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Run. Hide. Fight.  The words every teacher needs to memorize, a situation they dread.  When I was a child I thought it was some sort of game, hiding in the dark of our classroom so security would not find us.  A bit of fear, but also excitement.  Now I know it was a preparation for the worst, a grim and all-too often reality.  Not only in the classrooms I enter, but also throughout my life, the question remains constant:  Will I run, hide, or fight?

My decisions have been subconsciously based on this mantra, I suppose.  As a woman, I have to be cautious about walking home alone or going outside in the dark for fear of being assaulted or worse.  I constantly check behind me, call someone that I can talk to, and never look down at my phone so I am aware of my surroundings.  I look for exits in every college classroom I enter.  If I am in danger, how should I react?  Am I a coward if I play dead? Run.

At the age of eight I was enrolled in religious education, where I learned about the Jewish religion that I value greatly.  I was taught not to wear the Jewish star on any jewelry or clothing, so as not to be targeted.  In middle school, I used my voice to defend my Jewish classmate against an anti-semetic remark made by another peer.  It was at this age that I watched Holocaust movies to remind us “Never Again”.  They still haunt my dreams.  Hide.

I have been battling anxiety every day for some time. It was lurking in the shadows even when I was not aware of its name.  Anxiety caused my fun-loving, light-hearted personality to fade.  Hands shaking, legs trembling, heart racing, head aching, eyes watering—just a few of my symptoms. The lines between my mental and physical health were beginning to blur. I was certain this was not simply anxiety. Calculating all possibilities clouded by irrational fears, I began seeing my future with dread and uncertainty instead of positivity and the lightness of possibility like I have always relied on. It has been a frustrating period of plausible diagnoses and often dead ends. After advocating for myself multiple times with several health professionals, I finally found some relief when a specialist diagnosed me with Hoshimotos and Graves Diseases. With therapy, I have learned to talk myself through unpredictable situations and manage many of my symptoms using a variety of useful techniques.  I will not let anxiety or any illness win, though they are ever-present, I am stronger. Fight.

Among these moments, my life is filled with so much joy.  I can truly say that I am a happy person, and for that I am grateful.  I have struggled through difficult times, some I am just beginning to talk about.  But I have learned to love myself and strive to better myself.  Throughout this pandemic, I have safely seized numerous opportunities presented to me: building a small business, donating masks to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, seeking therapy, auditing exciting online classes, substitute teaching, exercising, and falling back in love with reading.  In the classroom, my anxiety is low, and I focus on my students more than I do myself.  In fact, I have even recognized signs of anxiety in some of my students, offering up techniques that have calmed their nerves. It is said that, “God gives you what you can handle,” which I believed for so long.  My mother chooses to believe a variation of this saying that is much like her, optimistic, “God doesn’t give you what you handle, he helps you handle what you are given.”  I follow her lead as I am also an optimist to the core. In order to exist in a world full of run, hide, and fight, I know in the end all I have to do is—Live.

Colette Brancaccio is a current senior at the University of Delaware. She is studying Elementary Education with a Concentration in Special Education. She enjoys reading, going for runs, & random dance parties. She is also the Founder and Owner of BHive Designs, a growing business that provides inventive & affordable gifts for any occasion while promoting service to the community.
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