“Then David said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.” 1 Corinthians 28:20
Recently I had an incident in one of my classes that has really inspired me to always strive to inform others whenever I am put into a situation where my anxiety level is high.
I am in the Honors program at my local community college, which means I enroll in exclusive Honors courses every semester. For my Fall 2020 semester, my Honors class is Theatre Appreciation. If there was one thing I was not anticipating in the study, it was the surprisingly high energy level and childish antics of my professor. Sure, we learn a lot, but he is a professional stage actor. He tends to embrace the dramatic.
For my school, some of our courses have returned to face-to-face in-person classes on our campuses. Of course, social distancing is maintained, temperature checks are required to gain entry to buildings, and you must have your masks on at ALL TIMES.
Due to being in-person, my professor’s antics are more outlandish and targeted then they would be for any virtual course.
That being said, we have quizzes every class (which is only on Monday and Wednesday mornings) over the chapter of our textbook we were assigned to read. These quizzes are always five questions, and he has all the PowerPoints that we have access to for the whole semester. Also, he gives us some “hints” while taking the quizzes at the beginning of class, sometimes by emphasizing certain words or making specific hand gestures. He has made it clear that it is effortless to get 100% on all of the quizzes.
However, one Monday a few months ago, I studied for the wrong quiz. I sat down in my seat, and when he pulled up the PowerPoint, I realized my mistake because none of the questions looked remotely similar to the ones I had prepared for.
I took a deep breath and composed myself. Ok. Not a big deal. I could just take the bad quiz grade and move on. I wouldn’t dwell on it.
I filled out the quiz to the best of my ability and turned it in. Our professor typically gives us a chance to go back over our answers with additional hints if he sees any wrong responses. However, since I knew that I had studied the wrong section, no hints would help me get the answers right. Also, I could feel myself trembling, and my breathing was becoming erratic, which I recognized as early signs that my body was starting to have an anxiety attack.
In order to avoid my anxiety in the situation growing any larger, I handed him my quiz and said in a very serious voice, “I don’t want to see it again.”
He looked at the paper over and asked me to try again on one of the questions. I did, and out of desperation and embarrassment, I scribbled down some random (clearly wrong) answer. When I gave the paper back to him, and he read my new solution, he chuckled, in a good-natured way, I assume, but at that moment in my frazzled state, I took it as being mean-spirited.
I felt my pulse quicken as he continued to poke fun at me and some of the other students who had missed one or two questions. After a few minutes of teasing, he said “Well, whatever. The quizzes aren’t that big of a deal.”
I now felt even more frustrated and defensive. Before I could stop myself, I blurted out “Then why do you make them seem like they are?”
Of course, this might not seem disrespectful to anyone else. But considering the “yes sir no ma’am” environment I had been brought up in, I felt that what I had done was comparable to spitting in my professor’s face. Not only was I frustrated and hurt, but I also now felt ashamed of myself for how I reacted to the situation.
And there it was—an anxiety attack. I could feel my breathing become irregular, and I tried to do some of my breathing exercises, but every time I tried to inhale deeply, I was stopped by my cloth mask pressing against my face. This increased my panic, and I could feel myself starting to hyperventilate.
No. I would not let this stupid thing make me miss the lecture.
I gritted my teeth and started doing some therapeutic tapping on my wrists that I had recently learned from a PTSD therapist. It helped me get my breathing under control, but I was still shaken for the rest of the lecture and did not participate, which was very unlike me.
I silently left when class was over and promptly drove home, not staying to talk to anyone like I normally did. I told my mother what happened and told her that I felt I should send an email explaining what had happened.
I had explained on the first day of class that I have generalized anxiety disorder, but in my experience, people often forget that you have anxiety or depression or any other kind of mental illness if you are able to cope well and function normally in public.
So I said a big prayer, sat down at my desk and wrote my professor an email. It explained that I had been trying to avoid having an anxiety attack, and I had not meant to be disrespectful in any way. I made sure to only apologize for how my behavior might have seemed, not that I had been feeling anxious since I have learned that one of the worst things you can do is trying to always apologize for something you cannot control.
I said another big prayer and pushed send. I went about my day for the next hour and then came back to my computer. I opened the email my professor had sent in reply, apprehensive of what it might say.
I breathed a big sigh of relief when I saw what it said. He was very understanding, and expressed how sorry he was that he had not recognized what was going on and he promised to try to do that better in the future.
After reading that response, I wondered why I had been dreading telling him that. It is no different from telling someone that you have an allergy when preparing food for a party. People often prefer being told that you have something that requires special attention or accommodations rather than suffering in silence, especially when they care about your feelings and future success.
I am thankful that God saw fit to get me through this hurdle in my academic career, and I see this as a tremendous accomplishment for myself and my relationship with my mental illnesses. I hope this story can encourage others like me to speak out for what you need.
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Until next time!