As a young girl, I always had a passion for learning. It burned bright within me, and I seized every opportunity possible to broaden my understanding of the world. This eagerness came with me to elementary school, middle school, and finally high school. I must note that I was always an anxious and slightly unusual girl, which definitely affects what I am about to talk about. From kindergarten on, I strived to be excellent in my classes. I wanted to be the best. Not only at the things I naturally excelled at, but at the things that were quite difficult for me. Achieving A’s was not a difficult feat. I remember when I took my first standardized test in first grade. It covered all core subject areas, and I was very nervous about it. My class and I sat down in our seats, and the test was handed out. We were clocked from the start. This made me horribly anxious. I can recall my entire body starting to quiver and my heart pounding heavily. Resilient, I plowed through the test, finishing all but one question. The time was called, and we were told to hand our packets in. Everyone else did, but not me. I couldn’t bear to turn in something that wasn’t fully complete. I needed to answer that last question so that I might get one hundred percent. Kindly, my principal allowed me to have ten extra minutes during lunch time to finish the question. I remember the exact thing it asked. The packet showed a picture of a sneaker, and an arrow was pointing to the middle part. The question asked: “What is this part of the sneaker called?” I was absolutely dumbfounded. Never before had I come across a question that I could not answer. I sat for several minutes, sweating heavily in my long-sleeve Christmas shirt, before I chose the answer: tongue. Of course, I ended up being correct, but for years to come I would struggle with the same debilitating anxiety when it came to not only standardized tests, but any test at all. Every second of my life was spent worrying about what was to come, or that which had already passed. I think I looked at my entire life as one, big test. Elementary School came and passed, and I soon moved on to be a middle schooler. As everyone says, middle school can be quite a difficult time for changing pre-teens. I was no exception. With puberty, my anxiety got progressively worse. Each morning before school, I brushed my hair about sixty times in the mirror before getting on the bus. I brushed my hair so much that my scalp would often bleed. I wanted to be as pretty as the other girls. But looks aren’t what this blog post is about. During my time in middle school, I studied harder than I ever had before. Every hour of every day I devoted to bettering my understanding of every subject. Once I got home from school, I spent up to nine hours diligently pouring over my textbooks and taking minuscule notes in order to excel in class the next day. If I allowed myself any free time, I would watch NOVA PBS on my dad’s old laptop. My favorite episodes were always those on ancient Greece and Rome. Now, this doesn’t mean to say that I didn’t enjoy my education at the time. I relished in it, actually. I craved to learn new things, and I craved to enjoy doing so. I went into the park and read my books with my dad, learning everything there is about the natural world. Days like this were good. For hours at a time I found myself lost in detailed notes and writings of scientists and renaissance people of times long passed. Though it pains me to say it, I educated myself much more than any of my teachers ever had. I took the reins and commanded my own mind. These were wonderful, yet sometimes terrible times. Wonderful because I enjoyed learning so much, and terrible because I often became so anxious about school and the prospect of failure that I did not sleep at night. I decided that I wanted to be a scholar when I grew up. Whatever I did, I ought to be doing something that dealt with the business of understanding this world and the human condition. As the years wore on, I began to be increasingly sought out by upper-level teachers who wanted to ask me about my college plans. Though college had seemed distant for the longest time, it soon became evident that it was right around the corner. It was in ninth grade that I decided to be a writer. It was also in ninth grade that I cracked. By cracked, I mean, simply couldn’t go on living the way I was. Though I enjoyed studying, I did not enjoy life. I did not enjoy learning in the confines of my school about set things, many of which bored me, though I still did the work. It was not long before I began to feel trapped. Each day I spent sucking up to teachers, studying for hours on end, and not experiencing life as it ought to be experienced. Though I had learned much from my textbooks and gained wisdom from that which I read for pleasure, I had much to learn about the real world. That year in the ninth grade, I met three girls who, like me, wished to be the best at school. We studied hard to have the highest GPA’s in the school, and we secretly loathed each others existence. Teacher’s encouraged this sort of thing. It was this competition and the making of learning into something other than it ought to be that tore me down. I simply could no longer go on. One day, I stopped everything. I sat in the corner of my mom’s office for hours, shaking and crying. Only her gentle touch could calm me. My books could not, my notes could not, my previous successes could not. She told me that I should take the next day of school off as a “mental health day.” I was very unfamiliar with such a prospect, and felt horrible guilt about missing a day of school. Though I felt bad, there was something deep inside of me that knew it had to be done. The next day, my dad and I traveled forty minutes North into the wild park, where we would spend time in nature together. The day was a wintry January one, and it was prime time for the Black- capped Chickadees to be out and about. We brought birdseed with us so that they might eat out of our hands. We highly doubted that such a thing would happen. But it did, and it was the most beautiful and magical experience I have ever had in my entire life. The snow was falling, and it was just me, my dad, and the birds. It was like we were inside of a snow globe. This was the first day that I had ever been truly mindful. I was content with my state of being, and I was in the moment. That day passed, and I soon forgot about how wonderful it had felt to free my soul. I fell back into my habits of studying, and wasn’t mindful for a very long time. The joy that I had once felt from reading my books and studying for tests was gone. My mom noticed that I wasn’t myself. She suggested that I see a therapist. After a few months, I started therapy, and I found that it was such a relaxing thing. I could tell my therapist most anything that I wanted without her telling anyone. We soon formed a close relationship. However, I did not talk to her about the things that were most difficult in my life. I did not get to the source of my anxiety and depression. That summer I attempted suicide twice. I had gone to Germany to visit family and they gave me my own room to stay in. One night, I couldn’t bear to be alive anymore. I simply had no enjoyment of life itself. I though that I was nothing without my academics, and those didn’t even make me happy anymore. Before bed, I downed a three quarters of a bottle of some pill and fell asleep. I expected not to wake up the next morning. But I did, and I threw up everything that I had consumed. I was ever so disappointed that I was still here. At the time, my parents, friends, and family knew nothing about this. Several weeks later I climbed out onto the windowsill of my uncles apartment building, ready to become a smudge on the pavement below. About to jump, I slipped forward, and the fear of falling gripped me. I hung on to the inside rim of the window and carefully slipped back inside. I now know that this was the last fire of hope that burned within me. There was something deep down that wanted to live. Looking back, I see that all of this pain was caused by my need to be perfect at everything and my schools support of this. Many months passed and I entered an emotionally abusive relationship. The person I was with told me to kill myself on multiple occasions. I believe he was joking, but hearing that from someone close to me broke my heart. That winter, I attempted suicide again and ended up in the hospital. The whole time that I was in what I liked to call “the psych ward,” none of the people close to me except for my parents reached out to me. I received no letters. I was extremely angry at my mom and dad for allowing the hospital to check me in, and it would take me a good few years to forgive them. However, in that hospital, dreadful as it was to be deprived of everything that made me feel human, I learned what it was to be mindful. I had found a new hope. During the weeks following, my therapist and I talked about who I was as a person. We delved right into the roots of things, and I made the conscious decision to be my own person. There was one night I remember, when I allowed myself to watch some Netflix. And boy did I love it. Growing up without having a TV for some time and occasionally watching PBS had not prepared me for the modern technological world. I soon found myself binge-watching youtube channels and scrolling through Instagram. The things I had thought myself immune to were now catching up with me. And I allowed myself to feel pleasure in letting them do so. Once I was bored with those things, I moved on to finding myself. I wanted to gain pleasure from studying and reading again, but those things were not coming back any time soon. So, I turned to writing. I wrote so much that my fingers would ache at the end of the day. And I loved it. I began to be mindful about hanging out with my friends (which I started to do more of), and other activities I partook in. However, I was still depressed and worried about making a life for myself. Over time, things got better. I left my emotionally abusive partner and finally found true enjoyment with a new person. I did the things that I loved. Like I said previously, I could feel my soul coming back to me. Anxiety was still present, and depression was all but gone. There was so much to learn. This is where I am now. A senior in high school, about to go out into the world, ready to never look back.
“Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.” – Rumi
(Above, Black- Capped Chickadee Adult courtesy of https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Black-capped_Chickadee/id)
(Above, the day in the forest with the Chickadees)