What I Wish My High School Teacher Knew Before Saying My Anxiety Was an ‘Excuse’
To my high school teacher,
To you, it seemed like I was just making excuses as I ran out to the bathroom right before an important test. To you, it seemed as if I was taking the easy way out when I didn’t show up to the big exam before finals. I tried to discuss it with you, but you said you thought I was “blaming” my anxiety.
What you didn’t know was that I’ve been fighting this battle for years. In seventh grade, I was diagnosed with an anticipatory situational anxiety disorder. You never saw the panic attacks, where the tears would roll down my cheeks and I couldn’t breathe. You never saw my frustrations as I was sent to multiple psychiatrists and therapists who gave up on me. You never saw the different treatments and medications I had to try just to perform “normally” during standardized tests. You never saw my friends try to do something about it but ended up helpless. You never saw my true story and my decline from anxiety into severe depression.
When I was being “lazy” by not showing up, I had been crying in bed all night in fear of being in your testing environment and did not have the physical energy to get up that morning. When I ran out of class, my anxiety had caused me a migraine and I ultimately needed to catch my breath outside. I tried to explain, but you refused to see it from my perspective as this was something you had never experienced firsthand.
What you should realize before again telling someone their mental illness is an excuse is that 1 in 5 teens have some sort of mental illness that they deal with in their daily lives, as reported on TeenMentalHealth. Of all teens in high school with these mental illnesses, only 40 percent actually graduate high school compared to the national average graduation rate of 76 percent, as reported on the Association for Children’s Mental Health (ACMH). Students with mental illnesses need support from their parents and teachers in order to be successful in life. Feeling supported can encourage these mentally ill students to graduate, go to college, create a successful career for themselves and have prosperous, happy lives.
Every time I try to open up to someone, I feel the stigma around mental health hurting me. I hear people say, “I could never take pills for that,” or “doesn’t it scare you, doing that?” Or, worst of all, “I don’t need medication to feel better.” Hearing this from a teacher, a figure who is supposed to support me in all things academic, is something I will never forget. I felt betrayed, invalidated, and worthless. Without support, my anxiety continued to get in the way of my academic success. Every test score that was affected by my anxiety made me feel like I wasn’t smart or like I was doing something wrong, no matter how prepared I was or how hard I studied. This lack of confidence contributed to an even further decline in my mental health and caused me to seek more treatment.
Everyone has the ability to help create change regarding mental illness. A little empathy and a small change in perspective can go a long way in the course to end the stigma. Next time you want to say something to someone that could be potentially harmful, just remember that everyone is fighting a battle you may know nothing about.
Thank you for your understanding,
Photo by Timothy Paul Smith on Unsplash