicted to them but according to the FDA, the addiction potential is low to none for all antidepressants.”
There are risks associated with taking certain types of medication and everyone’s needs are different. For Smith, the antidepressants help a little but for others they may not do anything.
Smith had another problem at CSU even after being prescribed medication by CSU Counselling Services. She wanted to set herself apart from other students in her major so she took on a research job at CSU.
“I worked directly with a grad student,” Smith said. “Finals week got really hectic and I got really, really bad anxiety. And I got a panic attack and had to leave campus and go home and sleep it off. I just couldn’t hold it together. It’s just really, really awful. So I called my grad student and let him know I really couldn’t come in for the full time I was allotted.”
For the next six weeks Smith tried to call, email and text her grad student who never replied. Eventually she heard he had fired her from the research for her aloofness and lack of commitment.
“I wasn’t up front with him about the fact that my anxiety might affect my work,” Smith said. “I wasn’t upfront with him about the fact that I had a panic attack and that I was feeling very uncomfortable. My anxiety was really high that week. I was too afraid to tell him that things were going bad. I really regret that now.”
All higher education institutions must supply an equal opportunity for those with disabilities, according to the American Disabilities Act of 1990. If Smith was upfront about hers, then she would have been given more time to complete the research.
“People have a hard time sharing that kind of stuff with friends or family because its like there’s two parts of yourself – you and then the depressed part that you don’t like, that you are angry with or frustrated by. It’s hard to feel that other part of you is something you shouldn’t be ashamed of and a lot of it is just your brain chemistry.”
Smith was diagnosed with masked depression by campus therapists, meaning her outward behavior masked her inside feelings. She wouldn’t let anyone know, which added to her stress.
“My recommendation to anyone who feels like they might be going through something stressful and they might be feeling depressed is to seriously go talk to the CSU Counseling Center. It’s free,” Smith said. “It’s really scary but it made all the difference to me to talk to someone who’s not judgemental about it and who is basically on your side.”
It’s a decision that could change your life, she said.
“It’s just like anything else that you do –– and it’s really hard to talk yourself into, but once you decide you deserve to be happy and that you are not going to let it control your life and you take the steps… then you will start feeling better.”
Collegian Reporter Scott Fromberg can be reached at email@example.com.