While exploring a new park today, I came across two groups of people taking photos for their quinceañera. This got me thinking back to what I was experiencing when I was around that age. I started high school at age fourteen. I wanted to be as prepared as possible for what I’d been warned was a big adjustment. I was told the teachers wouldn’t give out study guides (wrong). Lockers would be on the other side of the building from your classes ( i never used a locker in high school). It would be hard to make friends (kinda true). There were so many rumors and I feared the unexpected. I went to the orientation day where the upperclassmen showed the fresh meat, I mean freshmen around campus. They told us that no matter what we were told, there was no swimming pool in the basement. I thought this was a stupid lie since it was pretty obvious that would be a safety hazard ( in my mind) and it would’ve been publicized before my first day if there was by a reputable source ( ie: an adult). Classes started and there were so many people. I remember getting frustrated that no one walked quickly and we only had five minutes to get in between classes. I was excited almost entirely because of the academics. This was the first time I had a say in my classes and I wanted to take them ALL. I was soon to be disappointed.
My geography teacher was a gentleman we can call Mr. Finn. He spoke in a monotone voice and was missing a finger. I was always curious about what happened to it but never asked. He never told the same story once about how it went missing. Soon the novelty of the missing finger wore off and I was exasperated with the fact he didn’t teach. Almost every class was a video. He would sit at his desk, on his computer, and rarely interact with us. What I was hoping to be a rigorous and interesting class turned into an anxiety-inducing 90-minute snore-fest. When we weren’t watching videos, we were doing group projects. There was one project in particular that just drove me insane, the appointed group leader thought he was the best thing ever. He and the guy sitting next to him would brag about how much they could bench ( i think it was at most a little over a hundred). He looked like a string bean, no one would’ve been able to tell he lifted weights except he wouldn’t shut up about it. His friend who he liked to brag to would always kick my seat. We had to react to the death of an admiral during the battle of Trafalgar. The admiral was shot from a smaller boat but for some reason, we had him dying from a cannon shot. There was such little direction and muscle mouth was too busy to lead the group so I had everyone cobble something together. I remember Mr. Finn said in his dry voice “ didn’t he die from a gunshot wound?”. I think we got a ninety but I don’t remember.
After that course, I decided to up the ante. I signed up for the hardest social studies class my high school offered. While the learning was much more structured and instruction of a higher caliber, I was surrounded by the highest achieving children in the high school. While I was worried about passing my history course, they were worried about AP Biology. I felt like I was too dumb to be in that room half the time. The saluditorian had a really annoying way of acting like Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy at the same time. We became enemies when i started besting her in AP US History junior year but i digress. I spent all of high school feeling like i didn’t belong. I tried different activities and i found safe spaces there, but the angst continued. It didn’t help that i got my worth as a human from getting good grades. A failed math test meant i had failed at everything that mattered. I remember sobbing in a teacher’s room after a failed pre-cal test. He seemed flabbergasted that this had brought me to my knees. It got better over time. What i wish i’d told myself was that getting a good grade is nice but the pursuit of knowledge and deeping my understanding of what im interested in is the true reward. I still listen to history podcast almost daily and learning to learn continues to enrich my life. The people i envied had battles i would only come to find out years later. Even though i felt out of place, i was surrounded by young people who felt the same way. They were better at faking confidence but they weren’t any better off in the angst department. I wish i hadn’t spent so much time comparing myself to them.
I remember in high school, thinking once i was done with college, my true self would arrive. My teenage self wasn’t my real self, just a place holder until who i really was could be developed. I wish i’d accepted myself as i was in the moment. I wanted to be athletic and i tripped up the stairs on a regular basis. I wanted to look cute in jeans and i hated the texture. I wanted what i didn’t have and i wanted to be who i wasn’t. More than a decade on from being a freshman, i still don’t know entirely who i am sometimes. I have a much better idea and i’m always discveroing new things about myself. I wish i could go back and tell myself knowing the final destination isn’t nearly as important as being curious about what’s around the corner. Where you need to be will come to you when you least expect it.
Another piece of advice i wish i could tell my younger self, is that sometimes adults are jerks. They have insecurities too and don’t always handle their business like they should. I should say, befor ei continue i was blessed with numerous wonderful and supportive adults throughout my time in middle school and high school. They were the buoys is the craziness that can be adolescence. I’m grateful for them and will always remember them fondly. I’m thinking of one particular teacher who made me question myself. It doesn’t matter what class or club it was, i wasnt’ treated with respect or dignity. To tell a long drama short, i got involved in an activity, it ende dup not benign a good fit and i quit for my mental health. Quitting was the righ decision. He called me into his office with another student to berate me for quitting and asking me if this were a job, would i just quit when i had a family to feed? Okay dude, let’s explore your flawed premise. I was fifteen and had no family. This was not a job, it was a club. And if since high school, i have left jobs where it was damaging to my mental health. No job is worth that. I would just like to say in closing, the only family i’ve ever had to feed is a cat and she wasn’t expensive to feed. He was upset because my departure inconvenienced him. If he didn’t want me to leave, he should’ve been a person of integrity from the start. He maybe should’ve bothered to care that I was having panic attacks and meltdowns in the bathroom. All this to say, adults are flawed people and I knew myself best. I was happier the next school year when I wasn’t there. If an adult is being toxic, either ignore them or leave. It’s not worth it to sacrifice your peace for that. Other adults interacted with my family who wasn’t the best but those aren’t my stories to tell. I would want my younger self to know quitting is good and take care of myself. No activity is worth your peace and well-being.
Another piece of advice I wish I knew, no one knows what they’re doing with dating in high school. I felt left out because I didn’t have a boyfriend and didn’t get asked to a school dance until my senior year. I wasn’t the exception, I was the rule. Most people I knew weren’t having grand and healthy loves in high school. While dating in high school can be healthy for some, I wasn’t ready. I barely knew myself and could soothe myself, had I dated, I would’ve just wounded the other person. Lucky for me, my long-term crush was too scared to do anything, just like me. We sat in angsty awkwardly until graduation and he moved away. I regretted not dating at the time and now I’m so grateful. I didn’t need more complications when my brain was already scrambled. I’ve since dated and had some wonderful experiences, which were all the better when I knew myself slightly more.
My final piece of advice, I wish I’d known my levels of anxiety weren’t normal or healthy then. I would have to spend hours in my room decompressing after school. The racing heartbeat would only calm slightly even after that. If id known what it was that was wrong, I wouldn’t have suffered for as long as I did. I would tell my younger self to be patient with therapy and find someone I like. I would’ve started medication sooner and just been able to exist in my own body peacefully. In closing, I would tell my younger self, you’re normal, you’re lovely, and doing just fine.
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