One in Five: The perception of others

Ashley Thornton is a second-year criminology and psychology major at St. Thomas University from Fredericton. She’s one of the co-founders and one of the co-presidents of the St. Thomas University Mental Health Society.

As someone diagnosed with general anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, I can attest to the fact that mental illness not only colours the way someone views the world, but also how the world sees them. 

Because of my diagnosed anxiety disorders, the world often sees me as a perfectionist, a busy bee, punctual, ambitious, organized and conscientiousness.

It also means I’m seen as uptight, competitive, time-urgent, self-critical, bossy, a workaholic, an overachiever and a catastrophist. 

In a clinical setting, I am seen as analytical, a high-achieving workaholic with obsessive compulsive personality disorder.

For my family, friends and acquaintances, it can be hard to understand the different behaviours, attitudes and thoughts I have that are fuelled by my anxiety. My thoughts and feelings may not seem rational to them, but to me, it is the only way of thinking that I know.

I’m often told to take a deep breath or to find coping mechanisms to change my anxious mentality. Though this advice is well-intentioned, it often sends me into a flurry of panic. I don’t know who I am without my anxiety disorders. They’re so ingrained into my personality that I feel if physicians had magic wands that could make my mental disorders go away, I would cease to exist as well. 

In order to determine the onset of my mental illnesses, a counsellor once asked me the last time I could remember not having an anxiety disorder. I didn’t hesitate before answering, “Probably the womb.”

My anxiety disorders have caused me pain over the years.

My post-traumatic stress disorder gave me ocular migraines so severe that I lost my vision and my speech became slurred. My panic disorder forced me to excuse myself countless times from class because of my frequent panic attacks fuelled by my illogical fear of academic failure. My general anxiety disorder forced me to overthink the most minuscule things for hours.

Finally, my obsessive-compulsive personality disorder has convinced me that unless I am capable of balancing a ridiculous amount of commitments at once, I am a failure who will never achieve her dream of attending law school.

Thankfully, my anxiety disorders have helped me adapt, improve and grow as a person. They have taught me to capitalize on the positive qualities I have. My busy-bee attitude has given me so many wonderful opportunities. My conscientiousness and time-management abilities have allowed me to maintain an excellent academic average, which allowed me to attend STU on a full-tuition scholarship. Most of all, my anxiety disorders have shown me which of my loved ones will not stand by me during the worst of my anxious flare-ups and have shown me who will always be there to support me. 

My most valuable piece of advice I can give to fellow STU students, regardless of whether or not they’re suffering with mental illness, is to always radiate kindness. You never know what mental battles someone else is fighting. A small compliment may shine some light on someone’s gloomy day. And for anyone suffering, please know you are not alone.

One in five is a bi-weekly column focused on students experiences with mental illness. If you would like to contribute, please send an email to

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