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5 Tips I Wish I’d Known for Surviving High School With a Mental Illness

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I have spent a lot of my high school career just trying to make it through the day. I have struggled with anxiety, depression, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for a lot of my life. Throughout this time, I have tried lots of coping skills — some that worked, some that didn’t. These are some things I wish I would have understood sooner and done more of:

1. Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.

We all know the saying: “Anything worth doing is worth doing all the way.” While this might also be true, sometimes you just can’t find the strength to. I’m not talking about not wanting to; I’m talking about actually not being able to. There have been lots of assignments I have done half of and never turned in because I didn’t think it was good enough or I didn’t want to disappoint people, but here is the thing — a 50% is better than a 0%. This can also be applied to other situations in life — if you can’t fathom brushing your teeth for two minutes, brush them for 30 seconds because that is 100% better than not doing it at all.

2. Reach out for help in whatever way you can.

Everything you hear or read about struggling with mental illness is going to tell you to ask for help, but it is much easier said than done. One of the most challenging things about mental illness is that it often invalidates itself. People often say that other people have it worse, but this can be detrimental. It may prevent people from asking for help because they think they aren’t sick enough. The thing is, you will never think you are sick enough. You are sick enough, it is bad enough, you deserve help and you deserve to get better.

3. It’s OK if you can’t do everything.

If you ask people how to get through high school, you will likely get answers like join clubs, play sports and get involved in as much as you possibly can, but that isn’t going to work for some people. Sometimes, it is hard to even get to class. There were days this year that my depression was so bad after I got to math class, I wasn’t sure if I would have enough energy to get back to my locker because the act of lifting my foot off the ground was so exhausting. Being in lots of extracurriculars might look good on a college application, but will hurt you if they prevent you from functioning well in your everyday life.

4. You do not have to pretend to be OK.

One of the only things more exhausting than having a severe mental illness is pretending you don’t. Pretending everything is good might seem safer than letting your guard down, but it’s not better. Pretending everything is good is only going to make it much harder when you do get some help. So talk to your school counselor, talk to a teacher, ask your parents to see a therapist, write down how you are feeling and give it to someone you trust, do anything you can to let the people around you know you are struggling. Someone will help you.

5. Accept the help; let someone in.

I know this is really easy for me to say and really, really hard to do. For me, this is one of the hardest things I’ve had to learn and I struggle with it a lot. When I was first hospitalized in freshman year, I didn’t think it was that bad or that I needed to be there. One day, I realized I was really sick and I did need help. I became less resistant to treatment and participated more in my own recovery.

People want to help even if you don’t think they do. Someone will listen.

A version of this article was published in the author’s school newspaper.

Photo by Blake Barlow on Unsplash

Originally published: February 20, 2020
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