How do I make college and my issues play nicely together?
November 7, 2008 7:49 AM   Subscribe

Running in circles. Please help me with my anxiety/college/insurance/life in general questions- juicy details inside.

Background: I am about to turn 21, and I have been enrolled in two colleges thus far. In both cases, I have taken medical leave for anxiety-related reasons and then opted not to return. I dislike college, though I have a high GPA.

Question 1: Since I am financing my education, should I continue to try and get a degree even though I do not enjoy school? I am looking into online programs that have a brick-and-mortar location as well [Boston U., Northeastern, etc.]. I am about 50 credits into an English degree.

Question 2: If I do choose online classes, I am terrified that I will lose the health insurance I have through my father. I usually have between 6 and 8 doctor appointments per month- not all anxiety related- and I do not think my insurance counts online classes as being in school 'full time.' Any experience with this?

Question 3: If you also deal with anxiety and/or agoraphobia, did you find a way to make college workable? Though I am in CBT, I am not in a place right now to pick up and find a full time job, and I know having a degree is important to employers.

Help my future not suck. I am totally lost and looking to MeFi for advice!
posted by rachaelfaith to Education (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Full-time online study at an accredited school is identical to full-time classroom study for insurance purposes.
posted by hworth at 8:06 AM on November 7, 2008

what kinds of colleges have you been going to? big huge state ones? maybe you should check out some of the smaller colleges with only 2000 students total. smaller classrooms, smaller campuses, everything is less overwhelming.

(i have agoraphobia and went to a small private college. going to a big state u would have driven me over the edge into something scary.)
posted by misanthropicsarah at 8:30 AM on November 7, 2008

misanthropicsarah, I went to one very small liberal arts school in New York and one large state university in New Jersey. For me, the smaller classrooms are actually worse- large auditoriums allow me to hide in the very back and 'escape' unnoticed if I panic.
posted by rachaelfaith at 8:43 AM on November 7, 2008

For me, the smaller classrooms are actually worse- large auditoriums allow me to hide in the very back and 'escape' unnoticed if I panic.

Yeah, this. I have panic disorder and I'll say I had agoraphobia, because the effects have diminished to the point where it's almost unnoticeable.

This happened because of three things: medication, meditation, and the gradual expansion of my world.

Firstly, I assume you're on medication since you're seeking treatment? I was unmedicated as an undergrad and basically kept to my dorm room as much as I could, skipping classes when I felt too anxious to go. Like you, small classrooms were the bane of my existence. Klonopin is what got me through grad school. It calmed me down enough to actually go to class, and once there, I could breathe my way into enduring the class. If I started to get panicky, I would use techniques to distract me, like counting the tiles on the ceiling. I told my professors that sometimes I might suddenly leave the class, and that actually helped me stay because it relieved the pressure that I'd be "embarrassed" by vanishing. Tell your professors - they will be understanding. Also, tell your close friends. The more people who know and understand, the less freaked out you'll be about having a panic attack in front of them. (Also, tell them what they should do if you do have a panic attack. If I'm around my husband, I want to be held. If I'm around anyone else, I want them to leave me alone.)

Second, learning deep breathing and visualization techniques has helped me tremendously. I happen to be Buddhist, but it doesn't need to be spiritual/religious to be very effective. I can't really recommend non-buddhist meditation resources, but there are plenty out there, and if you are cool with the spiritual stuff, is an awesome podcast. It instantly calms me down.

Third, I took baby steps to expand my world. It wasn't a conscious effort, but looking back, I can see how it unfolded. As an undergrad, I would leave my dorm room and hang out in the lobby. I could always flee to my room if uncomfortable. Then I'd go to the library or student union and be around people. I had a hard time committing to having lunch with someone, but I was OK if I could come and go. I started going to recurring, unstructured social events. Then I found that I could commit to having dinner or some other event that required me to be in a place not my own for a set period of time. This is all tangential to college itself, but I assume your agoraphobia does not stop at the classroom door.

In grad school I was required to give presentations, and (besides the medication) what got me through was realizing that ALMOST EVERYONE is anxious about public speaking. And, almost no one is listening to your boring class presentation anyway. This summer I went to a seminar and spoke in front of 200+ people. (Last week I got up in front of 60+ people.)

God this is rambly, but what I'm trying to say is, I've been there, and it can be overcome in a such a way that you can live your life the way you'd like. I would definitely advise you to get your degree. You're young and once you get into a full-time job, inertia will make it harder to go back. I understand the desire to try online education, but you also need to realize that it just reinforces the agoraphobia by letting you avoid dealing with it. If it's between that and working, then do the online thing, but make sure you take steps to expand your world outside of your studies. At least go study at Starbucks instead of in your bedroom.

Good luck and feel free to MeMail me anytime.
posted by desjardins at 11:38 AM on November 7, 2008

You don't need to be terrified about the insurance. Just telephone the school, Dean's Office or whatever, and ask them about insurance for on-line students.
posted by JimN2TAW at 8:01 PM on November 7, 2008

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