Before I explain my two year journey as an RA, let me tell you a bit about me.
First off, yes, I am a city girl—New York City to be precise. New York is the city where thousands of people exist, from all different cultures and fashion shows. I have always stood out in terms of not being as bold and daring compared to my fellow New Yorkers. While they are vibrant and funky, I am dull and tacky (besides my love for highwatered pants, which are the only thing, besides the fear of rats and poverty, really connecting us).
I have always been the type to run and hide away from the crowd. In high school I spent my time roaming the halls, but keeping quiet. If I ever had to go outside to run an errand, I had to take a minute to myself, breathing and remembering I would be okay. The fear of being around anyone other than myself and those I grew up with always gave me heart attacks.
So, how does someone with social anxiety living on a tiny campus with about 2,000 students become a resident assistant for 32 freshmen?
Well, that is an excellent question.
My freshman year of college was spent quarantining. I was part of the incoming COVID Freshman class, so I spent both semesters via zoom and some hybrid classes. With all that said, I stayed in my room only leaving to go to the bathroom. The cost of transitioning to college during COVID did nothing to help with my social anxiety at all!
I did not speak to any of my floor mates and said very little to my RA. The only people I communicated with were those I came to Bonas with from high school.
Due to my lack of social skills, I decided to apply to become an RA. However, I have to admit, I did not know what that meant. I completely winged the interview process, but let’s keep that between us.
Starting my sophomore year I was on the job. I spent two weeks preparing my floor and steadying my heart beat for my residents. I had hopes of being a good RA, especially when I discovered what it really meant to be one.
I had dreamed of being this motherly mentor who socialized with her children and planned fun events to help keep the bond for the next few years. I had visions of making the halls this cozy and safe place.
It turns out that dream stayed in my head. I was instead this room rat who only left for classes and the bathroom.
I was once again that scared city girl. For most of my time as an RA, I stayed off the floor because I just could not find the strength to pull myself together and really connect with all my residents.
I had some rare moments where I had conversations asking how their day was and how classes were going. I even had an unplanned movie night with one of my residents. I worked up the courage last minute to ask them if they wanted to watch a movie later, seeing as it was only them, myself, and about two or three other residents on the floor due to the break.
They were the only residents I was somewhat comfortable around, as they also seemed nervous.
I ended that year promising to get a hold on my anxiety.
And guess what…?
I still haven’t gotten a hold on my anxiety. I could talk about my panic attacks that occurred during presentations in my class and some while seated and wishing to participate, but I think it’s best to just stick to time as an RA role.
Now I am a junior (which is really freaking me out), and I have tried to keep a level head and positive thoughts.
I really wanted to make a change this year, not only with my residents, but in general.
So I took the steps in mentally preparing myself. When saying everything will be okay, the same motto I would repeat before going outside in New York, I also told myself I could do this, I am strong.
And so the day came.
On the first day, I checked my residents in and introduced myself as their RA. I smiled and complimented them.
On the third day, we had a meeting to set ground rules on the floor. This time I was prepared with a well organized speech and bonding game.
Upon starting, I began to cry in front of them all (my social anxiety is that bad). I re-introduced myself and made it known to them all that I had social anxiety, which explained my nervous behavior.
It helped to be honest with them all, and in doing so I gained support and a listening ear (which was needed since my speech was an hour long).
One of my residents even gave me a hug afterwards and it brightened my day.
From that moment on, I kept up saying hi, good morning, and goodnight (yes the polite formalities). Along with stopping in the halls to ask how their day has been and trying not to overthink about sending out emails I assume they should see.
While I still have trouble remembering names and putting some to a face. I remember more names now then I had when I first started being an RA.
With the new changes I even took advice from my previous RD (resident director) and scheduled one on ones with them all just to know them on a deeper level.
I have decided to go all out on the floor and decorate the halls for upcoming holidays and create a list of events that would be fun to do as a group.
I have done all this in only the second week of starting my junior year, I feel proud (as I should be). I have done more now than I have in my entire non-existent high school life.
While I have a lot more stories to tell about my anxiety. Yes, I am still scared. Yes, I still debate about walking out into the halls when I hear voices to use the bathroom.
But I am not as scared as I used to be and I am not as ashamed as I used to feel about my social anxiety.
I am a junior RA and I have social anxiety. I have lived with it and I am still living with it now.
For my readers out there who are like me, know any one dealing with a similar situation, or has had an RA who would turn their head when you walked by, just know we are not trying to be rude. We are fighting a battle with ourselves and it will take us time to overpower.