Dealing with anxiety sucks.
I worry about anything and everything; worst case scenarios are constantly running through my mind. I second guess each decision I make and never know if I can trust my gut. Anxious thoughts hold me back from actually going out and doing certain things, cause I am too concerned about possible mishaps. I’m constantly worrying about the things I haven’t done yet and things I have done in my past. I fixate on small things that might not seem like a big deal to other people, but that I can’t get out of my head. Sometimes it can feel like a never ending, exhausting cycle of doubt and fear. However, despite these difficulties, supportive friends and family, therapy, and medication are things that have helped to keep me balanced and breathing. While I have always kept in mind how incredibly lucky I am to be able to have these things, I did not start to fully comprehend just how privileged I was until I started connecting with people at Larkin Street.
Throughout my life I have consistently had issues with stress, worry, and fear. Though these are common feelings that everyone experiences, my encounters with them caused some distress. When I was in third grade, my parents sent me to see a therapist because of how concerned they were about my behavior (I was constantly on edge, extremely quiet and shy, etc.). The therapy definitely helped me to open up more and be a little bit more outgoing. As I progressed through school, the small progress I made stuck with me in that I wasn’t the shrinking violet I was, but the anxious thoughts didn’t disappear. I would stay up all night stressed about doing well in school and finishing assignments. I couldn’t watch “end of the world” movies because I started to think they were actually happening. I developed a fear of flying and started stopping myself from taking part in activities cause I was worried about what might happen.
Coming to Duke, put a test to my mental health. I was under much more pressure with starting new (and harder) classes, meeting all new people, living in a new home; it was a lot. I was overthinking everything and started having mild panic attacks. Though my mental health is not nearly as life-altering as I know exists, it is still something I had to deal with. In my second year at Duke, I realized it was time to seek professional guidance. I started visiting CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services) and getting counseling, which really helped me. It felt good to talk to someone, an objective individual, about all the things going on in my life and running through my head. My visits became weekly and I even saw a psychiatrist at one point to discuss different treatment options. Though I was more hesitant in seeking help, the opportunity to try it was something I always had.
I have always had the privilege of being able to access and receive services whenever I needed them. Unfortunately, the case is not the same for a majority of homeless youth, including clients at Larkin Street. A lot of the clients are estranged from family, or not in touch, leaving them without that basis of a support system. Taking away the strength a family can be, can be scary and traumatic. Not having someone to depend on is arduous. Though Larkin Street is able to connect clients to services such as psychiatry and therapy, it can be hard to consistently make it to appointments or have seeing a therapist be a priority, especially if a client is still trying to figure out where they’re spending each night or when they’re getting their next meal. Another issue can be getting medication and even trying medication when clients have been prescribed it. Trying new medication and gauging how you react to it is something you want to do in a calm, stable, environment which a lot of homeless youth don’t necessarily have complete access to. Though there are challenges, Larkin Street does its best at helping clients with mental and physical health issues such as with the free clinic located in one of their main locations which provides comprehensive primary care, sexual health services, STI testing and prevention, as well as behavioral health care (therapy and other psychological services).
The topic of mental health has come up at 1020, the learning center in which I am placed. A couple of the clients here have voiced their personal struggles with mental illness — one client being more vocal than others. To begin with, the first impression of this client was not actually him but rather his cat that accompanies him everywhere. While I was surprised to see an animal in the classroom, I quickly realized the cat acts as a source of comfort for the client. Similar to the way in which I see my family as a support, he sees his cat. As we all became more comfortable with each other, he began to share more of the issues he faced regarding his emotional and psychological states. He noted that he has issues with anxiety, sometimes facing panic attacks, as well as hallucinations, possibly indicating at an onset of schizophrenia which often starts to present itself at this age (16 to 25). In one instance, I was having a conversation with the client when mid-conversation he stopped talking and had to walk away. He later told me that he looked over to me and thought he saw me shape-shifting into another creature. Though this is something he says he’s learned to recognize as a hallucination and not reality, which is an incredible feat within itself, having random visions like that can be terrifying. Not being able to differentiate between what’s in your mind and what’s actually happening is not only frustrating but can also be dangerous. Another time, we were talking about music and what we like to listen to when he mentioned that listening to music can transport him into another world, from which he had to learn to escape.
While this client has participated in therapy and has been prescribed medication, he still faces unfair circumstances. In talking about medication, he mentioned how the medicines that would be the best for him to take are incredibly expensive and completely out of an accessible price range, so he has to test other drugs to see what could treat him equally as well. During my time at 1020, he started the process of trying new medications and monitoring their effects on him. Though he is trying, testing the medications has actually kept him out of class: one kept him up all night while the other made him too sleepy to do anything. While he is doing his best to feel and be well, the process has caused him to miss out on other important things in his life. He has mentioned a support system within friends, but he also mentioned that the relationship between him and his family is not very reliable. On top of this, this client in particular is still in search of a long-term housing placement. At the moment he is staying in a shelter. While this is better than nothing, it is still essentially just a bed to stay in at night. Clients aren’t allowed to hangout in the shelter during the day and only come back to sleep. As well, this client in particular was at the very end of the amount of time he was allowed to stay at the shelter. Regardless of if anxiety or other mental health concerns are things that already affect you, dealing with all of these issues at one time is excessively stressful and panic inducing. Just getting up every morning is an accomplishment. I am able to manage my mental health but that is only through extensive systems of support, so I can’t even begin to imagine where I would be if I had to face the same issues as these clients and not have the resources I currently have at my disposal.
This client is not alone in his struggles whatsoever. Even within the classroom, other students were chiming in with their similar feelings. While there are a lot of youth who deal with mental illness before they become homeless, there are also a lot of youth who develop mental health issues, or have their mental illnesses worsen, because of being homeless. A lot of youth endure trauma, both before and after, that has severe effects on their psychological well-being. This is not to say homeless youth are completely helpless, but that they deserve a lot better treatment (socially, politically, etc.) than what they currently receive. Though there are some resources available to the youth, especially those emphasized and accessible through Larkin Street, this is not the case everywhere and for everyone. Acquiring the skills of how to cope with anxiety, depression, or any mental illness should not be a privilege. Everyone deserves to have the chance at being healthy and in control of their lives. I’ve learned that mental health status is not something to look down on nor be ashamed of; it is something a great deal of the population faces. Getting well should not be as hard as it is made out to be and no one should have to face it alone.