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Answering 'What Are Your Plans?' as a High School Senior With Mental Health Issues

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I’ll just come right out and say that I have several different mental disorders, among them: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety and trichotillomania (compulsive hair pulling). The severity of each of these fluctuates. I take medications for some, and I also see a therapist once a week.

I’m now halfway through my senior year of high school. This school year has proved to be much more difficult than I anticipated. Like every other teenager at this stage, I’ve been under the stress of growing up and transitioning into the next phase of life. But when you factor in mental disorders to that equation, a whole other level of stress presents itself. Hardly a day goes by I don’t worry about how I’m going to manage all those “real world” responsibilities — driving, college, maintaining a job; the list goes on. Perhaps I’m thinking too much about the big picture, but it’s beginning to sink in for me that soon these things will be a reality. And I’m genuinely terrified at how my disorders will affect me in completely new ways as I enter adulthood.

In the last several months, it seems like just about everyone I know has been asking me about these things. If I’m being honest, all these inquiries just add even more to the pressure and stress I’ve already been feeling. I know people mean well, and I guess I can’t really get angry at them. To be fair, these are all normal things to ask someone my age.

I applied to only one college, a small state university about 10 minutes away from my house. I recently found out I got accepted and am proud to say I will be attending this fall. I felt it was a good fit for me. I knew I definitely did not want to go away for college. I can’t even imagine how much anxiety I would have living away from home and sharing a room with a total stranger. Still, people ask me why I don’t want to move out and have independence.

I don’t feel like I’ll be ready to get a job any time soon — I’m actually scared to. A big component of my OCD is germs/contamination, and I use hand sanitizer upwards of a hundred times a day. Because of my social anxiety, many everyday interactions make me feel on edge. So I don’t know how I’d be able to handle all the responsibilities that come with having a job. Still, people ask me why I don’t want to get a job. They say, “but it’s such a good feeling to be able to earn your own money that you can spend!”

Similarly, I have a lot of anxiety about driving. I still have not yet gotten my learner’s permit, let alone gotten behind the wheel. When I tell people I don’t want to drive right now, they say, “but don’t you want to be able to have that sense of freedom?”

When people ask me these questions, I wish I could tell them the reasoning behind why I don’t want to do those things. Usually I’ll just respond with “I don’t know” and try to smile and shrug it off.

Many of my peers are already driving, have jobs, and/or are going away for college. I have to admit, this sometimes makes me feel a bit inadequate, as if I’m way behind where I “should” be. Part of me wishes I felt able to do these things like other people my age do, and that I wasn’t so scared or anxious. When people constantly ask me questions about doing these things, those internal feelings of inadequacy are amplified. It makes my fears for the future that much more apparent. It’s overwhelming. Again, I realize they’re perfectly harmless things to ask about, and I’m not resentful towards people for asking, but it’s frustrating that I can’t really explain to people what I’m truly feeling.

This feeling of inadequacy is actually quite strange for me and something I’ve only recently begun to experience. I never used to have that sort of attitude toward my disorders or myself for that matter. I am loving and accepting of myself, disorders and all, and I don’t let them define me. But I think the stress of all the changes happening gets the best of me from time to time.

There is no right or wrong path to take in life, nor is there a set “timeline” to follow. Lately it’s been hard for me to remember that. I do what feels right for me, at my own pace. For now, all I can do is take things one day at a time. Every day I do the very best I can, and have to remind myself that is enough, and I am enough.

Originally published: February 28, 2016
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