Leah Beman served as the president for NAMI On Campus at Iowa State University for two years. She shares her mental health story in her own words:
Growing up I have always been an anxious child. I was scared of lots of things but never thought much of it. I thought it was normal to be nervous all the time and about almost everything.
The night before my first day of senior year I could not be more excited, but I woke up the next morning feeling nauseous and horrible. I only made it through one class and mostly with my head between my knees. This continued for the first few days. I really didn't know what was going on, but I was determined to push through and get over whatever it was.
Later in the trimester, I was sitting in class during a group discussion and all of a sudden, I felt my chest getting tighter and tighter. I felt overheated and I didn't know what to do or what was happening. There was no good time to ask to leave and I was breathing heavy so I didn't even know if I could get the words out to ask. I was getting dizzy and the room was spinning. I had to just sit there go through it until passed.
I later discovered this was my first panic attack.
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The trimester went on and my symptoms only got worse. After I had enough of hiding in the school bathrooms, overheating every day and my chest always hurting, I decided maybe it was time to mention it to my mom. We went to the doctor and a psychiatrist and I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety and panic attack disorder.
I am glad that I could take something that was a struggle for me and use that to help others.
At first, I felt so alone because no one understood what having anxiety was like. I couldn't explain why I had it or what I was scared of to anyone because I honestly didn't know myself. One of the most frustrating things about my anxiety is not knowing why my body is doing and thinking these things.
I ended my second trimester with 75+ absences due to anxiety. This is when my family and I realized I was reaching a point where I needed more help then I originally wanted to admit.
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I started medications which at first was hard for me and I had to try different ones to get the right one for me. I had to find a support system who could help me through it. This included the teachers in my school. I had to drop one class because the teacher didn't believe my mental health was real and was any reason for me to miss class. I learned I needed to surround myself with people to help and support me, not push me down.
I started therapy as well. This helped so much to get the conversation flowing about all my feelings and my therapist helped me understand that I was not alone in my mental health journey. I started talking about my mental health more to my friends, and the more I talked the better I felt, and they felt they could help me better. I spent time on the Internet (probably way too much time) looking up YouTube videos, blogs, and stories of people who also had anxiety and what helped them and how they got through their mental health.
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I also started eating better, exercising more, and getting more sleep. These are all things that I have learned over the years contribute to my anxiety. If I get less sleep or don't exercise as much as normal, there is a much higher chance I will be more anxious in the next coming days. That is why it is so important to stay on top of your health – physically and mentally. Someone told me to get coloring books, I thought that was ridiculous but turns out I love it. Who would have thought coloring was so fun and calming? Also, getting your thoughts out, whether it is to a person or journal, is helpful.
If you would have told me 5 years ago that I would be talking about my anxiety, I would have laughed so much. When I was first diagnosed, it was an accomplishment for me to even get in my car and drive to school. I remember being so terrified every day and not knowing why. But with the help of family and friends I was able to work up the courage to not just drive my car, but go into school, go to some class, and eventually get back to all my classes.
I got my degree, specifically in special education, in hopes to help younger kids with mental health disorder. I am an active advocate for others because of my mental health. I served two years as the President for NAMI On Campus at Iowa State University, today I continue to work on ending the stigma.
I still have hard days, and my anxiety may never go away, but I am OK with that. I am glad that I could take something that was a struggle for me and use that to help others. It made me who I am today, and made me passionate about helping others with mental health conditions.
Make It OK is community campaign to reduce stigma by starting conversations and increasing understanding about mental illness. Start by learning what a mental illness really is. Then, find out what to say and not to say when someone opens up to you. You can also help others by sharing your own story to help people know they aren’t alone. Learn more about how you can get involved at MakeItOK.org/Iowa.