FEATURE FRIDAY | Afshan Nasseri

FEATURE FRIDAY | Afshan Nasseri


I graduated in the spring from McGill University in Montreal, where I got my BCom in Strategic Management & Classical Arabic. I'm currently Freelancing in the Digital Marketing space and creating a startup advisory in the International Education sector. I have a passion for anything South Asian, and have a dream to go to every state in India and make a coffee book about my experiences! I'll be talking about my struggle with developing Anxiety upon reaching University, and my journey with my diagnosis and how it affected my success (or lack thereof) in school.


So! Going into my first year of McGill University, an absolutely huge school for those of you who don't know (10,000 students per year), was both extremely exciting and nerve wracking.

I came from a small, college prep school in the suburbs of Massachusetts where I had been since the 2nd grade, and quite clearly I had become overly comfortable there. At McGill I had suddenly begun to lose my voice in class, just due to intimidation of feeling like I was not as knowledgable as others about certain business and quantitative concepts. Balancing schooling, my social life, and my time consuming dance team, had become difficult beyond words, but I just tried to stay afloat.

I started developing physical reactions from the amount of stress I was under, in the form of rashes and other very uncomfortable bodily reactions. Still, I couldn't slow down. The issue amplified as I had to take math classes in both semesters of my first year. I had always had this kind of "phobia" of math, where I tried to push it as far away from me as possible, but of course, that couldn't happen as a Management major. I absolutely could not keep up in my classes, and the pace of the teacher scared me even more. I really felt like I just could not grasp the concepts.

On my Linear Algebra and Probability Final, I had my first panic attack. Our exams happen in our gym, with hundreds of other students frantically writing next to you, a tense environment to say the least. So what does a panic attack on an exam look like? It essentially means you go into fight or flight mode, and mine was much more on the flight side. I felt trapped. I tried to figure out ways to leave my desk, but obviously I was bound. My mind went in a million different directions, and not in the ways I needed it to go. I had probably taken half the exam to strategize where I would transfer to, and what major I would next pursue, to stay as far away from math as possible.

I failed my exam, felt as though I had been through death and back, and stayed in the dark, under my sheets for the rest of the day. It's a sensation that makes you feel absolutely incapable. Sadly enough, it's a mind game. At that point I hadn't even been diagnosed, which really made me blame it on myself, rather than thinking there was something physically wrong with me. These panic attacks began to occur on every exam, even the ones I felt like I could have aced.

Finally, after describing what would happen to my parents who are both in the medical field, they told me that I probably have some type of test-taking disorder. I got diagnosed with Test / General Anxiety. By then, my anxiety had already begun to pop up in different ways, which made things scarier because it was less contained. An incident had occurred at the library in my school in which I was publicly embarrassed and wrongly accused of something I hadn't done, and from there everything had just spiraled downwards further. I couldn't go to my classes. I couldn't enter certain buildings on campus. I stopped attending certain social events. I couldn't book flights. I couldn't do paperwork. I couldn't study properly. I'd feel trapped in certain environments, and had a difficult time feeling stable.

I never wanted to go on medication because I felt I could handle it myself. Which I could, likely because I came from a very supportive household. Sadly, the way I learned how to cope was having to experience many panic attacks and realize what exactly was triggering them.

Through a journey of self awareness, in combination with the support of family and friends, I was able to eventually start ending my panic attacks before they got to me. Yes, they do still happen every so often, but I feel so much more capable and in control of something I really thought was going to have the ability to control my whole life, and worth.

Everyone in my family pronounces my name differently because I'm mixed race, and it's both an Urdu and Farsi name. My Iranian grandparents and my dad will call me the Persian way, my Indian grandparents will call me the Urdu way, and my mom calls me her own made up fusion. It's all just very confusing!!

Ayatul Qursi Necklace!

Just knowing that so many people have probably been through what you're struggling with, and have gotten through. That always makes me feel like I can do it too.


Thank you to the wonderful Afshan for sharing her story with us 


A great reminder that it's okay to feel confused and out of control. It's part of our journey of self-discovery and strength. 


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