While some disabilities are visible to the naked eye, many people go through life fighting invisible battles.
One such “invisible” disability is anxiety disorder, which affects 18 percent of the population, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).
The ADAA also states that while anxiety can be a highly treatable mental disorder, only one third of those suffering receive treatment.
Keene State College students spoke out about what it’s like attending college while battling an anxiety disorder.
KSC junior Avery Black said that like most others with anxiety, she has her good days and her bad days.
“When I first came to Keene, I was extremely bad, and then there was a point when going home would cause a great deal of stress for me,” Black stated.
Black said that initially, the hardest part about having anxiety was not having a name for what she was going through.
“I [was misdiagnosed with] ADHD at one point, [then] I was a problem child and then I was just sad,” Black explained. “It’s hard to handle something when you don’t even know what you’re dealing with.”
Black said she was finally diagnosed with anxiety three years ago.
In those three years since her diagnosis, Black said she has found a close group of people who are supportive and understand what she’s going through.
“I know some of them experience the same symptoms [as I do] and we take care of each other,” Black explained.
Black added that for her, it’s helpful to keep those supportive people around her whenever possible.
“I think advice I would give to [other students with anxiety] is always have someone who knows what’s going on with you because days when it’s getting really hard you’ll always have someone to hold your hand through it,” she said.
In addition to her close-knit group of friends, Black said that her comfort pet, a rabbit named Scout, does wonders for her anxiety.
“[Scout] helps keep me super distracted and she’s also a good hugger,” Black said.
As a junior at KSC, Kevin Aruilio has been living with an anxiety diagnosis for fourteen years.
Aruilio said his anxiety is often socially driven and it was hard for him to make and keep friends when he was growing up.
“I couldn’t ask people if I could go and do stuff with them because over time, I figured that was rude or intrusive,” Aruilio explained.
According to Aruilio, it was in high school when he became more self-aware with what was going on inside his head.
“Joining the school drama club and participating in the musicals [in high school] did help a bit,” Aruilio said.
“It wasn’t a tremendous leap forward in overcoming my anxiety, but I accomplished so much in theater that I couldn’t have been more proud of myself,” he said.
Aruilio said that after joining theater in high school, college was the next big step for him and his anxiety.
“[Now that I’m in college], I no longer participate in theater, but my anxiety has gone down significantly,” Aruilio said.
“I still struggle with my anxiety, but it’s not as much of a problem like it was three years ago,” he said.
Having anxiety, Aruilio often worries about his future.
He said, “I often feel like I won’t be able to accomplish my dream as a filmmaker and I’ll be stuck at a stable job where I won’t be happy.”
“When you have three severe disorders (ADHD, Social Pragmatic Communication Disorder and an anxiety disorder), it’s kind of hard to be confident on a major set,” Aruilio said.
All that aside, Aruilio has found ways to manage his anxiety when it feels like too much.
“Think before you act,” Aruilio said.
“The situation isn’t always as severe as you think it is. Remember to breathe, don’t be afraid to ask anything and always be yourself, even if you’re not perfect,” he said.
Junior health science major Kelly Hanley has been handling her anxiety since her freshman year of high school, six years ago.
According to Hanley, her diagnosis has affected many aspects of her life, including her social and academic well-being.
“Anxiety has prevented me from being as successful as I would like to be in school because I often struggle to even get to class some days,” Hanley said.
“Anxiety has affected many friendships of mine because sometimes people confuse my anxiety and take me not being able to always hang out, personally,” she said.
While Hanley’s experiences with anxiety can sometimes be crippling, she believes that she is making progress in spite of what others might see as a disability.
“My anxiety definitely used to hold me back from many things,” Hanley said.
“I think the hardest thing about having anxiety is that no one realizes I have it and I am very good at masking it,” she said.
Hanley added that the community at KSC has been extremely understanding to her situation.
Hanley said, “I have always been open about my anxiety and I think letting your professors know about what’s going on in your life is extremely important…at the end of the day, professors are people too and they may be more understanding than you think.”
Hanley’s advice to other students is to not let their anxiety, or other diagnoses for that matter, define them.
“Yes, anxiety is a part of me and many [others as well], but it is not the biggest part of me or the part that defines me,” Hanley said.
“I would recommend students to be open with their peers and professors about their anxiety because chances are the person next to you might have anxiety too, or at least be close to someone who suffers from anxiety.”
Hanley added that her anxiety almost prevented her from being interviewed by the Equinox for this article. However, she was able to overcome it.
Hanley said, “I chose not to let the fear of the mental health stigma control my actions about speaking out.”
Jill Giambruno can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org