It’s May of 2012, the end of my freshman year in college. I’m sitting at a small desk, staring down at my paper, gripping a pencil, having one of the worst anxiety attacks of my life. It’s my English 201 Close Reading final exam, but more than that, it’s my future.
I entered college dead-set on majoring in English with a Creative Writing emphasis. I’d been writing since the sixth grade, and firmly believed happiness, success, and fulfillment lay in the English department. I was going to be a writer. I would hone my craft, bring my weird ideas to life, and find support and friendship amongst my peers. I was going to be successful and happy, the opposite of who I was in high school.
Yet sitting in that classroom, struggling to analyze a story I’d read and dissected weeks ago, I felt like a failure. Nothing made sense. Everything I thought I knew about writing quivered to nothingness in the face of my overwhelming panic. I knew that my grade in the class was low and that I was going to bomb this final.
My hands were sweaty, and my shoulders were tight with tension. I didn’t dare look up at the people around me, especially my professor. I knew if I did, they’d see the panic and desperation in my eyes, and I would start crying and disturb everybody around me. I was so focused on willing the tears to stay unshed, I could barely write.
Maybe it was my severe social anxiety and depression. Maybe it was my lack of comprehension that bothered me. And maybe, just maybe, I was figuring out in the worst way possible that this wasn’t the right path for me.
I don’t remember if I cried or not after that final. I probably did.
But later, the more I thought about it, the more I realized I didn’t enjoy that class. I dreaded walking into the classroom, felt inadequate, and struggled with assigned essays. I rarely voiced my opinion in class, despite my professor’s urging, and struggled in group work.
In other words, I was miserable.
What did make me happy, however, was my introductory Japanese class. I was getting great feedback from my professor and thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in a new language and culture. I felt confident, which was odd for someone with low self-esteem. I could picture a future for myself, and that was rare.
So, I started my sophomore year as a Japanese Studies major. While I was intrigued by some of the English writing classes, I focused my energies on what I actually enjoyed learning. I received As in all my major-related courses, wrote a thesis I was genuinely proud of (which you can read here), and graduated in May of 2015 with a B.A. — all without any debilitating anxiety attacks.
Now, it’s odd to think that an anxiety attack, something normally horrible and dreaded, actually benefited me in the long run. Yet I can honestly say choosing a different major was one of the best decisions of my life. Had I not had that anxiety attack, I would’ve stayed on that miserable path of fear and doubt far longer than was healthy.
By no means am I recommending anybody rely on anxiety attacks to make critical life decisions, but I do ask that you take a deeper look at the circumstances contributing to your anxiety.
Where are you? What are you doing? What is happening in your life that is increasing your anxiety? Is there anything you can change to make yourself less anxious?
It won’t be easy, and it won’t be pretty, but you might discover something that will encourage you to choose a better path — and believe me, it’s worth it.