Rachel looked around at her friends and classmates laughing and enjoying eachother’s company when she remembered that this was what she was like before the stress and chronic anxiety began to set in. She remembered a time when she was laughing and smiling with her friends, but the change in her experience led her to recognize that people sometimes were masks of smiles and joy that are intended to cover up their true feelings of pain.
Junior High School
Rachel first began to experience intense anxiety during the spring year of Junior High, which was a particularly stressful time for most students. She had homework, AP classes, nightly soccer practice, pit band rehearsals, and a boyfriend. She was “overloaded” with too many activities. As a result of this intensive curriculum of study, sports, and relationships, she decided that perhaps she needed to drop something, and the one thing that seemed to be causing the most stress was her relationship with her boyfriend. “One night while I was sitting in my final dress rehearsal for the school play, I started thinking about my boyfriend. We'd been dating since the beginning of the school year, and because he was my first boyfriend, I was very inexperienced when it came to relationships. As I was sitting in rehearsal that night, thoughts about our relationship just kept popping up in my head. Where was our relationship going? Was it a good, healthy relationship? What was it really based on? While these were normal questions for anyone to ask, my reactions to them were both mentally and physically overwhelming. I couldn't focus on playing my music, and I started breathing too quickly and trembling, convinced that my boyfriend would dump me and my world would fall apart. I kept imagining only the worst outcomes from this situation, until finally I couldn't sit with the band anymore. I had to leave the auditorium during the last full dress rehearsal and run to the bathroom, where I began retching in one of the stalls.”
Something Else . . .
After that night of obsessively thinking about the worst possible outcome of her relationship, everything began to worsen. She missed the next 3-days of school as a result of her anxious overwhelm, and during the course of those 3-days she laid in her bed and worried constantly. She tried to think about what she needed to do in order to rid herself of her anxiety, and she decided that her fears were mainly connected with the nature of her relationship – As a result, she concluded that the relationship was causing the anxiety and so decided to end it. As soon as it was time, she told him about how she felt and broke it off. However, the anxiety continued. Something else was bothering her, and she was clearly overbooked with activities, so she thought that perhaps she should quit the soccer team. However, once she quit the team, she began to feel worse.
Rachel started to experience feelings of guilt and doubt. Was it right to have broken up with her boyfriend? Did he still want to be with her? What about her soccer coach and team-mates: Were they let down? Were they upset?
She was increasingly distracted from her schoolwork, and she continued worrying – This time she was worrying about what her family and friends were thinking of her. Just beginning her psychology classes, she decided that perhaps everybody would read the chapter on psychopathology and discover that something was wrong with her. Perhaps everybody would determine that she had some form of mental illness and was obviously deranged – What would they think then?
However, Rachel’s parents reacted in a generally calm manner when they had her meet with the school psychologist. Although she was irrationally terrified about being taken away to a mental health treatment center, the man only wanted to “Just talk”, which was very reassuring for her. The results of this dialog were that she went to see an outside psychologist who diagnosed her with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). He trained her on how to practice controlled breathing and rational thinking (not jumping to negative conclusions), but she still found herself worrying excessively. Finally, she took the next step with medication, which seemed to help tilt the odds in her favor.
Rachel began taking the medications and engaged in psychotherapy, and she began to feel better after a few weeks. Her anxiety became manageable, and she recognized that although she was not perfect, neither was she crazy. She now feels confident in knowing that there are other teens who feel the same way, which helps her to feel that she has more connection with others. Dealing with the anxiety made her feel stronger and more confident than ever before, and she has since learned about the value of taking risks rather than living a life of fear.
Rachel’s full story can be found at the following link: http://teenshealth.org/teen/your_mind/mental_health/anxiety_rachel.html#
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