Put simply, dealing with anxiety and school at the same time sucks. It’s a cycle of feeling so anxious you have to skip lessons, then feeling more anxious because you’ve missed a lesson and then thinking you’re going to fail everything. It’s feeling like when you go to a lesson you’re an idiot, but when you don’t go you’ve let everyone down. It’s having to make the decision between taking care of yourself and going home and resting or sitting in class holding back tears so your attendance mark won’t go down.
Personally, I find it difficult to think in a straight line at the best of times. My thoughts rarely follow from one another and more often jump from worry to insecurity to pay attention to what you’re supposed to be doing. Attempting to follow a lesson is…interesting.
I have found that there are two types of teachers when it comes to anxiety: the ones who just seem to get it, and those who don’t. While the ones who are understanding can help to ease the pressure to a level that is just about manageable. Those who don’t can make the hard days almost unbearable. There is no experience quite like sitting in a classroom holding back a panic attack and being called on to answer because you looked like you were daydreaming, or having a teacher be ridiculously vague about the work you have to catch up on from the lesson you missed because you were in an empty classroom sobbing.
For most people, going to school is probably a mild annoyance getting in the way of having fun or a place to go to see your friends and aim high in your goals. Don’t get me wrong, I recognize how incredibly privileged I am for the opportunities I get in terms of my education, but for people living with anxiety, going to school can be a nightmare.
Between thoughts that I’m never good enough, being judged by everyone and keeping up with homework, revision, lessons, and socializing, so much brain power goes into appearing “normal” that there is little room for anything else.
I have written in my previous posts that I am coming to see myself as more than just my grades, and about how my teachers have been incredible in helping me, but that doesn’t mean I’m enjoying school.
If you’re reading this, and you are a teacher, please consider what I am about to write. One in four people lives with a mental illness. That means that if you teach a class of 30 students, it is likely that at least seven of them may have a mental illness. While you don’t have the power to make it all better for them, you can help. Your actions can either drastically reduce or massively increase negative feelings your students may be having. Show your students you care.
If I had to list the top things my teachers have done to either help or hinder my mental illness recovery, it’s this:
Offer an ear or even an empty office. Knowing I have someone I can go to if I’m feeling anxious makes more of a difference than I can explain. It helps me manage my anxieties and know that you’ll listen to me lifts a weight off my shoulders. I often find it hard to get myself out of a panic attack, so having you there to help me minimizes the emotional damage and exhaustion. Similarly, knowing I can go to your office even if you aren’t there is a privilege I greatly appreciate. It gives me an escape and a place to hide when I need to. It helps me get away from the watching eyes of others and gives me the headspace I need to be able to talk myself back to reality.
Be flexible. I’m not always able to make deadlines. Sometimes, I plan to do something but am thrown off. This might be because I’m too exhausted to process thoughts, or because in the time I had allocated to this particular piece of work I ended up panicking. Knowing that I will be able to hand in a piece of work a couple of days late if necessary reduces my anxiety so much that even just knowing I have the opportunity to be late can help me get my work in on time. A flexible deadline takes away so much pressure. If you’re the sort of teacher who is lenient, thank you.
School is hard. Mental illness is hard. Put the two together and it’s like adding gasoline to a fire – too much and it will explode. If you’re a teacher, please take the wellbeing of your students into account before laying on the pressure. By being there for your students, you might just save a life.
If you’re a student, hold on. Be kind to yourself and take a day off if you need to. Find that teacher (or another adult) that you can open up to and who can help reduce some of your anxiety. There are people out there who want to hear your voice, you just have to find them. You might not be where you want to be, and you might not end up where you expected to be, but you’ll end up where you were meant to be. It’s okay to not feel okay, but it will be okay in the end.
Thinkstock image via Monstrillustrator.