Tag Archives: anxiety

A Me Away from School

Do you realize that we spend approximately 20 years in some type of school setting? Daycare, pre-k, elementary school, junior high school, high school, college, and beyond (if you’re pursuing a higher degree). If we live up to 100, that’s a fifth of our lives!

Beyond that, the years that we’re in school are our formative years, the years we learn pro-social behaviors and develop our identities. It’s no wonder students have high levels of anxiety and stress.

I, for one, have a lot of my self-worth tied to school. To grades. To my lack of a college degree. I’ve let my academic mishaps define who I am, and let myself truly believe that I am a failure. Meanwhile, I tell the students I tutor that failing doesn’t make them failures; it is a way for them to learn and improve. Yet, here I am living the opposite.

After years of telling myself that school isn’t as “do-or-die” as I believe, I finally withdrew from college for an indefinite period in November. I tried doing so before, but I kept nagging myself into trying again before I was really ready. I kept doing the same ineffective thing time and again. All for the purpose of validation.

I used the excuse that the industry I want to enter requires at minimum a Master’s degree to justify my continuous stunts in school. It’s not untrue. There’s little one can do in human services without licensure in social work, especially in the clinical sense. But I knew, from the bottom of my heart, I was spouting bs. I’d say I was trying to rationalize because people pointed out the errors in the redundancy of my school approach, but I’m sure it was to convince myself I wasn’t just being stubborn. To pretend that the true motive wasn’t to make myself feel like I’m worth something.

It’s hard for me to take out the school element of my understanding of self because it’s so ingrained in me. The praises I received as a child revolved around my intelligence and speculation of what my future would hold. I spent years being in school being rewarded for good grades and being scolded or disciplined for poor ones. I compared grades with peers, believing that the number on the paper made the person. I couldn’t separate me, my intelligence and my capabilities from the scores on my exams and the grades on my transcripts.

I remember the first time I did poorly on my math test. It was in sixth grade and I got under a 70, maybe in the 60s range, but my standards were much higher at 11 years old. I bawled. I was so distraught and so upset. I also feared the repercussions of a failing grade. My classmates and friends tried to make me feel better, most also not doing very well on the exam. It didn’t work. I felt pathetic and worthless. I felt like a failure. Not doing well in what was one of my best subjects? Preposterous! Impossible! Pathetic! Stupid!

I wish I could say that I developed a way to cope and to dispel those feelings and thoughts, but I didn’t. I haven’t. To be perfectly honest, even now at 26 going on 27, there’s a chance I would bawl over a failing grade in a subject with which I feel confident. Even if I don’t cry, I would definitely despair and my thoughts would spiral into the dark negative side of things. I would jump from “Oh, I did poorly on one assignment” to “I completely effed up my chances at a degree and will fail out of school.” And it sure doesn’t help that I have legitimately been academically dismissed from a higher education institution. I know it’s not because of my intelligence or my ability to excel in a school setting, but logic doesn’t necessarily always go hand-in-hand with emotions.

So, because of this twisted self-defeating relationship with school, I decided to take some time in the workforce. Take some time to get to know myself better. Take time to write and go back to my roots and my interests. Go back to the very beginning of what I want to pursue academically. I hope that this is a worthwhile journey, and that I’m not “wasting my time”. It’s hard not to think that I’m just delaying the inevitable, especially with people from all around constantly pushing the importance of a degree in this current climate.

I have to be strong in my endeavor. Strong against the naysayers and the doubters. Strong against my own preconceived notions of success. It’s going to take a lot… I already want to sign up for the Spring semester. Not even a whole semester off from school and I can’t imagine not jumping back in. I really have to think, is that the best thing for me? Is it the right move?

I don’t want to keep repeating the same cycle as if I’m not learning from my past or my errs. I am. It’s hard though. It’s extremely difficult to not be in school when I don’t have a degree to show for it. It’s difficult because when I’m not in school, all I want is the academic challenge. Then, when I’m struggling with anxiety because of school (not the academics itself, but my unresolved feelings) all I want is to escape — to work and move forward with my life. It really is a vicious cycle… and I hope to break it soon.

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A New Journey

I should be graduating, but I’m not. I should be getting a diploma from SUNY Geneseo, but I won’t be.

My time at Geneseo could be considered an odyssey. It’s an epic tale of tragedies and triumphs marked by battle scars and memories. It took me four years away from home to realize that I’ve been cowering in fear and running from my true desires. I still believe that I attended Geneseo for a reason, and I think a big part of that reason is creating an independent identity.

Who we are is ultimately dependent on the people in our lives, our environment, and the things we’ve learned. A large part of us is formed through our families and the other part society and the education system. If you were to ask me who I am, I would only be able to answer based on those elements. However, I’m working on figuring out who I am away from family and school influence.

My self-worth was tied to others’ approval and grades. I took for granted all the other things in my life, and could not bring myself out of deep depression because of all my insecurities. Only recently was I reassured by my sister that school is just school, that I am more important, that my happiness comes first. Her little speech changed my perspective on a lot of things, and there were little building blocks along the way as well. I had supportive friends that kept pushing me to do what I thought would help me, I had professors who believed in me and urged me to do my best. After many repetitive conversations and reassurances, I finally made a life-changing decision.

I don’t mean to make it sound dramatic, but it’s a drastic change for me. I had an image in my head since I was ten of what my future would be, where I would be at 30 — detailing my education to the very end — but all those dreams came crashing by the end of my freshman year of college. It took me a while, but I managed to re-form a picture, something not so far ahead… but as life would have it, that too fell through. And when I finally settled with finality in my junior year of college what I wanted to do with my life, BAM another obstacle. And I kept trudging through senior year and not much improved. I’m not sure if this shows resilience or just plain stubbornness at my refusal to change my plans even when I knew they weren’t working. Nevertheless, I finally came to accept the reality of my situation–bringing us to the reason for this post–my new adventure.

PART ONE
I want to start off with the one thing I haven’t mentioned, but was the first thing I decided to do for myself.
On Sunday, May 18th, I am getting baptized. I won’t lie, during these few years I wavered in my faith. I didn’t foster my relationship with God because I was adamant about getting through these trials on my own. In taking this step, I am finally asking and accepting help. I want to show and prove my love for my Heavenly Father.
Moreover, the act of baptism makes me anxious. I have a huge phobia of public speaking, but it is almost abysmal to my fear of being submerged in water. I asked about alternatives, but I was told by the pastor that this particular church only baptized through submersion. Now my baptism won’t only be the physical act of giving my life to Jesus, it’ll also be a way of facing my fears, confronting them. I saw a quote that said

F-E-A-R has two meanings: “Forget a Everything And Run” or “Face Everything And Rise.” The choice is yours.

I choose to face everything because I’m not giving up. Not after all that I’ve done to get to this point. The quote definitely eased some of my anxiety of going through with baptism.

PART TWO
As I mentioned earlier, I will not be graduating as part of Geneseo’s Class of 2014. Instead, I am withdrawing from the college and taking some time for myself, finding a job, and applying to CUNY Hunter next year.
Ironically, the gap year and Hunter College were actually my plans after senior year of high school, but I was too afraid to act on them. So it took me four years to come full circle, and finally give me the opportunity to do what I intended. Now have the courage to go through with it, and for that I am grateful.
It would be a lie to say that the academics at Geneseo wasn’t vigorous, but it would also be a lie to say that that’s the reason I didn’t do well. I never found my courses incredibly hard, in fact, on my good days I excelled in them. I’ve learned a lot in classes and outside of classes, but there were many other circumstances that came into play. Things that were beyond my control, but that doesn’t make me bitter anymore, the obstacles I went through brought me to the place I am now. And it’s undoubtedly a great place to be.
The biggest challenge in making the decision to leave Geneseo was my preoccupation with what my family would say. My parents immigrated from Hainan, China to make a better life for my siblings. I was born via Cesarean section not too long after my family got to America. I became the first U.S citizen and since my birth, my parents and siblings tried their best to push me to my full potential. I was constantly reminded of the care my mom and sister provided, how much they sacrificed for my well-being. I watched and experienced the stress and strain my dad and brother caused to the family, and the hurt within everyone. I believed that it was my responsibility to keep everything together, my responsibility to be as perfect as I could. That being said, withdrawing (or in the more callous term, dropping out) seemed disgraceful, disappointing, and selfish.
But after struggles with depression and anxiety, I finally came to accept that I need to do things for myself too. How was I supposed to keep my family together if I couldn’t keep myself together? This became a motivator for me to pursue the course of action of changing my plan all-together. Originally I planned appealing my pending dismissal, but I figured there was no reason to subject myself to the the repetitions of previous semesters. My brother and my sister support me, I have yet to tell my parents, but they all want what’s best for me. That’s all that matters in the end–my happiness.

So I start this adventure with one goal in mind: learn to be happy with who I am and what I have.

-Ling