I am equal parts excited and anxious to return to college.
1:00 AM is prime worry time. Late at night my anxiety makes every possible bad scenario seem incredibly realistic. When I’m not rested, any shred of confidence I may have is inaccessible. I tell myself, “Go to bed, you’ll feel better in the morning,” and 9 times out of 10, I do.
I have so many worries about going back to school, some realistic, others not so much. Of course, the first question is, “Will I be able to handle the coursework?” When I am interested in the class material, I am much more motivated to learn and do the work. But sometimes, everyone has to do things they don’t want to do. For instance, I will have to take a technical writing course at some point because it’s required for my English degree. When I was studying photography at a different institution, I had to take a History of Photography course. It was taught completely by lectures, which I found very dry and disinteresting, so I just decided to stop going to class. Obviously, this was not a great choice, and I was given an SP (satisfactory progress) by my professor who took pity on me, rather than giving me the F I should’ve gotten.
Because of actions like this, it took me 3 1/2 years to finish my Associate’s degree. A lot of what was going on was out of my control, but I didn’t respond to it as I would have liked to. The important thing is that I actually did get the degree.
Going back to college at 24, I am considered a “nontraditional student.” I will be commuting from home rather than living in a dorm, and I will continue working part-time at the supermarket where I’ve been employed for the past 7 years. As I was telling my therapist earlier this week, I feel as though I am now more prepared for college than I was at 18 and fresh out of high school. My priorities were different back then. Although I was intelligent (still am!) I didn’t fully appreciate the gravity of the opportunity I was given. I made a series of mistakes and bad choices which led me to a treatment center, and eventually to the local community college, where I dabbled in various majors including Elementary Education and Photographic Technology, neither of which I chose to pursue.
As part of my preparation to enter Stetson, I had to watch a long series of training videos on subjects like maintaining good mental health during the transition to college, responsible drinking, cannabis laws, and preventing sexual violence.
The mental health segment was easy, and surprisingly comprehensive. It addressed common issues such as depression and anxiety, touched on eating disorders, and even mentioned things like why mindfulness and coping skills are important. I was pleasantly surprised to hear these words used outside of a treatment setting.
As far as the substance use module goes, I wasn’t too concerned. As a commuter student, I’ll be a bit less plugged into the partying side of campus. The module provided information on what to do if a friend has alcohol poisoning, the importance of having a designated driver, etc. Interestingly, in the pre-test for this unit, I was able to indicate that I do not drink at all, and got some more personalized resources such as SMART Recovery meetings on campus and fun things to do that don’t involve drinking. For instance, Stetson has an open mic event called Uncouth Hour every Thursday night where people read original poetry among other things.
The preventing sexual violence module was a bit more intense for me. This module went over different types of relationship abuse such as stalking, emotional and physical abuse, and so on. There were several “choose your own adventure” style videos that gave different scenarios involving being a good bystander, interrupting situations where someone could potentially be taken advantage of and whatnot. Although my PTSD doesn’t have the same grip on me as it has in the past, watching these videos was quite uncomfortable and brought up a lot of negative emotions and beliefs about myself.
I start orientation on Sunday. I’ll be on campus in a group of other transfer students, attending classes about Stetson’s values and life on campus. This orientation is designed to help transfer students like myself have a smooth transition to Stetson. There’s a pretty full schedule of activities during this orientation, some are fun, get-to-know-you activities like a rap battle, while others are less exciting such as Title IX training.
When I was at my first college, I sat through a lengthy sexual assault prevention session. It was awkward and a lot of students were laughing. My student advisor is a 19-year-old volunteer who sends out group text blasts around 1:00 AM when she gets finished with work. Although she’s trying to help us get organized, she is frequently wrong about dates, times, and other information. She had assured me that I would not have to do the Title IX training with the other students in my orientation group.
I decided to verify this with the contact person, Kaitlin, who had helped me through the application process. I sent her a short, awkward email, and a few minutes later she called me. Kaitlin informed me that my advisor was wrong, that the training was, indeed, required. She said she would put me in touch with the school’s Title IX Advisor, and before I could say, “No, please don’t!” I’d received an email from Kaitlin and a woman named Lyda.
Moments later, I was on the phone with Lyda. She explained what the training entailed, that it was supposed to be “empowering,” and that it didn’t tell stories of survivors, “Well, except for one. Maybe two,” she corrected herself. I told her in the vaguest of vague terms that I am a survivor of sexual violence, and that I’m really not comfortable watching a lecture like that in a group of people. I was afraid I’d have a meltdown, start crying or hearing voices, or just not be able to handle it.
In the end, we compromised. Lyda said that I could watch the training at home, which is what I wanted. Despite getting my way, I still found a reason to freak out. I felt like I’d inconvenienced everyone involved, and that I’d designated myself as a problem or a “special snowflake.” I was also concerned that the coordinators of the events would make a show of pulling me out of the Title IX lecture, further solidifying my “snowflake” status.
When I detailed these worries to my mom, she told me the only person who thinks this is a big deal is me. She said I’m not the only one who will have requested special accommodations, and that she was proud of me for standing up for myself.
The actual training session is right after a lengthy lunch break, during which I am planning to leave campus to see a friend who lives nearby, so I simply plan to not return to campus after lunch, and I’ll catch up with my group later.
Chance frequently tells me, “You worry too much.” It’s true. I do. One thing I’m trying to remind myself of is that anxiety about starting college is normal! If I wasn’t worried, at least a little bit, that would be weird. “What if I get lost and I’m late for check-in? What if I have to say a fun fact about myself and I can’t think of anything? What if I can’t find my classroom and I walk into an in-progress lecture? What if nobody likes me and I don’t make any friends and everyone thinks I’m weird?”
As my mom, my therapist, Chance, and pretty much anyone else I’ve shared these worries with has assured me, everyone is going to be a little nervous and probably thinking things along these same lines. Although I am anxious about being able to handle the coursework, I feel that I’ll be more adept at writing good papers and keeping up with assigned readings than I will be at making friends.
One thing I have noticed about all the faculty and staff I’ve communicated with at Stetson, is that they seem to care a lot about each individual student. In the surveys I had to take regarding all of the training I did, there were multiple options for gender, sexual orientation, etc. A lot of the e-signatures I’ve seen from professors and office staff include their preferred pronouns. Everyone here seems to be happy to go out of their way to help me out when I’ve hit bumps in the road. Even with technical difficulties, Kaitlin walked me through some issues I was having with trying to log into my school email.
I am very grateful to my parents who support me in anything I do, and I am thankful to be in a mental state which will enable me to successfully attend school. Because I’m a little bit older (and hopefully wiser!) I now understand that college is mainly about getting the degree, and the social aspect is secondary. I’ve always told myself that I’m “too weird,” to connect with people my own age, I am hoping that through organizations like the poetry club, Hillel, and student-run publications, I will find my people.