Zac Carlisle is home alone. The uneasiness sets in. The full-body tremor starts. Tears begin to flow on flushed cheeks.
The darkness from an empty house surrounds him. Pacing comes naturally as he approaches the window.
He looks out, praying for his parents to return home. He has peered through at least 50 times. Every time he plies apart the blinds and his parents aren’t home, there is further agony. Finally, the waiting pays off, but nothing they say calms him down. Nothing helps. In the chaos of his mind, he isn’t even thinking anything.
Carlisle’s anxiety attack eventually passed, but the disorder has plagued him all his life. Anxiety is one of the most common clinically diagnosed behavioral disorders in America today. Approximately 15 million Americans suffer from social anxiety disorders. Of the college students in the United States, 13 percent suffer from an anxiety disorder.
Serious anxiety disorders are not to be mistaken for an advanced stage of stress. The two stand entirely apart. Stress can usually be dealt with using simple time management techniques or talking issues out, which is the solution for even some of the worst cases of stress. Anxiety disorders, however, typically hinder everyday functions and capabilities.
It is extremely difficult to understand how an individual with an anxiety disorder handles everyday life, even for those who suffer from it. Anxiety does not create an environment in the mind which can be easily explained in words.
Luke Hodges, a student who attends East Mississippi Community College, has been diagnosed with anxiety and is currently on medication for the condition.
“I have fears of failing, and then as a student, it is even worse – like not graduating or getting a degree,” Hodges said.
Hodges’ psychiatrist said the roots of his anxiety lie in a troubling past with his brother. He strives to make his parents proud of him by excelling in college. He does not want to be a burden to them because his brother let them down so much in the past. His efforts are magnified by what some call a monster: his anxiety. He recalls having had all his bills paid for six months and still remaining restless about making ends meet.
Anxiety is not rational.
Rachel Clair Franklin, a psychologist who helps students at The W, has grown accustomed to treating students who suffer from anxiety.
“This particular obstacle that students have of making friends and everybody is already kind of going through the whole [process of] finding their place when they get here and so somebody with an anxiety disorder is going to struggle even more with that,” said Franklin. “They may be anxious about going to the cafeteria or, you know, living in a residence hall with 400 people, and they have never done that before, and so I think they have a unique set of obstacles that they have to deal with.”
Franklin is essentially explaining what it was like for Carlisle and his voyage through higher education. Carlisle attended two universities before he was able to discover what worked for him and his anxiety. When Carlisle graduated high school, he attended Itawamba Community College, where he came face-to-face with his monster.
“I was enrolled at ICC. When I got on campus, it was just too much for me coming from a high school where I graduated with 77 students, and then get to a campus where it’s 400. It just blew up in my face,” Carlisle said.
After seeking medical treatment and therapy, Carlisle was able to overcome his anxiety for the two years he attended ICC. Then time for university came. He thought he was going to go to Mississippi State University, but after student orientation, he knew it was much too big a place for him.
The University of Mississippi offers classes at a second campus near where Carlisle was from, so he also thought that would be a good fit. After one class, he knew it was still far too much for his anxiety to allow.
“I was a nervous wreck waiting for that hour to go by,” Carlisle said. “I didn’t go to my next class. I went out to my truck and called my dad. I broke down crying because it just scared me. There was a transition from social anxiety to performance anxiety. I had made that transition and got over my fear of social anxiety, and it became academic performance anxiety.”
Carlisle was able to find his place at The W, receiving hands-on education in smaller classes. He now works at a television news station in Tupelo, which is a highly stressful profession.
“Through counseling, medication and everything like that, students with anxiety can make it through college,” said Carlisle.