Honesty.

There’s a quote that is thrown around frequently, often times in reference to past events gone wrong. This quote is “honesty is the best policy” and while I won’t be using this quote in context with anything gone wrong, I do want to use this as a starting point for what I’m going to say next.

This past year has been many things. Busy, stressful, satisfying, hard, new…there are many adjectives I could use to describe it. In this past year I have been through a lot personally, and have come to better understand that cliché that high school is often the hardest years of your life. A friendly disclaimer that this is about to get very personal, so if you don’t want to hear the ramblings of a very self conscious seventeen year old then stop reading now.

For a while now I’ve been struggling with managing my emotions and stress levels, as well as maintaining a consistent level of happiness. Some may choose to label these struggles as anxiety and bouts of depression – I can only call it what I feel it to be; hard and all consuming. I’m choosing to be a little more honest and open about these struggles now in the hopes that others can realize that you don’t have to check off a certain amount of criteria or boxes about yourself in order to have these kinds of struggles, and you don’t have to justify these struggles to anyone. I often feel like on paper my life seems perfect, but my head and my heart are screaming to me the exact opposite. You don’t need to have bad grades or a troubled past to struggle with things, and not having ticked off those boxes doesn’t make your feelings any less valid.

I saw this video right before the end of school that the world issues class from Frontenac high school put together in which students talked about their struggles openly, and put a face to the terms we so often hear about but don’t actually understand. I will put a link to this video at the end of this post so that anyone who wants to can go check it out.

This video really meant something for me, it was mind-blowing that people could speak so openly about their mental health in a way that was so fact stating rather than a story or dialogue about their lives. As soon as I saw this I got a million ideas for our own mental health awareness week at school next year, and what we could do to make people feel more comfortable discussing what they’re going through rather than shoving it as far down inside of them as they can.

I have had many instances this past year in which the mere thought of a future test, project, or a presentation has brought me to tears – I just cared way too much about them. To me that 92.4 average was important to me, down to the last decimal, and the mere thought of stumbling or freezing or not knowing the answer induced me into panic attacks that left me literally without breath, hands and feet tingling from the lack of air. I’m not going to lie and put together a fairytale ending to induce that warm fuzzy feeling, I still care way too much. Just in the past month I’ve had panic attacks thinking about the prospect of school starting once again, but the difference between now and then is that I am aware that I care way too much, that it is something I need to change, and what supports and options there are out there for me when everything just feels like a little bit too much.

The scariest moment of this past school year took place in my school’s english office, after I went to talk to my english teacher and invoke the whole “honesty is the best policy” motto. I was literally hyperventilating as I waited for him to jot down a few last marks so we could talk, and my hands were shaking as I sat down on the antique desk chair. Even though the idea of being honest with a teacher about how I was struggling scared me to death, it couldn’t have gone better if I had scripted the encounter myself (which I had done in my head multiple times prior to this meeting). I was honest. I told my teacher that I was struggling. That it was hard for me to come to class everyday, let alone give a presentation. I was so worried that these statements would be met with disbelief or judgement, but they were instead met with understanding and a complete willingness to help me in anyway possible.

I share this example above because I think that many people (myself included) are afraid to reach out for help or to talk out what they’re going through for fear that they will be told to “get over it” or asked how they could feel those things when so many other people have it worse than them. Of course there are people out there who are ignorant and arrogant about the struggles others face that they themselves do not, but more often than not people are “human”, they have a heart and they are willing to understand.

Take yesterday for example. As we were driving through the lush German forests on our way to a touristy town I started to have an unforeseen and unexpected panic attack. It was totally, absolutely my worst nightmare. A panic attack in front of my entire family while literally trapped inside a moving vehicle? No thanks. But long and embarrassing story short it happened, I was super upset that my “secret” was out, and more than a few tears decided to show themselves. But it all ended up fine. My family was incredibly amazing and gracious, they held me as I became a watery mess in their arms and then we drove home to have a picnic and tea in the garden. It was my worst nightmare with a fairytale ending.

I worry that perhaps I’ve shared too much here, but my hope in sharing as much as I have is that others can understand that 99% of the time, even if the worst possible thing has happened, people are going to react kindly, nicely and graciously. I call it glass half empty optimism.

Basically we’re all human, we all have some personal crap going on, some of it is just a little more visible than others. So don’t worry about letting your “secret” out, because more often than not appearances are extremely deceiving.

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