Ok, so I think now is a good time to make some sense of how social anxiety affected me at 6th form college. Hopefully in times to come I’ll be able to look back and think “I’ve come a long way since then!”
As I wrote before, I left college 3 months ago and I’m starting university shortly. If you’re not familiar with the English education system, college (sixth form) is a bridge between school and uni, usually attended from 16-18 (in my case 17-19 though) There’s a few different qualifications you can study after leaving school, and it’s your choice if you study any at all; in my case I chose the academic option of A Levels, where you choose 4 subjects in the first year and drop 1, continue 3 for the second year.
Two years ago I left my tiny independent Christian school of 20 and set out for college. I knew it would be very different from the school I came from but I took the bull by its horns and went for it. I’m glad I did it; I didn’t want to be stuck in a nice bubble forever and by taking subjects I could choose for myself at one of the highest ranking colleges in the country I really developed a passion for learning and for my subjects. I thrived academically at college, but not socially I’m afraid. Because I’ve had this social anxiety for a few years prior to college, steadily increasing, untreated. Put me into an environment of 2000 other teenagers I don’t know and what does it do? It skyrockets.
I was one of just 3 who graduated my school that year. Of the other two, one was my best friend who decided to go straight into employment and the other was a friend who started a different 6th form college the same time I started mine. I didn’t know anyone there when I started college. Most people knew others who’d gone to the same high schools as them, and amalgamated into cliques quickly that way. On the first day of college, I’d got talking to one girl but I knew she had friends from her previous school so come break time, I disapeared– I went and stood in a space by a bin in the massive dining hall where everyone stood talking with their friends (it was always a cram in the hall at break times!) I just twiddled my thumbs there and sweated till it was over. After break, the girl I’d been talking to asked where I’d been, she’d been expecting me to stick with her and talk among her group of friends! So I explained I hadn’t wanted to be a bother and she was taken aback. I could’ve kicked myself for missing an opportunity to make friends and integrate!
In 3 out of my 4 classes, I successfully made friends with people who sat next to me. At first I was ever so nervous but when people started talking to me in one on one conversation, I just talked back and things seemed to go fine from there! In English Language, my friend was also shy-natured and with few other friends at college, so we could relate to each other quite well. In English Literature I clicked so, so well with the girl who sat next to me, my shyness vanished, it was odd but great! In Pyschology I really didn’t have much in common with my friend but we still got along well, probably because she had no one else to talk to. And in History I just didn’t have friends. Our teacher kept shuffling us around and making us sit next to new people every few weeks but this had a counter-effect for me and my jolly S.A.D (see what I did there?)
At the end of the first year I dropped one subject and in the other 3 classes, everyone was mixed around and put in different classes so I no longer had friends to sit with. I didn’t manage to make friends out of those who sat near me in these re-arranged classes. I was shyer overall in second year. Just kept my head down and kept going– Made me feel so very independent but also lonely.
Jumping back to the start of first year, I did in fact “get in” a group of friends to sit with at lunches and breaks. There was a girl who sat in another part of the classroom in English Lit who also got the same train as me to college. We had some common interests and she very graciously made the effort to initiate convo on the way up to college. I ended up in her circle of friends for the next two years, but all the others had very different interests to me. They were sciencey, I was artsy. They talked about mathmatic equations and I blanched over; I mentioned essays and their eyebrows furrowed together like knitting needles. I wasn’t even into the same sort of TV programmes or films as them, generally speaking. I envy people persons (or is it people-people?) their abiltiy to engage in conversation with others about absolutely anything. I try to do this but my anxiety usually kicks in and creates a block so my efforts fall flat. Nobody ever said an unkind word to me at college yet I was always so paranoid about their perceptions of me, causing me to act rather like a recluse in second year.
Even in a college of 2000 you can be a recluse. Perhaps all the more so for that matter.
I’m going to leave it there for tonight, but I’ll write a Part 2 tomorrow; Brace yourselves!