Understanding My Anxiety During Long Breaks

Often I think of how much my long-term breaks from school have really changed compared to the public school setting. For some reason, being a college student now, the breaks feel more empty, demanding and exhausting compared to the times off in high school. I can’t quite put my finger on why it feels this way, but I hope in some way writing about it might help me in defining it, and maybe I might find a better way to consume all this free time.

As I mentioned before in a previous piece I wrote, I suffer from an anxiety disorder that really muddles my way of thinking. With this in mind, I’ve noticed how weird and awkward my holiday breaks feel now compared to when I was in high school. But let's be real here, big holiday breaks like Christmas and the summer during high school didn't really count to me. They always assigned things like homework to do over breaks to remind you about school. Don't even get me started on the AP summer homework before the new school year! To be fair, with the amount of required state exams and tests of that nature in school, it's understandable that they would give us work to do over the summer so we're still prepared. Nevertheless, high school breaks felt generally boring and stressful from the amount of work I had to do, but at least I had something to do and still being in an academic setting helped me with school.

Two years into college, I've realized by now that everything you do academically is all up to you and its your choice whether or not you want to participate in it at all. The two biggest breaks students usually look forward to are the months off in-between semesters, that being winter and summer break. Everything else amidst the semesters like long weekends, Thanksgiving break, and even spring break isn't entirely that hyped up since, depending on the class, you might end up with homework to do that may consume your time. Typically during the longer breaks, people go on vacations, work extra hours, or spend time with their friends and family. Now how does my mental illness tie into the conversation about breaks from school? Surely being away from what can be a stressful environment might help me take a sort of mental health break for myself?

Unfortunately it doesn't work like that, and I still don't understand why.

Having too much free time for myself drives me insane, especially since a lot of times I have nothing to do. On a normal day when I have free time during the semester, I use it to play video games or write something. Sometimes I use TV shows and new games as motivators to help me get through my work faster because honestly, who doesn't like a good reward after so much work? But during the breaks, especially in the heat of summer, the free time turns way too excessive to the point where I just run out of things to do and I feel less motivated to participate in activities I actually enjoy. People always talk and write about doing so many things to stay motivated during the summer, but it never works for me. I leave books, shows, and games untouched for days on end and it makes me feel guilty. Don't get me started on feeling like I'm bothering friends by asking to hang out with them too, it's a mess.

At this point, you might be thinking to yourself, why don't you just get a job over the break? Won't that help me out? True, it'll give me something to do with all the free time I suppose, but that's my problem; my anxiety makes it hard for me to get a job in the first place because I'm just so afraid of everything. So now I'm not working, I'm not in the usual academic setting, I'm sitting at home lost in thoughts, and I keep thinking to myself, "Wow I am really wasting my time here, aren't I?"

In truth, my anxiety makes it really hard to enjoy things normally how others might. I'm not justifying my lack of motivation through my mental illness, but it has really affected me and I wish there was a better understanding for it. A part of me wants to do fun things over the summer, to go to the beach or city and have fun with the people I love, but another part of me just wants to stay shut at home in bed with the air conditioner on blast. The days are long and hot and sometimes I just feel like nothing will ever get better. I even go days without even stepping foot outside my own home because everything is just too overwhelming. The scary thing is how I value having this excessive free time so much when I'm in school. I start feeling nostalgic and end up missing the days where I can just be a hermit in my own home and basically do anything I want. But here's the thing, I don't want to be someone who does nothing for a long period of time anymore.

I want to do things and not feel guilty for never participating in anything anymore, but I also want to prioritize my mental health above all and take care of myself and go at my own pace. I'm happy to say that at least this summer hasn't been entirely too bad because I've been finding more things to do without feeling drained. My writing has increased, I tutored a group of lovely high school students in writing their college essays, and I even finally started getting driving lessons.

But no matter how much I try and consume myself in activities, it doesn't feel any different, I still feel lost. What I've done thus far is only a start in the process of becoming a better person for myself.

I'm doing more because I'm forcing myself to, but I just want my breaks to actually feel like a vacation already.

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