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Going to High School With Anxiety, Depression – and a Fear of School Shootings

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First, I want to say I will be talking about possibly triggering subjects about school shootings and mental illness. Stay safe. Second, let me tell you about myself. My name is Hayden and I am a 16-year-old agender person from Rochester, NY. I am a junior in high school, but my life is being turned upside down due to mental illness and the education system in New York.

Disclaimer: I can’t speak for education systems around the country, but I do know most of my peers do not like school.

My school here in Rochester goes from 7:53 a.m. to 2:57 p.m., giving us roughly seven hours of school from Monday to Friday. In those seven hours, we have nine periods of classes that are 42 minutes long. Most people have a study hall at least once a day, including me when I went to school. Then, most kids get hours of homework and are then expected to sleep the whole night afterwards. To me that’s outrageous.

I was grateful enough to be put in what’s called an 811 program, which basically means that for English, science, social studies and math we have a separate teacher from everyone else. There are a maximum of eight kids to a class, one teacher and one teacher’s aid/helper. This was decided after I missed almost half of the school year during ninth grade due to two inpatient hospitalizations (one in November and one in January) and a partial hospitalization. These were brought on by a combination of going into high school and just not getting the help I needed because I was scared to tell my family how I was feeling.

Then, in May of 2017, I was back at school and in the 811 program. There was only about one month of school left, so all I had to do was get ready for my Regents exams and then be done with my freshman year of high school, thankfully. I don’t remember much about that summer, only that I wanted to get back to school because I was so bored and lacked routine. Oh, how that changed.

I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but eventually I started to despise school. I have an overwhelming fear of someone coming into my school with a gun or other weapon and hurting me or the people around me. I had — and have — vivid dreams about it that wake me up with panic attacks. I’m getting anxious talking about it, but it needs to be done. I ended up going back into a partial hospitalization program because of my depression and anxiety. I also missed multiple days of school each month.

Towards the end of the school year, June I believe, a boy threatened to come into our school with a gun and hurt people. I didn’t even know about it until my sister and I were driving to school and we got a call from our mom. We decided to just go to school, but the anxiety that was building in me got too much to handle and I ended up going home. No one was hurt and the threat was made by a young boy. I don’t know what his motives were. Thankfully, the school year ended quickly after that and my summer was good.

Now fast-forward to this year. My sister went to college so I had to ride the bus to school. Our school is called a “walking district,” so there aren’t a lot of buses available and the bus company/the school isn’t the best, but that could be a whole different article. We had recently moved farther away, so due to my constant pain, my mom got transportation for me. That was one reason I didn’t want to go back to school.

I decided to pursue English 11, American Lit, because the 811 English was too easy, and also Insights to Chemistry. The rest of my classes, excluding electives, were in 811. My second reason I didn’t want to go back to school was my U.S. History class. Now there was nothing that could be done about this, but there were nine or 10 students in there (not sure how that happened), and a few of them were the main “troublemakers” of my program. It caused me high anxiety every day because they were always so loud and 10 loud people in a small class doesn’t work well.

In the first month I missed a lot of school, more than I should have. I just couldn’t handle the constant fear, long days and overall feeling of depression and anxiety when I went to school. Then, the thing that put the icing on the cake happened.

Some background; a few of kids from my program fought, but one of them didn’t fight back and didn’t press charges because they were “friends.” The day after, the main kid who fought, let’s call him Dave, got put into the back of a police car and got suspended. Like I said, though, the kid who got beat up, let’s call him, Mark, decided not to press charges, so Dave was let go.

A few days later I wake up to Instagram and Facebook posts about a boy, Mark, was threatening to come into the school and hurt people. Someone from my program. A boy I talked to, a boy I’d gotten to know even before we were in the program together. Thankfully, he was caught, but it was rumored that he had two guns on him.

That day, I didn’t go to school, terrified he would somehow get out of custody and follow through on what he threatened. I went to school the next day and decided I couldn’t do that anymore. I couldn’t put myself through the constant pain, anxiety and depression anymore. Since my freshman year I begged to be homeschooled or do online school because high school was just too hard. But no one listened. They all thought they knew what was best for me, but they were wrong.

After the day I went back to school, I didn’t go back. I took a vacation to Florida to be with my grandparents and forget everything that happened. It didn’t work, but it helped a lot. I did extensive research and alternatives to school but could barely find any. This is why the school system needs to change.

In New York State, there are no public online schools, only private schools with expensive tuition. The best program in schools for people with school problems is the one I’m already in. Any alternate school would be the same format, same long day, same long bus ride, same anxiety. And I can’t get my GED until the end of my junior year. At this point I think my only option is to drop out in January when I turn 17 and see where I go from there. But, this shouldn’t be my only option.

Something has to change. There are kids like me everywhere, suffering through school day after day with nowhere to go and nothing to do about it. There needs to be a better schooling system, something that thinks about individual’s needs and how much school actually affects each student. Seven hour days with two plus hours of homework each night is unfair. When someone feels extreme anxiety, depression or stress from school, you should know something is wrong. Children and teens are suffering everywhere and no ones sees it. It’s time we make a change for the next generation, it’s time to help them succeed and grow and be happy. Thank you.

Getty image via DONGSEON_KIM

Originally published: July 26, 2019
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