I sat in the computer lab surrounded by my students. I’m their TA, and they had to finish up their last web-design project for the semester. I completed my last final a few hours ago, which I easily passed, so school was officially over for me. I should have felt relaxed and calm. But I was anything but.
I started to get tunnel vision and a numbing sensation coursed through my body. I no longer heard the click-clacking of my student’s keyboards. I heard my heart beat louder and faster. The only thoughts in my mind were “you’re going to die, you’re going to die, YOU’RE GOING TO DIE.”
It was some type of an anxiety attack. I don’t know where it came from. I don’t have a past with anxiety. I wasn’t on any drugs. So why did I feel like the world was about to swallow me whole?
I couldn’t be in this room any longer. It was too small — or too big. I don’t know, but either way, I was more uncomfortable than I’ve ever been. As calmly as I could, I told my students I wasn’t feeling well and that I wished them the best of luck on their final.
They could see how pale I was, and I’m pretty pale to begin with.
I ran back to my dorm. It was as if I was running away from something that I couldn’t see and couldn’t escape.
I left the next day for home. Maybe 100 miles would tear away from this anxiety.
For almost the entire summer, I was in this lost and terrified state of consciousness. Even in the familiar environment of my hometown of Pearl River, I couldn’t handle myself. I started asking huge, existential questions about myself.
“Am I really here right now? What if this is all fake? Who the hell am I?” It felt like I was going insane or in an episode of “The Twilight Zone.” Everything that used to be so simple no longer made any sense to me.
I would stay up until 3 a.m. Googling words like “anxiety,” “depersonalization” and “derealization.” I started eating healthier and exercising every day, I tried meditating, I stopped drinking for a while — anything that would get rid of the anxiety.
When I got back to school, the constant anxiety and uncomfortable feelings slowly faded. But I was still confused, so I recently decided to find out what caused all this anxiety. The answer I found was transitions.
All throughout elementary, middle and high school we see the same friends, same teachers and same family every day. Nothing changes much on a day-to-day basis. You go to school, you do your work and then you go home. The next day the cycle starts all over again. You find a comfortable and sometimes boring routine that lasts for about 13 years. My problems then were trivial things like “get home before curfew,” and “don’t let Mom see your red, glossy eyes.”
And then you go to college where every day can be something different and life happens so fast.
During college, I’ve lived in three different places, climbed the highest mountain in New York, gotten my heart broken, broken hearts, gone to class drunk, seen a meteor shower, played music on stage multiple times, got a nephew, got a mohawk, made dozens of new friends and figured out what I want to do with my life.
I’ve experienced more of what life has to offer in these past three years at college than I ever had in the first 18 years of my existence. And experiencing life so quickly and moving from one thing to the next can be terrifying, especially when most your years on this planet have been a routine.
I recently started an internship. This summer I’m going on a cross-country tour with my friend’s band. Pretty soon, I’m going to have to start looking for a job. This scares the hell out of me. But in all honesty, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I guess that day in the computer lab was my wakeup call. It told me that the world is vast and mysterious. I’ll have my moments of pride, but I’ll also make mistakes. I’ll meet new friends but lose old and dear ones. Not knowing what tomorrow has in store terrifies me, but without that mystery, life wouldn’t even be worth living.
Email Griffin Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org