Anxiety Amplification: Sending an Offspring to College in the Age of Facebook
When Offspring saw this post title over my shoulder, xe said, “But I’m not on Facebook, why are you worried?” so I’ll start with the clarification. It’s not what Offspring might do on Facebook that feeds my anxiety (for obvious reasons), it’s being on Facebook, myself, that is the problem. So why am I on Facebook? For the same reason that I always got the school and PTA newsletters. It’s one of the ways that schools communicate now. But it can be problematic for someone like me.
There is a normal and natural level of anxiety in life, especially if you are sending a child to college. How will I pay for it? Will they get into college? If they do, or don’t, how will we proceed from there? Have they chosen the right college? What would make a college “right”? Will they be ok? Especially for a child who is genderqueer, will they be safe? And then the minutiae of arrangements.
Add on to that the constant (usually, but not always) well-meant advice from friends and strangers. If you have a young child and you are hoping that the unsolicited parenting pressure will die down once they get older, think again. You are doing too much for xyr. Xe’s an adult, you have no role anymore. You’re not doing enough. You haven’t solved this, this, and this. Have you bought airline tickets for every visit for the next two years? No? What are you thinking?!
Now mix in an anxiety disorder. Without parsing the different varieties, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that around 18% of the U.S. adult population has a relationship with anxiety that is outside of healthy and normal. Lucky me. Most anxiety disorders are “treatable,” but in my experience that means that with (a lot) of work, they can be put into a sort of remission. They are not gone, not solved, just controlled. That control takes energy, energy that cannot go into other aspects of life. This is just reality. We play the hand we’ve been dealt as well as we can. But there are times when I really wish we could tweak the rules of the game, just a little.
When Offspring was in junior high, xe came home in trouble, because xe didn’t have a form that xe needed. First, I was the one who was supposed to fill out the form, so it never made sense to me to berate xyr for my oversight. But, on top of that, when I contacted the school office and asked how I should have known about the form, I got a terse response that it was “in the newsletter for that two week period.” So I went through the 12 page newsletter. Again. The information about the form was on the fourth page, in the middle of the second paragraph of the third column, under an article header “New Superintendent Optimistic About X Schools.” No bullet point, no box on the front of the newsletter. I had skimmed the newsletter, but between the tedious politi-speak on district budgeting fights, and stress about school closures and pink slips, I missed it.
This is a place where my variety of anxiety disorder kicks in. I can triage material in my mind, but it takes a great deal of effort. Without an intense internal conversation, I weight all information and all reactions the same. So skimming a ton of information presented at the same level of importance is pretty much impossible. I have to full-on read and sort, which can be exhausting. When it comes to social media, like Facebook, I can’t spend a lot of time on it. A wall of opinions, and trivia, is a seething breeding ground of stress. So, although I have had a Facebook account for some time, I only looked at it when I knew I was in good shape and had the energy to deal with it. Which brings us to college and Facebook.
It makes perfect sense to me for the university to deal with the wall of anxiety that is new parents by crowd-sourcing answers to questions. Rather than hiring a hundred people to field the same, trivial questions over and over, they put us all in a Facebook group, and let us help each other. All 1,000 and counting of us. But it’s not just parents (or I wouldn’t look). Administrators toss out updates on orientation and check-in and requirements. It’s my worst nightmare. Kernels of information that I do need to have are tossed in willy-nilly with the infinite variety of fears of every parent. The well-meant, the aggrieved, the micro-managers, the “turn them loose and let them sink or swim” ultra-competitive parents, the die-hard extroverts, all there, all the time.
“Where do you buy chairs? My son is in computing, I want him to have a good chair.” [OMG, I never even thought about chairs! Do I need to worry about chairs?!]
“It’s — Institute of Technology, they all spend time at computers. Your kid isn’t all that and doesn’t need a special chair for their tender butt!” [Wow! That’s mean and unnecessary. Yes, it’s a tech school, and yes, the chairs are probably fine, but she’s proud of her kid and worried. Cut her some slack! Are people going to be that mean to Offspring? How will xe cope?]
“I don’t understand why people are getting the X loans. We got a Y loan and it’s so much better.” [Oh dear. We got the X loan. We’re ruined. I’m an idiot.]
“My kid hasn’t been assigned housing yet. Of course, he didn’t fill out the paperwork…” [Yay! Offspring filled out the paperwork early! Proud of Offspring!]
“My kid filled out the housing paperwork early, and didn’t get the housing he wanted, and feels like his school experience will be ruined.” [Sympathy. Offspring did get the housing xe wanted. Relieved for Offspring, but someone else is unhappy. Guilt!!]
“Schedules are posted! They’re terrible.” [Oh no, oh no, oh no. (Looks.) Oh no.]
“Why are you people looking at the schedules. It’s up to the kids now, if they fail, they don’t deserve to be in college.” [No one says this about their own kid. It’s always other people’s kids that should just sink. But what if they’re right, and Offspring and I don’t deserve to exist?]
[Why am I even thinking that? It’s not rational. Be rational. Be rational. Be rational.]
“I just barely got the X form in on time! Whew!” [The X form? The X form? I never heard of the X form, and now I haven’t got it in!! Noooooooooo!!!!]
anxiety by David
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