The Lone Wolf: how leaving home helped me cure my social anxiety

Anybody who’s spent long enough in a small town knows that in the last few years of school things begin to taste a little bland. Some people respond to this by having some kind of teenage outburst, taking to the streets for adventure and making amazing memories in the town they’ve loved for so long before its out of their reach. My teenage outburst was a little different: I applied to boarding school.

See, I knew that my small community was never going to stop being boring unless I acted and tried to make it less so. But I couldn’t do that because I was absolutely terrified of talking to even the closest of friends. I blew off tons of meetings by claiming family emergency or prior appointment that I’d forgotten. Anybody who’s done this before knows the drill: you make plans, you get excited for the plans, then around an hour beforehand you get hit by a surge of anxiety and you panic, so you excuse yourself and miss what would’ve been a night full of memories.
Around October two years ago I was sitting at dinner. I was in my second year of IGCSEs and had the best friends I’d ever had around me. My mum cracked a joke about how I might as well go to boarding school, since all my siblings would be in university next year.
Skip forwards three months and I’m scrolling through top IB boarding schools in the UK, trying to find one who’s applications were still open for entry that year. Unsurprisingly, most good schools have closed applications way before early February. Somehow we came up with a list, and one particular school stood out among them: Atlantic College, a school along the coast of Wales that was part of the UWC foundation (which has a strong reputation in international circles).

 

Oh, and did I mention its in a castle? Because it is.
 
I applied and got in by some miracle. As soon as I went public with my decision to change schools, I had family friends and teachers telling me all about how amazing this school was and just how unforgettable my experience would be. I was unsure. My application had grown not from an interest in the school mission or the values of the school, which as I would find out is one of the most cited reasons for going; I applied because it symbolised a way of escaping the humdrum of day to day life (albeit an extreme way).
My fears were not quenched when I arrived. I found myself surrounded by intelligent, caring, thoughtful and all round brilliant young minds and souls. It was a family of 350, one which was filled with people who’d probably all beat me if we competed for a spot in a top university, because they were all complex and interesting, and I was just… me.
I locked myself away for the first month and a half – sometimes literally. But it’s harder to hide yourself away in this place. My roommates would talk to me every day, whether I liked it or not. My friends knew that I’d be in my room, and cared enough that they’d come and drag me into the sunlight every now and then. I couldn’t just excuse myself because everybody knew everything about everyone. It’s not easy to find a dark secluded corner when every room has another coffee-fueled student.
And slowly I adapted. I stopped caring about what people thought because I realised that they were all honest and that nobody was going to hurt me. By moving away I managed to cut out all the poisonous branches from my life once and for all. I grew. I evolved. I changed for the better.

 
In January of this year, almost exactly on the anniversary of my decision to apply to the school, I gave a Tedx talk on social anxiety, introverted and extroverted behaviours and how the three behave around one another. Through that talk I was able to conclude that having been forced out of my comfort zone into a new environment has helped me. I knew I had a long way to go, but I was ready for it and I was ready to start healing.

 

A picture from the aforementioned talk. I swear I’m not actually that pale.
 
Atlantic College didn’t just make me a better, stronger, more caring person. Many schools can do that. But AC was different because it showed me how I could improve myself, how I could fix these problems and how I was better than I knew. AC showed me the power of teamwork and cooperation not just in working on solving an academic problem, but also a problem with myself.
For that I am eternally grateful.

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