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I’m starting this letter by googling the symptoms of anxiety. It seems stupid. I’ve been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder since elementary school, and I feel like I should be familiar with the symptoms by now.

But I’ve become so used to the racing heart and intense fear of making the wrong decision that I often forget that these things don’t happen to everyone.

They’re feelings that spring right to the forefront as I write a letter about something that I’ve never been able to speak about publicly without crying, but I’m determined to write through the process this time.

I think I have so much trouble talking about being diagnosed with anxiety because it feels like admitting defeat. Like many people who struggle with anxiety, I am a perfectionist. I spend an excessive amount of time doing homework, sometimes to the point of being frozen with fear over not understanding how to get to a “good enough” answer. I’ve always strived for academic approval and looked for constant reassurance of my performance.

As a result, I often put myself in a box when it comes to what it means to be good or successful. I tell myself that I can’t be a good student and have extended time. I can’t be editor-in-chief and spend an hour sending an email. I can’t be normal and have anxiety. But I’ve started to realize that’s my anxiety talking. So instead, I’m taking time to redefine what normal means. I’m learning that asking for an extension on a stressful deadline or needing to take time for myself doesn’t make me less — it makes me human.

I hope this issue reassures you that no one you meet is perfect or “normal,” and that everyone has something they struggle with behind the scenes. We all have room to struggle and grow, and the greatest step toward feeling better is giving ourselves permission to do so.

My first step is telling all of you about my anxiety and hoping I can mention it more casually in the future. I’m learning that it is nothing to be ashamed of, and I hope you will realize that you shouldn’t be ashamed of your struggles either. Let's redefine normal together.

Take care,

Sydney Dunlap