When I was sixteen, I went to college for the first time. I should probably preface this post to inform anyone who is not from the UK that we complete our formal education at sixteen. We can then either stay on at school, in Sixth Form, or we can progress to college. This lasts around two years. Then, around eighteen, we can move on to university if we choose. Note how I said at the age of sixteen was the first time I went to college. Overall, I’ve been to college three different times.
At sixteen I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life but felt I had to remain in education as both my sister and brother had done. I chose three A-Levels that interested me – drama, media studies, and sociology – and hoped for the best. It took one month before severe anxiety caused me to quit.
I have always been socially anxious but the routine and stability of primary and secondary school meant I was able to, for the most part, function. Leaving school for college took away the routine and stability I was used to and my brain went into overload. I was overwhelmed and experienced multiple panic attacks daily. I spent the day hiding in the bathroom to cry rather than attending any of my classes. My anxiety caused me to withdraw which meant making friends was out of the question, so while everyone else was forging friendships I was not. This only exacerbated my anxiety. Eventually I stopped attending class altogether and made the decision to drop out.
As I was not yet ready to give up on further education, I dropped out of one college and enrolled in a different one straight away. This time I applied to join a performing arts course. My sister had completed a performing arts course when she was in college and it had been some of the best times of her life. I wanted that so I thought why not. Well, I’ll tell you why not… I wasn’t ready. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I have social anxiety. No amount of changing colleges or courses would have made a difference. I was suffering from an anxiety disorder and on the brink of an eating disorder. I was not mentally ready for college. As a result, I was unable to make connections with my classmates – I couldn’t even look them in the face without panic bubbling inside me. The panic attacks continued.
I didn’t even make it a week before I dropped out. Except this time I didn’t bother to try again. I had well and truly given up. At the same time, my parents had just split up and were going through a very messy, very bitter divorce. My best friend at the time ghosted me as my mental health declined sending me further down a spiral. I became even more withdrawn, isolated myself socially from everyone I had been friends with in school, and eventually developed agoraphobia.
Cut to seven years later and I was ready for my third attempt. My third attempt came in September 2018 when I was twenty-four. The seven year difference had seen me enter recovery for my mental illness, gain a fiance, and start a job in administration. I became stronger and more confident. Anxiety almost stopped me once again, this time convincing me I would be too old and had missed my opportunity. After speaking with friends and colleagues, I ultimately made the decision that I would regret not going back when I had the chance. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
I’m proud to say I successfully completed an Access to Higher Education: Social Sciences course – with the highest amount of credits possible! Not only that, but it has helped me become more independent, has given me even more confidence, and proved to myself that I’m more than capable. Through college I’ve met some amazing people that I know I will be friends with for life. Third time’s the charm.
THE NEXT STEP
So what’s next? What am I going to do with my Access to Higher Education diploma? The answer to that would be university. As of September 2019, I will officially be a university student working towards a degree in Psychology with Clinical and Health Psychology. While I’m utterly terrified of this next step, I’m also incredibly excited. I did this. Me. Sixteen-year-old Kelly could never have dreamed she would get here. For years I believed this was an impossibility, that my anxiety would never be stable enough for me to get to this stage.
Yet here I am.
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