And then it started . . . After my first encounter with my soon-to-be archenemy, anxiety, things began to crumble. I began experiencing similar physical reactions whenever I felt even slightly anxious. Soon after, a normal conversation with my classmates became as difficult as doing public speaking, and worse.
Days and nights gone by. McNair hostel, the place where I lived, became safe haven—a much needed getaway from daymares in school. Every time the SAJC school bell rang at one, I rushed to the school gate, running away from my classmates and to my safe haven. I did not care about any lectures or classes after one. Unless I had important assignment to hand in or exams to attend, going home at precisely five-past-one had slowly become the daily routine.
When Time was Slow
Lunch break was supposed to be a period of time which most students looked forward to, for different reasons. They were hungry, so they ate. They were bored, so they told their friends about boring lectures and what scribbles they penned on the bottom corner of their note pages. They had nothing to do, so they went to basketball court and played pick-up games.
Lunch was different for me. For about three months, I was avoiding my classmates. Whenever we sat down together at the school canteen, I would pick a corner spot of that table. I felt uncomfortable surrounded by my friends. I felt all eyes were on me, judging how I slurped, how I used my utensils, how I responded to how-was-Mr.Chong’s-class question, even how I breathed. Irrational fear had begun to permeate my daily school life. It was exacerbated by my ever-weakening volition to rely on support from my friends. I wanted time to go faster because I needed to run away.
As my fear grew, I often found excuses to refuse my classmates’ offers to hang out during weekends, or to study together. After several rejections and how aloof I was to them, it was understandable that they eventually stopped asking me altogether.
My academic performance was horrendous. I failed here and there. Things were extremely tough for me. Not a single soul in my class was aware of what I experienced. Lectures were nightmarish because my mind was steered away from the lesson and was directed at how my back looked like to the person sitting behind me, or how disheveled my hair was, even if it was not. For those of you who do not quite understand how involuntary or knee-jerk my paranoia was, it was similar to the feeling of wanting to turn your head towards someone who shouts your name. I could sometimes focus on the lecture, but half of my time would be spent worrying on how to hide my anxiety from my classmates.
Things were seemingly hopeless, and I hit the lowest point of my life. My declining grades did not help. In fact, it became a vicious cycle. The worse I performed at school, the less confident I became. The less confident I became, the less I believed in myself. As repetitive as this sounds, my life was once again in tatters. Pounded by this overwhelming anxiety, I spent a good chunk of my JC life thinking why such thing happened to me. Little did I know that what I was experiencing would be an invaluable experience I regard in the future.
I would assume my McNair’s hostelmates would be unaware of my situation because of how I projected myself to them. My affliction at school did not extend to my McNair life. In fact, I felt somewhat confident around my scholar friends at McNair, and even though my academic performance was among the lowest, my friends were not as judging, or as others might also interpret it, as caring as my old friends from my secondary school days.
In McNair, there were many scholars from different backgrounds and countries. Sure, we were all Asians, but we were from Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and so on. Many of my friends, who lived in McNair, unknowingly supported me in my darkest time. I still remembered how some of my seniors would have these lengthy chats with me about the randomest topics. Inevitably, no matter how insignificant these tête-à-têtes might be to them, they gradually lifted my confidence back up. I also played many pick-up games at McNair backyard court, and I would find them relaxing, freeing me from the thought of hard-fought afternoons at school.
One day, two of my Malaysian friends who were close to me heard about how I planned on ditching class the following day in order to study at the library, something that I rarely did. A-levels were imminent. I was so far behind that even if I spent the whole day staring at my Chemistry textbook, I would never be able to understand many of the concepts and do the practice questions. Somehow, these two friends decided to skip the following day as well, which they rarely did. I then asked them if they would like to come to library with me help explaining me some concepts. They quickly responded how they would happily do so. I really cherish and treasure these little things. Looking back, I am grateful for the things they did. In a nutshell, things became better as the A-levels neared.