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KAISER: Finding your place can help ease anxiety

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joe color sizedThe last time Marquette student media was not the highest priority for me, I was 18 years old and working in ice cream.

And I was terrible at it. I was so nervous out of the fear of failing to do right by the customer that I was a spaz of an employee. My hands shook as I scooped chocolate chips to place on the ice cream, making them fall everywhere. I stuttered and routinely undercharged customers out of fear of overcharging them because I couldn’t total things up on the cash register fast enough. Every day I worked at Cold Stone Creamery was a perpetual five-hour panic attack, and I was a mess. To everyone who had a thin milkshake or a sad-looking sundae in the summer of 2011, I apologize.

Those feelings did not change by the time I became executive director of the Marquette Wire, but my ability to deal with them did. I deal with anxiety. I did in 2011. I still do now, and that’s OK.

It was OK my freshman year, just starting out in student media, when I threw up on two separate occasions from overwhelming panic attacks. It was OK at the start of this year when I labored through student media orientation week, struggling to figure how to make the first full year of the Marquette Wire work, and be the first person in my position to make it work.

I didn’t always know it was OK, but it is. And since I know now that I’m nowhere close to alone, everyone struggling with their nerves should know it is OK, too.

According to a 2006 American College Health Association Survey, a whopping 75 percent of all individuals with an anxiety disorder will experience symptoms before age 22, increasing the likelihood it will start in college. Another 45 percent of female students and 36 percent of male students reported feeling so depressed it was difficult to function. And a 2011 survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness found that 62 percent of students with a mental health problem who withdrew from college did so for that reason.

To Marquette’s credit, the university does a lot to address mental illness. The counseling center is a great, comforting resource that any student in need should give a chance. Marquette’s attention to Mental Health Awareness Week is to be commended fully, and shows students that stigmas surrounding mental health can easily be forgotten.

But there also, I think, needs to be a point where you figure some of it out yourself. I use my left-brain – the analytical side – as a journalist, but the right brain – the creative side – is just as important. I started doing stand-up comedy when I was 19 against all my anxiety-induced impulses, started Marquette Wire’s satire blog, the Turnip, when I was 20, and fake presidential write-in candidate Pete Green after that. I’ve been booked for paid comedy gigs, and can say that’s where I’m most comfortable. And everyone needs a place like that, to knowingly be most comfortable.

Not every student is going to beat their anxiety by becoming a comedian, but the point is there is a way, and college is a perfect time to find it and realize everything is OK. Even now, it’s frequently a struggle to calm down, and I look back at college and know how anxiety caused some turbulence and made a lot of things harder. But, as I write my last words in the Marquette Tribune after four long years of doing so, I know it’s OK. It’s more than OK.

And I think I may celebrate finishing my time here with a big bowl of ice cream. If I spill the chocolate chips, that’s OK, too.

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