Mind Over Matter: UT students discuss personal struggles with anxiety disorders, PTSD

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Photo Credit: Melanie Westfall | Daily Texan Staff

Editor's Note: This is one part in a series about students and mental health. To check out the other stories, click here.

 
Before a routine trip back home during her sophomore year, communication sciences and disorders senior Denise Cavazos was out every week, participating in her sorority’s events and hanging out with friends. But after returning, it was a daily battle for her to get to class each morning.

She felt detached from her friends, and she didn’t feel like herself. She knew something had changed but couldn’t remember what. 

Cavazos avoided seeking help for months but eventually went to the CMHC where a counselor diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder, an anxiety disorder that affects 10 percent of college students. After several therapy sessions, she said pieces of the puzzle began to come together — a night at home, two loved ones, an explosive argument and Cavazos, standing there frozen.

After witnessing the fight, Cavazos said she wasn’t the same. “I couldn’t remember anything right after it happened,” Cavazos said. “As everything unfolded in front of me, everything inside me wanted to do or say something, but I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak.”

Her memory loss, severe anxiety and panic attacks are all common symptoms of PTSD. But even after her diagnosis and various therapy sessions, Cavazos still struggled to get the help she needed. She was torn between the constant pressure she said the University puts on students to graduate in four years and desperately needing time off. 

“It was getting hard to be who I was,” Cavazos said. “I tried my best to go out and do what I had to do, but it was like I wasn’t even there. I would be in class and get flashbacks of what had happened, and I would literally run out.”

Despite the fact that anxiety disorders such as PTSD are the number one mental health concern college students face, Cavazos said misconceptions associated with it detered her from seeking help. 

A UT English sophomore, who asked to remain anonymous, was diagnosed with anxiety at 10 years old. She said while she’s learned how to manage her anxiety over time, she still believes more could be done to educate people on how serious it can be. 

“I think a lot of adults often believe that, if you’re not an adult, your stress can never compare to theirs,” she said. “That’s not accurate. There’s a big difference between being stressed and having anxiety.”

While the sophomore received help before arriving at college, Cavazos said she was reluctant to confide in anyone because of the stigma surrounding anxiety and mental health. The friends she told were initially supportive, but she said they began to treat her like a fragile piece of glass after witnessing one of her panic attacks.

It ruined a lot of my friendships,” Cavazos said. “When I would have a panic attack, they would back off and wouldn’t know what to do. It’s hard to see someone you know go through that.”

Since returning to UT, Cavazos said she still has attacks and gets anxious, but accommodations provided by CMHC have allowed her to improve. Though she’s made progress, she said she’ll never move past the incident completely. 

“I have good times, and I have bad times,” Cavazos said. “Your mind and your body remembers so well. You can move on, but it doesn’t go away. It stays with you.”

If you or someone you know would like to talk to someone about anxiety or other mental health concerns, contact the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center at (512) 471-3515 or click here to find out more about CMHC's resources.