Struggling with Mental Illness In School

I’ve known since fifth grade that something was “off” with the way I acted. I always got caught daydreaming in class, missed more than my fair share of assignments, and cared more about personal projects than academic ones. My parents’ concern for me grew as elementary school went on, and, living in the age of technology, my mother Googled my symptoms. After clicking through a few websites and reading about how the disorder shows itself differently in girls (which I was at the time), my mother concluded I had ADHD.

Being a family of procrastinators, we didn’t pursue a diagnosis at first, because if we could fix the symptoms at home, there would be no need. My parents tried making me stick to a strict schedule to help me focus and told me more exercise would help my attention issues. However, this didn’t work out. By the time I got to seventh grade, I had failed a class that I would need to retake and was removed from honors courses because of my grades. This was the last straw for my parents, and they took me to a psychologist looking for an ADHD diagnosis.

After talking to me for only a half hour and asking my parents a few questions, the psychologist told us that I did indeed have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

When you get an official diagnosis like this and learn ways of fixing it, you expect everything to improve, right? Unfortunately, my home and school lives didn’t benefit from this diagnosis. If anything, this led to more fighting at home, because my parents would blame everything on that label. Didn’t do my laundry? ADHD. Can’t fall asleep? ADHD. Not as social as my peers? ADHD.

Instead of guilting me into improving, the disorder-blaming kicked me down. Middle school alone is bad enough. Now middle school with all the ADHD drama on top of it? There was no way I could pick myself back up. I figured if having ADHD meant that I couldn’t do anything properly, then why try to be good enough?

Tired of fighting with me, my mother took me to the pediatrician to look into medications that would help me. I thought maybe this would be the answer, but the first medication I went on disturbed my appetite, and made me lose much more weight than I needed to, so we asked about other options.

The biggest problem was that I was in eighth grade but I couldn’t swallow a pill. So, my parents decided this was the time to teach me. This wasn’t something I was quick at learning, which led to a lot of yelling and fighting every night after dinner when I couldn’t swallow an M&M. I knew it was impossible, but what if I choked on it Eventually, my mom bought the new ADHD medication and told me I needed to learn how to swallow a pill real quick. So for a year, I struggled trying to take a pill every morning. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes not. She noticed that the medication I wasn’t actually taking didn’t help me at all and let me go off of it in ninth grade.

High school was better at first because I was beginning to find myself, discover my strengths, and pinpoint my academic weaknesses. I had gained a stronger confidence in my classes and among my peers, but we can’t stay on top of the world forever.

In April of eleventh grade, my guidance counselor had to pull me aside to ask me why I was failing all four of my classes. There was no reason I could give her other than I always had a lot going on in my mind, and I couldn’t just focus on school when I needed to. After all, this was the year of SATs, college visits, and graduation projects. I remember acting like it wasn’t a big deal in front of her but later breaking down in the band room in front of everyone.

If I couldn’t raise my grades, there was no way I would graduate with all my classmates. Imagine how embarrassing it would be for a class officer, someone in charge of the senior class trip, planning prom, and speaking at graduation, being held back a grade. The fear froze me to the point where I didn’t know what to do, so I didn’t do anything until each of my teachers confronted me individually about my grades.

So I said, “Okay, I’m going to get through this, and I am going to graduate.” Unfortunately, this isn’t a story where I buckle down and do all my assignments on time and become a 4.0 student. That voice of doubt still nagged at me, saying, “If you can’t handle a few high school classes, how do you expect to last more than a semester at college?” But I ignored that voice long enough to make it out of that semester alive

Senior year started out fine because the realization that I would be leaving that school in less than a year hadn’t begun to sink in yet. I’d already applied to colleges and was waiting to hear back. All I had to focus on was that and my classes. But that dreaded spring semester always rolls around eventually, and I was back to juggling four classes, one of which I was failing, and three clubs on top of all the end of senior year activities.

In the midst of that senior year madness, I got a new diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. The problem with GAD is that it doesn’t just prevent me from ordering my own food at the register or making phone calls to get an appointment with the doctor. It’s called generalized anxiety because your brain is generally always worried about something without a real reason why. It’s the feeling of “Did I leave the stove on at home?” but all the time. Sometimes you don’t know why you’re anxious. You just are.

As annoying and stressful as the disorder is, I was relieved to get this diagnosis. Finally, I understood why I was always so worried that I couldn’t focus in class, why I was intimidated by assignments, and why I chose to think about the activities that relaxed me instead. I was finally on the path to getting help.

When I started college last year, I knew I had to do something, because I would never be as good of a student as I could be if I didn’t address this problem head-on. Talking to a counselor and taking medication has helped me quite a bit. I’ve learned that I need to keep close track of all my assignments, and it helps if I outline each step so I can see all I left to do in front of me. I figured out that sometimes you just need to push yourself to do things, even if your heart is pounding so hard you think it’s going to burst and your hands are shaking so hard others might see it. Of course it’s easier said than done, but after, you’ll be glad you did it.

The moral of the story is that most of our frustrations and anxieties stem from living in the past or in the future. In middle school, I was so obsessed with a label I had been given when I was young that I failed to realize how I had changed and how those changes didn’t fit that label anymore. This prevented me from getting the right type of help and caused me to fail classes and lose friends. In high school, a switch flipped and suddenly my mind was constantly trying to prevent myself from being a failure in college that I didn’t realize I was this close to failing out high school

Even today I worry about the future or get too caught up in the past. I mean, really, who doesn’t? The difference is I’ve since learned how to catch myself. Some days I’m better at it than others, but overall, learning to take a step back, ground myself, and live in the present moment is a skill that has gotten me through a lot. Hopefully, this skill and others I learn along the way will help me through college and beyond… wherever that may take me.

Originally written as a class assignment–edited and reformatted for my blog.

2 comments

  1. Hi Ben, this post really hit me as I too am struggling with anxiety. You’re brave and I’m so proud that you were able to share your story for others to see, and relate to. I wish I was brave enough to talk more about it and be willing to seek a professional’s help. I’m too scared, I guess. Thinking it’s too late and all that. I do hope things from here on will get better for you. I wish you all the best, take care always and keep on fighting!

    Like

  2. I felt many similarities with this post, though, I won’t go into depth which ones. I can’t be as brave as you for openly mentioning all these things. But I do wish you the best for the rest of your academic career, but most importantly, you.
    ~ Sabrina

    Like

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