I’m Only Human: A Reflection on Mental Health


I want you to take a moment to imagine a day in the life of a college student with an anxiety disorder. 

You’ve just woken up and your thoughts immediately start to race. Should I get out of bed? I’m so tired and it takes so much effort to. You begin to calculate how much time you have to get to class. What should I have for breakfast? Do I have enough time to make coffee? You ask yourself if it is even worth trying to face the day. Your thoughts become a balancing act between negatives and positives of facing the day. If I don’t go to class, I won’t succeed. If I don’t go, I’m not a good student. What if I make a mistake or ask a silly question? These are just some of the many thoughts I deal with every day. My anxiety is an ongoing feeling of fight or flight where I’m always wondering “what if?”

Who am I? My name is Kaylee Gutzke. I am a public health major with a minor in women’s and gender studies at Saint Louis University. I believe that mental health is important. I hope that by reading my story, you can find the courage to keep going no matter how hard things get. I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and depression when I was 17. For me, anxiety has been an uphill battle. Before my diagnosis I thought what I was experiencing was normal. I thought everyone worried nonstop about school, what people said, the future or how one was acting. Anxiety is a normal feeling that many experience at some point during their lives. However, an anxiety disorder is when this fear, panic or constant worry continues and impedes one’s ability to go about their daily lives. Personally, my anxiety can present itself as tense muscles, restlessness, tightness or pressure in my chest, concentration issues and racing thoughts. Certain situations can trigger my symptoms but with time I have become better at being mindful of these instances. Nevertheless,the ability to manage does not mean that I don’t still struggle with my anxiety and depression.

Many people who don’t know me often think that I have it all together and that I’m always smiling. Over the years I’ve gotten good at hiding my struggles and insecurities. I know everyone goes through rough days. As a result, I try to have an optimistic outlook. But there is much more going on behind that smile that you don’t see. Most don’t see me crying in the bathroom or sitting on the floor trying to calm my breathing or thoughts. You don’t see me fighting my thoughts. Every day is a new challenge. When I wake up I have no idea how the day will play out. I could start my day feeling anxious and it never ends up dissipating. Or I could be fine one moment, and the next have trouble breathing or focusing for hours on end. It can be debilitating. The most challenging part is learning how to keep pushing forward. Throughout my mental health journey, I’ve tried therapy, yoga/exercise, painting, journaling, visualization, meditation and different medications. Trying remedies for a while and having them not work out is exhausting. But that doesn’t mean that I’ve given up my fight for my mental health.

I think an important aspect of my anxiety is that I’m empathetic and a highly sensitive person. Because I’m an empath, I absorb energies from other people and the environment. It is difficult for me to distinguish someone else’s pain or emotion from my own. Being a highly sensitive person means I have a low threshold for stimulating environments. This can make it hard for me to wind down at the end of the day. Both of these qualities drive my desire to help others, but often it can take an emotional toll on me. Recently, we have lost two SLU students to suicide. I can not begin to describe the deep pain I felt. My heart aches because I know what it’s like to feel that suicide is the only option, when you feel like you are alone in this internal darkness and that it may never go away. But that is the mental illness talking, not you; you are not alone no matter how much it feels that way. I have struggled with depression and anxiety for years; by no means do I have it all figured out. I think the most important thing you can do is to take it one step at a time. On some days, simply getting out of bed can be the highest mountain to climb. It is important to take it one step at a time. Celebrate the little wins along the way and celebrate when you are feeling like yourself again! It will get better and there is always hope. I’m sending all my love to my fellow Billikens right now.