Many of us struggle in high school trying to figure out who we are, building relationships, coming into adulthood. It isn't easy. It's hectic. It's messy. It's draining and exhausting in every sense of the word.
High school was one of the worst experiences of my life.
First, the struggle was that I wasn't feeling challenged in my classes (aside from math, but that is an entirely different story). I felt that the teachers on campus were only there so that they could get a decent paycheck. I had friends (and some amazing ones), but I was never in the popular crowd -- I was stuck.
I wasn't happy.
A friendship-turned-relationship had fallen apart. It was my first taste of pure heartbreak. I was sinking into the first major depression of my life. I felt alone, unwanted and lost.
Teachers didn't seem to care at all -- few people reached out to me to see if I was okay. And on the rare occasion that I did open up and tell someone what I was struggling with, I got the classic "Things aren't that bad" or "You're fine."
That didn't help. In fact, a lot of times it made things even worse.
I don't remember a lot of my high school experience because I blocked most of it out. To this day, there are still memories that I don't even know if they are real or if they are just some pieced-together dream. Later on, I learned that blocking things out was my way of coping.
On top of not feeling like the teachers and staff cared about their students, not being challenged in my classes (or really learning in some of them), I was dealing with a few health issues of my own. I knew that there were some things that were not right. I knew that my eating habits were not right. I struggled (and I still do today) -- and then I finally mustered up what little courage I had to get help...
Only to be told that there wasn't a thing wrong with me and that my eating habits were that of a "normal teenage girl." That was something that I hope no one ever has to deal with. It was obvious that she felt there wasn't anything "wrong" with me -- but many people in my day-to-day life were starting to notice the behaviors and the weight loss.
I never went back to get help for that. That experience scarred me for life.
I went to the doctor for help because I knew I needed it -- only to be torn down and feel like no one believed me. I was in and out of therapy/counseling but I hated it -- I had a hard enough time opening up to my few close friends, so how was I supposed to open up to a complete stranger? Even these memories are fuzzy and most of them blocked out only to resurface years down the road and send me into a spiral of confusion.
Around that time, my mother began to have some of her own health issues. I didn't understand at that point in time what panic attacks were or how they happened but all I knew was that my mother was in and out of a local hospital to get help.
I missed a lot of school.
I sank back into a depression and began to struggle with my own anxiety. We moved a few times and my grades dropped lower and lower, but I didn't care at that point. I hated high school. I hated life and what it had turned into. I had no motivation.
In many ways, I felt like a failure -- but how was I supposed to feel encouraged and like I could get through this in a school where so few cared? How was I supposed to figure out what I wanted out of life or to build relationships when everything around me had begun to fall apart?
I couldn't. So I stopped trying.
I was transferred to a new school the summer of what would have been my junior year of high school. The first day of school was September 11. As if starting at a new school wasn't hard enough, now I was sitting in my grandmother's living room watching everything play out.
The new school wasn't much better -- again, I struggled to fit in, and the classes didn't challenge me. Teachers didn't care and I struggled to get through, but somehow I made it. I made it until I realized that something had to change.
That change was leaving high school altogether and working on my GED. I started off at a local adult education center, but the structure of the class didn't work well with me so I moved around a bit more before I realized I could study and learn the material on my own at home.
I enrolled in my local community college and the changes were amazing.
Yes, I still struggled with my depression, anxiety and eating disorder. I still struggled, but I began to flourish. I began to see that no matter what life threw at me, I could get by. I was strong. I was a survivor. I had been through hell and back and I was coming back stronger than ever.
Looking back on it, I wish I knew that high school wasn't for me. I felt trapped, lost and alone. I didn't have that experience you hear so many people talk about where they made the best memories of their lives in high school. My experience was the exact opposite.
Looking back on those years and comparing them to where I am now is shocking because I am two different people. Now, I am doing well, feeling challenged in my classes and have a lot of teachers who truly do care about their students. I am at a school that I love and I am on a campus that offers the help I need when things get rough.
It took a lot of time and years of struggling, but I made it through. Even though I hated high school and all the hell I experienced in those years, I'm thankful that I had those experiences to help me get to where I am now.
A lesson to my teenage self: You'll find yourself looking back on experiences when things didn't work out and saying, "That is who I was, and this is who I am now." High school isn't for everyone, and it certainly wasn't for me -- but without the experience, I wouldn't be where I am today.
Those of us who are college veterans will never forget our freshman year at college. Some of us may like to forget our freshman year, but in general it is a time filled with anticipation, some anxiety, and wonderful discoveries.
College is a lot different than high school. You may decide to commute from your home to a local campus. Your freshman experience will definitely make an impression on you. Without doubt, though, the most dramatic freshman year is for those living away from home. What can you expect as you head off into the wonderful world of higher education?
The first thing you’ll notice is the workload. It will be heavier and more intense than you ever experienced before. The major challenges of college work are the large volume of reading, the short deadlines, and the writing, writing, writing. A related effect that can be brought on by the workload is doubt, frustration, and possibly loneliness. You’ll be away from the comforts and friendships your home provided for you over the previous years.
On some of those long, seemingly endless nights of studying and writing, it will be only natural for you to long for the good old days. Hang in there. These down periods will pass. Whatever you do, don’t make major decisions about your major, your courses, or even your roommate during one of these blue periods. Things always look better in the morning.
You’ll be making a lot of new friends. Continue to be yourself. Don’t strike a pose or play the role of someone you’re not. Select your friends with the same care and patience you have always used. Believe it or not, your college friendships will be among the most satisfying and long-term of your life. It’s always exciting to discover how wonderfully diverse college relationships can be.
You’ll also be on your own, your own boss (more or less) 24 hours a day. Be careful here. Don’t go flying off the end of the pier. Enjoy your newfound freedom. Stay up until dawn talking about your ideals and ambitions with your dorm’s regular bull session buddies. Sleep in until the afternoon on a light class day. Explore the local town or suburbs with one or two of your new friends. Remember, though, with freedom comes responsibility. Even though your parents won’t be around to follow up on your loose ends, you shouldn’t let things go completely. Just find your own style.
You may even start to think about your future. Be on the lookout for role models. Maybe a certain professor is especially inspiring. Perhaps your school has some ground-breaking research going on. Be sensitive to your own gravity. If some area of study attracts you, find out all you can about it. It might be the beginning of your self-definition process. Going to college is as much about finding out who you really are as it is about getting that degree.