"One.Two.Three." I stare out the window at the intimidating herd of strangers as I try to remember to breathe. In and out is a mantra playing over and over in my head. In the background of my overpowering thoughts, I hear a familiar, reassuring voice attempting to break through my own internal fears. It's my mother. "It's going to be okay! Plenty of other kids are new, its normal to be so worried!" I can tell that she is trying to reassure herself of that fact just as much as she is trying to reassure me.
The past three months of being homeschooled took me from being an outgoing, carefree kid to one riddled with stress that I could barely recognize. After the ninth time reciting my daunting new schedule in my head, I remind myself that it's just high school. I step out of the car, fidget with my shorts and try to look as confident as possible as I make a beeline towards the unfamiliar buildings. Quickly shuffling past excited freshman, I try to avoid eye contact with the curious glances.
I still haven't mastered the art of blending in, even with this being my fifth school in five years. I did master making new friends though. Or at least I thought. Something changed within me over the long summer. Worries and irrational fears started plaguing my mind until even the thought of telling a waiter my order made my heart beat like a racehorse and my mind spin, thinking about how I'd stutter.
The attention of the nearby students made me second-guess everything. "Why are they looking at me? Am I wearing the wrong thing? Will they hate me?" I shuffle as fast as I can towards the closest restroom and lock myself in the handicap stall. I set my perfectly organized backpack on the ground and start fidgeting with my hair and clothes and anything I could find while I critique myself in the mirror. I try to hold back tears as my breathing increases and the hyperventilating starts.
I contemplate calling my mother as the overwhelmed sensation continues to choke me. I know I'm being irrational and that only makes my thoughts worsen. A year ago, I would have no problem walking up to every person I saw and introducing myself. Now I'm confining myself to a bathroom with only my thoughts and fears to keep me company."
That is part of a paper I wrote five years ago for my freshman year English class, and reading it now makes me so sad that I ever felt like that. I thought that I was alone and everyone else was floating past without a care in the world. My anxiety often heightened my emotions and made things like starting a new school harder for me but I never considered that others were struggling as well.
I was inspired to write this article after talking to a group of kids about to start high school at the same school I went to. They told me about the fears and worries they have about being alone in a new place and it brought me right back to how sad I was freshman year.
I learned many things in high school that I didn't know going in. I worried about silly things that didn't matter and overthought everything before I started freshman year.
So, without further ado, this is the hard-earned advice I wish I could tell my younger self and advice for others starting high school feeling the same way I did.
1. There's about 50 people who feel the exact same way you do.
When I entered high school, I felt so alone in my stress over making friends and being "cool" that I was basically isolating myself. I looked at everyone around me and I thought they were all happy and transitioning into school way easier than I was. That almost put them on a pedestal in my mind which made it harder to talk to them. I've learned recently that in a new situation like that, almost every single person is worried about something. Remembering that makes people more approachable and can remind you that everyone's on the same playing field when it comes to the first day of school.
2. The friends you meet the first day of school don't have to be your friend by the last.
I went in thinking that I needed to find my best friend day one before everyone was grouped up and I was left behind. In actuality, that's so far from the truth, it's laughable. I watched so many groups of friends break up and splinter apart more times than I could count during high school, including my own friend group. The person you spend the first couple weeks hanging out with doesn't have to be your end all be all friend. It's okay if it doesn't work out and you slowly drift towards other people. That process of drifting away from friends used to scare me but now I expect it and accept it as a natural part of friendship.
3. Quality over quantity always.
This is pretty self-explanatory but I'm often surprised by how many people don't follow this common mantra. Pick friends who will always be there and don't waste your energy on those who just take from your life, instead of adding to it. It's as easy as that.
4. Don 't pay attention to social standings, they're irrelevant.
My last bit of advice I wish I could go back and tell myself is to ignore the cliques and the social hierarchy that comes with all schools. In elementary and middle school, I always gravitated towards the "cool" kids. It was fun to be a part of that crowd but I never felt like I was being myself. I felt like a walking talking persona. When I went homeschooled in eighth grade, my life came into focus and I realized everything I'd been doing wrong. I think the thing I'm most proud of doing in high school was avoiding that cliche mean girl group. I made a group of friends out of girls that I generally loved and cared about, instead of focusing on social status as I had in the past. High school will shape you into the person you will be for the rest of your life and it's best to have friends who push you to move in a positive direction and be the best version of yourself.
To all the kids about to start school, it gets easier. You will meet your best friends and learn so much about yourself. I entered high school scared and stressed and I left as a completely different person. My advice is definitely more than a little cliche, but it's what I wish I knew five years ago, going into highschool.
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