Sink or Swim – Anonymous Junior (’20)
I’m diagnosed with anxiety and depression, and usually, I feel like I’m drowning.
I’m a notoriously high achiever, a remnant from a childhood of being a bright kid who turned out average by high school. Now it feels as if someone scooped out all the things that defined me and left a shell in their place. There are times when I feel normal and everything is going great. And then there are times where I either don’t feel anything for days on end or the very idea of checking my phone or email sets my heart racing and cues an endless ache in my chest. And then slipping behind on a project or essay means more anxiety which means more depression which means I’m mentally out of commission but still have things due which means, you guessed it, more anxiety.
During the school week, I feel like I’m holding my breath. I cannot breathe until the weekend, when I pathetically gasp for a little bit of air until the entire process repeats over and over and over. It’s this kind of painful monotony that feels both unfulfilling and overwhelming. And it’s compounded by this utter and pervading hatred of myself. Especially in the extremely high-stress and achievement-focused environment at East, every misstep feels like a hand squeezing my chest or crushing my ribs up into my throat. It’s the kind of mental pain that causes actual physical pain. And there are times when I know I can do better and I want to do better and it’s so sad because I think about how much I could do and achieve if I didn’t get irrationally afraid to check my text messages from my best friends.
A little backstory, out of place and unnecessary: I never saw myself as an anxious kid. Sure, at one point I started trying to memorize what my parents said to me every time we parted for any reason (saying “I love you” again to make sure they said that they loved me back just in case something happened and I wouldn’t see them again). I never saw myself as a depressed kid either, but I got sadder and sadder from sixth grade on. I might have never seen that, but I’m relatively sure that everyone in my grade has seen me cry at least once.
I am (finally) getting help for my mental illnesses, but therapy sessions are few-and-far-between when school obligations along with extracurriculars are factored in, and East does extremely little to help. I don’t recall having a mental health unit in health class since middle school. I’ve had teachers tell me to my face that I should get help (something that, I don’t know, should be taken to my parents or the Student Assistance Counselor? Seeing as that comment was followed by a panic attack on my walk home, it was maybe the least helpful thing that’s ever been said to me.)
Sometimes I feel like I’ve burnt out at 16. Sometimes I feel like I have to give up on Ivy League dreams. Sometimes I feel like it wouldn’t be so bad if the sun forgot to rise and I could get just a little more sleep.
One thing I know for sure: nothing is more quintessentially Cherry Hill East than having to cancel therapy to finish homework.
Interview – Anonymous Senior (’19)
This is What my Anxiety Feels Like – Anonymous Senior (’19)
I’m writing this perspective behind the first door to the right in the nurse’s office, on a squeaky vinyl bed in a room illuminated only by my laptop’s glow. There’s a crinkly white paper sheet that rustles when I sit. A half-full (or is it half-empty?) paper cup of water, its edge worn soft by my thumb. A tight, burning sensation in my throat that spreads down my neck and through my chest, holding, squeezing, suffocating me. On the opposite wall, a Scholastic Book Fair poster of a kitten dangling from a branch — “Hang in There!” I had a panic attack in class, and I came here to cry. This is what my anxiety feels like.
It feels like my mind is a TV tuned to a dead channel, constantly buzzing with static and noise and flurries of black and white dots that pound in an avalanche against my temples, rewinding conversations on loop and analyzing the tiniest things into oblivion and simultaneously thinking about everything yet nothing in particular. My primetime special is all the time — in English class, out at dinner with family, at night while trying to fall asleep — and I can’t find the remote.
It feels like the moment when you’re leaning back in a chair and tip just a little bit too far. Except I never stop, never catch myself. Every misstep, every critique, every less-than-perfect grade sinks the pit of my stomach and leaves me suspended in midair. “Chill out,” my friends laugh. “It’s not that big of a deal.” I chuckle and I nod and I try to make my heart believe what my head already knows. And I’m falling, falling, falling.
It feels like a cool drizzle quenching sunbaked lips when I get the diagnosis two weeks before my thirteenth birthday, sitting in a sterile blue gown and socks with a hole in the toe at the pediatrician’s. He’s done an eye exam and a hearing test and tapped my knee with a mini hammer, and he’s concluded that the problem is in my head. “Generalized Anxiety Disorder” is only three words, but it opens up a whole library to express what I’d kept locked away for so long. Relief washes through my hair, down my sternum, over my exhausted limbs. Until, suddenly, the clouds darken, the wind shifts — “There’s nothing wrong with you,” my mom says as we drive back home in a July thunderstorm, her voice as harsh as the percussion pounding the car roof. “Just stop stressing yourself out. You’re not a crazy person.” I watch two raindrops race each other down the windshield, and I say nothing.
More than anything else, though, it feels like being trapped in an abusive relationship with myself. A voice in my ear relentlessly reminds me that I will never, ever be enough. Of all the hurdles it’s egged me on to jump — pleasing classmates and parents and college admissions officers — none of them have ever made the empty ache in my chest go away. When I was a little kid first learning to count, one hundred seemed like the biggest number that could possibly exist, the grand finale after a dramatic pause for effect at ninety-nine. But then I learned about one thousand, and one million, and one billion…and each number was rendered smaller by the next. The bar keeps getting higher, and I just can’t measure up.
But hey, I’m still here; I’m breathing; I’m writing. There’s a pretty darn cute kitten telling me to hang in there. And it feels like maybe this is enough for now.