I haven’t seen the inside of a classroom since January 2020.
Every time I entered a classroom, I felt the gaze of 20 other sets of eyes staring back at me. My legs would shake and my heartbeat would accelerate. I was having panic attacks daily.
I physically couldn’t bear the idea of sitting in a quiet classroom and keeping my body still. I constantly feared the public humiliation of a panic attack.
The power of my social anxiety enticed me to switch to online school two months before the pandemic. I knew I couldn’t spend one more second inside my worst nightmare, so I made the change as soon as possible.
It felt so much easier to be at home with my dad, who worked from home long before the pandemic.
My daily panic attacks at school caused me to miss a lot of class time, so I was finally able to catch up in the comfort of my home.
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced my school to shut down and my peers to adjust to online learning, I was already ahead of the game.
Although I felt bad for my classmates, knowing I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t physically enter a classroom was reassuring, even if it was for different reasons.
In September 2020, Temple University announced most classes, including mine, would be online.
I wasn’t sure if I should be relieved or worried. Without being in the classroom, I wouldn’t be able to face my fears.
I was still on campus, though, and spent a lot of my time in Charles Library and the Howard Gittis Student Center. Easily enough, I was able to sit quietly and get my work done despite the other students surrounding me.
Maybe I was better at controlling my anxiety, or maybe it was just my medication that held me together. Either way, I was getting out of my comfort zone.
Still, I’d become accustomed to online classes, and I assumed I would be remote my sophomore year too.
When I heard quite the opposite, I was slightly fearful. I wasn’t sure how I would handle being in a classroom again.
In the past week, I’ve spent a lot of my time planning my fall schedule, as I’m supposed to register on April 22. Many of my classes don’t have an online option, so I’ll have no choice but to be in-person.
Every time I try to plan my schedule, I remember running out of the classroom to hide in the bathroom and asking my parents to sign me out of school on a daily basis.
I tell my family that I’m excited to see the inside of a classroom again to appease them, but I still worry every day. What if I have an anxiety attack and there’s no way to escape?
I know I have several months to prepare, but it’s hard to forget what I went through.
During my last therapy session, my therapist told me to say my negative expectations for next year out loud. That way, I would be ready for any uncomfortable situation in the classroom.
I imagined multiple scenarios of me having a panic attack during class and talked through them with her.
It was difficult for me to think negatively because I had been trying to push those thoughts aside, but it was comforting to find strategies.
I plan to keep fidgets or stress balls on me so I can stay concentrated when I’m feeling anxious in a social setting, as well as reach out to my friends and make deeper connections with students in the classroom.
I don’t expect myself to be completely anxiety-free in the fall, but I hope that I can enjoy being in the classroom and meeting new people again. I hope to find classmates to keep me company so I don’t have to be alone.
Most importantly, I hope that I can grow into the anxiety-free person I’ve been longing to become.
My anxiety won’t be easy to overcome, but in-person learning may be the change in my routine I need to recover.