The stress of being an overtly shy student seems at times, laughable. Instead of remembering how to solve quadratic equations, I can only recall my palms sweating as the teacher randomly called on students during my freshman year geometry class. During my junior honors English class, I would passionately debate over the death of Romeo and Juliet in my own head while everyone else vocalized their disdain for the ending.
When the college application season rolled around, I found myself unsure of how to proceed but too scared to ask my counselor for help.
The interactions of anxiety and poor self-confidence shaped 17-year-old me. My mental illness overshadowed my passion for learning and growing. As a first-generation college student, my fear of seeking help proved detrimental to my personal and academic growth.
I have suffered from severe anxiety my whole life. Dealing with mental illness requires persistence. I began seeking treatment at a young age. After years of treatment, I got a hold of the seemingly inexplicable emotions that would arise and paralyze me. However, anxiety has a way of manifesting in different, unpredictable ways.
By the time I entered high school, my anxiety returned, more enduring than ever.
As an angsty 15-year-old with an inability to articulate my feelings, I began to further internalize my mental disorder and isolate myself. Everyone quickly labeled me the “shy girl.” Rather than dealing with my mental illness, I decided to disguise it as timidity.
My first attempt at applying to colleges proved disastrous. Being the daughter of immigrant parents came with its share of challenges. I had to figure out the intricate workings of the college system on my own. I ended up applying to multiple colleges during my senior year without any assistance with crafting personal statements or SAT prep. Now looking back at this period in time, I realize I’d inflicted self-sabotage upon myself.
When I graduated high school, I began to look sincerely within myself. I did not know what to do next, but I knew I wanted to continue my academic career.
I decided to attend my local community college, because of financial constraints and the hope that here I’d find personalized guidance for shy students like me. At first, my decision to stay home embarrassed me. I wondered if choosing to leave home for a four-year institution could be academically beneficial and confidence-building for me. However, turns out that I really needed this community college detour.
The summer before I began my college career, I received an email from a program that helped first-generation Latinx students transfer to universities in two years. The program provided free on-site counselors, personalized course schedules, and workshops to educate students on the process of successfully navigating the college system. This program seemed to be tailored to provide the guidance I craved. The only aspect that held me back was the idea of community. Each cohort of the program would spend a year taking the same classes together and participating in mandatory activities. This terribly unsettled me.
When I finally began to speak to my mom about my feelings about the program, she realized that I’d hid my anxiety behind my quiet nature.
She encouraged me to join the program tenfold, and I began seeking professional help with my anxiety again. Terror and growth marked my first year of community college the program proved grueling and demanding. It urged me to confront many aspects of my identity and educational path. Each student in the program needed to meet with their counselor every couple of months, as well as attend mandatory field trips and group activities. But my therapist encouraged me to push myself further than the requirements of the program: I joined a club and began taking on leadership positions, I fed the drive and passion for academia that my mental illness had suppressed.
Reminiscing about my high school experience, I realize that the academically ambitious, driven person I am today always existed inside of me. She just needed a push in the right direction, a dash of courage, some therapy, and a little bit of maturity to realize that she was worth fighting for. Quite often we confuse anxiety with introverted-ness, and sometimes they appear one and the same. However, when mental illness gets in the way of your goals, consider seeking help as the first step to finding yourself again.