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Why I Dread the First Week of School as a Student With Anxiety

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So, a new year at my university has started, and my initial dread has passed. I wasn’t dreading my classes — I was excited to start learning and going to class. What I was dreading was the “introductions week” and the class presentations I knew I’d have to do.

I kept thinking about last year when I started my classes; how we all had to stand up one by one in front of the entire class of 100 student and six tutors to introduce ourselves. We had to say our names, where we were from and some facts about ourselves. It was mortifying as I couldn’t think of anything and I had an accent that was noticeable there.

So I dreaded the first day of class. I cannot deal with standing up in front of a class if I have time to prepare myself, let alone if it is sprung on me there and then — it practically cripples me. I understand we have to introduce ourselves and get it all out of the way. But I wish teachers planned this with student mental health in mind. A person without anxiety might get nervous at the thought, but people who have anxiety can literally feel sick at the thought – and yes, I have actually vomited once when I had to do a presentation. It was the most embarrassing moment of my entire life, having to run out to the bathroom to vomit.

This is starting to keep me up at night thinking about it. It shouldn’t, but it does and it is unbelievably frustrating. I also know some of the modules are graded on presentations. I’ve even been told the work isn’t what’s graded the most — we are actually graded on how we present it. Surely the content of my work should be more looked into. When I present, I can’t look at everyone, I can’t stand tall and confident. I shrink away, I shake like a leaf, my voice becomes unsteady and as I internally panic I can be quite difficult to understand. A teacher once said to me after a presentation, “Wow, I don’t know about the class, but I’m glad you had your presentation on the board because I didn’t understand a word of that.”

Needless to say, I’m fairly sure I’ll fail if I have a presentation graded on performance. I
do understand everybody has a different learning style, and the whole module cannot realistically be graded on just exams, because some people really struggle with exams. But because anxiety isn’t really talked about in school, people think we’re just overreacting. Someone laughed at me and said I was being silly when I was panicking about a presentation. They didn’t realize my heart and head were pounding and I couldn’t control my shaking hands. They didn’t understand the only thing my mind could concentrate on was the panic.

I just wish we got a choice. At least a choice in presenting; if we really have to do this presentation, does it have to be to the entire class? Surely that isn’t fair, when some students literally get sick at the thought of it. But, what do I know? I’m only the student with anxiety.

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Originally published: October 20, 2016
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