Hidden disorders

Maddy Placik and Caroline Rabin, Executive Lifestyle Editor and Page Editor


In early September, senior Jessica Rubin was diagnosed with panic disorder, a type of anxiety, after having a series of panic attacks.

According to psychologist Joel Carnazzo, despite popular belief, almost everyone has anxiety at some point in their life.

“Unfortunately, there are those people who have anxiety more often, say every day sometimes, and they have it just more intensely so that they have a hard time not worrying about something,” Carnazzo said.

According to Carnazzo, there are four main types of anxiety disorders, which include phobias, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Carnazzo said that those who are diagnosed with panic disorder have usually experienced panic attacks.

“[A panic attack] is possibly the scariest thing in the world,” said Rubin. “It … feels … like an out-of-body experience, and [I will] start shaking, and … like my really, really bad ones [I will] just shake and cry, and I just don’t know what’s going on, and it’s very hard to … stop them. You just kinda have to wait it out and they can last a few hours.”

According to Rubin, she had panic attacks before September, but she did not know what they were. It was not until she started having panic attacks every day that she went to see a doctor.

“[The panic attacks] started happening every single night for, like, two weeks and it started affecting [me] all day and I went into a very deep state of depression because of them,” said Rubin. “I was just staying in bed and not doing much … it was the end of summer and I told my mom that I wanted to go talk to a therapist, and [the therapist] recommended that I go to a doctor … because she couldn’t diagnose me medically. So I went to a … psychiatrist who diagnosed me, and now I see both of them.”

According to Rubin’s mother Michele Rubin, her daughter copes with her anxiety by seeing a counselor once a week, using medication and trying to avoid her triggers.

In Carnazzo’s opinion, there are stigmas attached to mental health disorders, such as anxiety disorder.

“I think that the worst part of a stigma in general about mental health, is that we often think … when people talk about somebody [who] goes to a therapist or has a mental health disorder … that means that … there is something really wrong with them, but most of the time [that is] just not the case,” said Carnazzo. “For instance, if somebody comes to therapy, usually I think they’re more brave because they are willing to look at what’s going on with themselves and face it, rather than try to ignore it.”

According to Carnazzo, one of the ways to treat anxiety is through cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is “a short term therapy that works on helping people identify their thoughts, and how their thoughts influence the way they feel and how they react to situations,” Carnazzo said.

Carnazzo also said that another method of treatment besides therapy is the use of medication. In Carnazzo’s opinion, a combination of medication and therapy is usually better than the use of one or the other alone.

According to Jessica Rubin, her anxiety does not affect her learning abilities in school, but it has affected her concentration when she has had bad nights before, or has felt a panic attack coming on.

When first diagnosed with anxiety, Rubin said she let the label of anxiety affect her and used it as an excuse to avoid a lot of things before realizing she could not do this.

“I realized just how many people have [anxiety], and … I’ve … met a lot of people and realized that they suffer through it too, and we can bond and connect and support each other,” Rubin said.


Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder

Junior Philip Ring recalls how messy he was in kindergarten. He remembers how he always misplaced his school work and how aggravated his teachers and family would become when he was not able to find what he needed.

Ring’s challenges became apparent to his family, teachers and classmates. After struggling to stay engaged with his schoolwork and suffering from his disorganization, Ring was taken to see a doctor.

Following testing, the diagnosis was reached that Ring had attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). According to Kathleen Nadeau, director of the Chesapeake ADHD Center of Maryland, this is a disorder that affects a person’s ability to focus on a task and his or her organizational skills.

Later, it was also discovered that Ring had executive function disorder (EFD), a specific type of ADHD.

Nadeau describes EFD as a complex set of higher-order cognitive functions that inhibits people’s ability to set goals and accomplish them. This includes planning skills, follow-through skills, problem-solving skills, ability to direct focus and the ability to gain control over feelings and impulses.

EFD is a product of Ring’s ADHD that further impairs his organization and his attention span.

Nadeau said that the problems that people with ADHD encounter are not the product of a short attention span, but rather of their ability to direct their attention productively.

Eleven years after being diagnosed, Ring still has to closely monitor his disorder with medication and constant mental reminders.

“It’s just me needing to really focus,” said Ring. “If there is something that really interests me, that really garners my attention, it will allow me to focus, and I will be engaged the entire time as opposed to the times when I don’t find something interesting and just don’t pay attention.”

According to Nadeau, high school students with this disorder might find it difficult to compete academically at the same level as their classmates because the lack of organization of their thoughts and belongings get in their way.

“ADHD can affect the way a person organizes their ideas,” said Nadeau. “This affects the way high school students who have ADHD approach reading and other assignments.”

In his experience in high school, Ring has found that although teenagers can be judgemental, he has never felt criticized by his peers for his disorder.

In general, his teachers have made accommodations for his disorder. However, according to Ring, there have been times when teachers do not understand how the disorder affects his work.

“Once I left homework at home and when I asked the teacher if I could turn it in the following day for the same credit, or at least half credit, she said I couldn’t get any credit for it,” said Ring. “This just frustrated me because it’s something that affects me differently than a student without ADHD.”

Nadeau said that schools can be more helpful to students if they provide education to teachers about the challenges of ADHD. In addition, if there was an easier way to take extended time on tests or if there were more opportunities for tutoring or coaching, schools may be better able to assist students who have this disorder.

From what Ring observes in his day-to-day life, at school and in the “real world,” he says that he is inclined to believe more people have ADHD than are currently diagnosed.

“There is general agreement that the condition is generally underdiagnosed, especially in less urban and less educated populations,” said Nadeau. “It is a common disorder that exists to varying degrees in 5-10 percent of the population depending upon whom you ask.”

Ring said that ADHD has forced him to be self-motivated and more responsible. Ring tries to improve his responsibility because he would like to be known for something like his humor rather than as the person who loses his belongings easily. He said he does not use his ADHD as an excuse.

“I’m very proud of Philip,” said Ring’s mother Linda Ring. “He doesn’t let his ADHD define him.”