The School of Anxiety

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I took me over 10 years to finish college.  That gives you kind of an idea of how old I am; I don’t like to brag about my age though.  For me finishing school was not easy.  Some of that stemmed from my laziness, my self esteem, but a lot of it came from my anxiety.

Being in college classes is so different than being in high school classes.  You can go through all of your college classes and never make a single friend, and that is okay.  However, social norms make you think that this is not okay, at least if you live here in the USA.  You are supposed to make lifelong friends in college, start networking for your future career.

A lot of my other friends actually made a lot of friends in school.  I did not though.  I made one good friend at my first university.  By the time that I finally graduated I made another friend in one of my random community college classes.  The fact that I made no friends in my university classes made me feel like there was something wrong with me, it still does sometimes.

I was just so scared that no one would like me that I refused to make myself open to people.  I was never the first to volunteer for groups or when you had to work with a partner.  Even if I did the reading, which rarely happened, I never wanted to talk in class.  If I had one of those really mean teachers that picked on quiet students I would be secretly killing them with my brain waves.

For about the first 5 years in my college career I pretty much let my behaviors control me.  I could not finish classes.  I would either drop classes or just not go at all.  Eventually I had to set up a system where I would pay for the class myself first.  If I passed the class my parents would pay me back.  If not, well the money was gone.  At the time I was living on my own in Boston, I only worked in a retail job so money was tight.  It was my hope that this would help to motivate me to at least finish my classes, even if I did not always get an A or B.

It worked for a time, however after awhile I started to think, okay, I can do this.  Then I would fall behind in a class and just stop going because my anxiety over the class got so bad that I just figured that it would be better if I didn’t even go.

Then, and this is going to sound really silly, I started to watch a television show called Judging Amy, it was on re-runs on TNT.  I had seen it before but never really paid attention to it.  When I watched it I saw that one of the characters on the show was a social worker.  I kept watching and decide that was what I wanted to do.  So I went back to the community college that I had been going to in Boston and setup an appointment to talk to one of the advisors there.

I wanted to be a social worker because I thought I could help other people who are like me.  Also, because I could speak for those who did not have a voice, for the people who got lost in the system.  As I did more research on what a social worker did I became more convinced that this was what I wanted to do with my life.

My mother was not thrilled by this idea; social workers do not make a lot of money.  My father did not say anything, he just listened to me.  I never told either of them that I got the idea from a TV show, I think that would have really freaked them out.

Anyway, as I did my research I realized that I was going to have to do an internship in order to become a Licensed  Clinical Social Worker and that I was going to have to get a Masters degree.  I did not even have an Associates degree for all of the college work I had done.  So I looked at my life, I decided that I always said that I wanted to move back to hometown, and that doing my internship in Boston did not make sense since I would be having to get my license somewhere else.

It took a year and half of careful planning but I finally managed to pack up my life and move myself back to my hometown.  Then after that I had to wait another year so that I would be able to pay the in state tuition for my community college.  While that was going on I got a new job and had a really great boss who was very encouraging of me finishing school.

My final try at school started in the fall of 2008 (although it might have been 2007).  I decided I could only take one class at a time.  My very first class was Controlling Stress and Tension and I picked it because I thought I could use any help that it gave me as I started school again.  I was off my medication that I took for anxiety attacks.  I really did not want to go back on the medicine.  My hope was that the class would help me find other ways to deal with my anxiety.  It did.  I got an A in the class. After that I mostly only took 2 to 3 classes at a time.

There were a lot of days where I was sure I did not want to go to class.  Either because I did not do the reading or because I just was not feeling good.  Sometimes I would be having a panic attack about going to class but I would drive myself to campus anyway.  Those days were the hardest but I would fight through it.

The first step was driving myself to the campus, I would tell myself, if I wasn’t better by the time I got to campus I would think about going home.  Then when I was sitting in my car if I still felt like running away I would talk to myself, out loud.  This probably looked weird to anyone around me but I did it anyway.  I would say, I should at least go in; if I can make it half way through the class that is better than not going at all.  That was how I would get myself to go to class on days like that.

The other thing I did was to make sure to schedule all of my classes so that they were right after work.  That way I would not have time to go home and think about going to class.  That was key, and why I could never do classes on the weekends.  If I had too much time between when I would get out of work and class then I would go home.  I knew that once I was home I would not leave.

After I started college again this last time I only ever failed one class because I let my anxiety get the better of me.  I repeated that class and passed it next time.  I think a lot of my anxiety came from the fact that I wanted to be perfect.  I knew that I was smart and that if I did not get an A it would be like failing the class.  These were absurd expectations to set for myself.  I would talk to my parents a lot when I was going to school.  My mom and dad were great support systems because they would tell me the only thing that I had to worry about was actually passing the class.  That they did not care what grade I got, and even if I did not pass the class it would not be a big deal but they knew I could pass it.

So that was how I made it through college.  I did have to go back on medication towards the end of my junior term (not year since I never did take more than 2 to 3 classes at time).  That had more to do with my work situation though.  I decided to go back on the medication because I did not want my school work to suffer from the fact that I was having a hard time at work.

The Controlling Stress and Tension class really helped me out a lot when I started to get super anxious about school.  I know that there are people who do not buy in to the whole self talk thing.  I really do though.  I will find myself driving somewhere and then a memory just pops up in my head about something super stupid, embarrassing, or that I regretted doing.  In the past those memories would consume me and bring me down.  After I took that class I would look at was going on inside my head and just say to myself, no, why I am thinking about this?  It happened in the past, it does on dictate the kind of person I am going to be today.  Saying that helps me to push the thought away from myself and lets me get on with my day.

I graduated last year, in December, with honors.  I was so excited.  The fact that I was finally done with my undergraduate studies was amazing!  When I walked across the stage I had the biggest grin on my face.  Since I do not have kids yet I can honestly say that was the happiest moment in my life thus far.