August: the month that brings anxiety for some. Many students of all ages are anxious about going back to school in the next few weeks. This is natural, especially as students are facing transitions from one level to the next. But for others, the thought of going back to school can stir up more than butterflies in the stomach. In the next few posts, I’d like to touch on the topic of school phobia. First, I’d like to share my own experience with school phobia and how I moved from being fearful of everything to helping others overcome fear. In subsequent posts, I’ll share some strategies that others have found beneficial.
The first day of kindergarten was approaching and I was SO excited! My mom and older sister had been talking about it with excitement, we bought school supplies, and I had a few new outfits for school. We also talked about riding the school bus and what that would look like. I LOVED school and I hadn’t even started yet! The big morning came and I was ready with school box (remember those?) in hand, and all dressed up for the bid day. For some reason, I remember my mother taking me to school that day instead of riding the bus. Perhaps, she knew it might be a little too much for me. I don’t remember many details about that first day except that I thought it was really cool! The next morning when my mother woke me up for school, my response was, “You mean, I have to go back??!!” I was perplexed. I thought I was done with this thing called school. One day was enough for me. The days, weeks, and years that followed were not easy.
God bless my mother as she tried to get me out of bed each morning. I am not a morning person. On some days, she would allow me to stay home because I was sick. I really was sick, because I had worked myself into a lather thinking about going to school. I went to a suburban school in the Midwest in a good school district. I had good teachers. My school was safe. At face value, I had nothing to worry about but I was terrified of the unknown. “What would I do if.______?” (fill in the blank). I didn’t talk at school. When I was called upon, fear gripped me and I could barely speak. I would muster up all the strength I could find to answer (because NOT answering would bring more attention to me) but since I hadn’t spoken in hours, my voice was hoarse and I could barely be heard. In the classroom, I was an observer. I remember watching other kids in my classroom raising their hands and answering questions without hesitation. I would watch them in wonderment. “How do they do that?!” , I would ask myself. I so wanted to be like them but I didn’t know how. My mother kept all my report cards throughout my school career and there isn’t one that doesn’t have a remark on it by a teacher that pertains to my being so quiet. Looking back at those years, and with the knowledge I have now as a school psychologist, I probably could have been diagnosed with Selective Mutism.
Fast forward through elementary, middle, high school, and beyond. With experience, I became more comfortable and gained more confidence. Starting a new school, as any other novel event or situation, was always something that I would have avoided like a plague if I could have gotten away with it. But, as I was required to face my fears and experience success, I gained more control over my fear than my fear had over me. I went from fearing the 2nd day of school to staying in school for 21 years. I went from fearing the school to working in it. I went from being terrified of speaking to speaking to crowds. The bottom line: escaping/avoiding fears = fear wins; facing fears = you win. There’s hope! I learned not to let fear win. In Part 2 of this series of posts, I’ll explain in more detail how I was able to do so.
Thanks for reading!