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Mental Health

Doing Well At School Doesn't Mean I'm Not Struggling Inside

Bad mental health can be visible in more ways than one.

tired college student

My battle with my mental health is no surprise to some. Yet I find the mixed reactions I get when I open myself up to people about my mood, emotions and how I'm feeling at the time very curious. Growing up, I never did. A lot of the people I grew up around seemed to be dealing with baggage way heavier than mine. I was quite a sheltered child as well. I came from a very comfortable middle-class family. However, money was still never a comfortable issue to talk about in our house at all. I always had the necessities, and my parents wanted me to focus on school more than working, so I didn't help pay bills like some others had to in my hometown. I didn't even get my first job until I was 18. So a lot of focus was placed on my education, and rightfully so.

However, there was always this innate anxiety I had around school. I remember in fifth-grade teachers started pointing out how much I worried about school. I never missed homework assignments in my 12 years of schooling. I never once got in any sort of trouble with teachers, and I had no real close friends during school at all. To put it frankly, I was an extremely high-functioning individual, comparatively at least.

My high school experience was…okay. I did a lot of things I was proud of. I had a 4.2 GPA, graduated seventh in my class and was an avid cellist. In all honesty, all I wanted during high school was to become a strong academic, yet very few others at my high school shared the same interest in school. Even in the AP classes I took, I watched a lot of my peers whine and complain when homework was given out, which made me a little distraught. We were (supposed to be) AP students, after all.

School all in all was the one thing I felt I had control over. It gave me hope, something to hold onto. But looking back, wow I was really, really mentally not there. It took so much effort for me to actually put effort into my schoolwork. I had no mental energy for it. However, there was no way my nerves would let me lose control of the one aspect of my life that brought me praise: good grades. I had no friends, and my interest in academia, as opposed to work, made me feel like a complete outcast to my peers (even though my parents and teachers gave me praise). I felt so frustrated with myself as a person. I wanted to be a strong academic, but a fairly academically apathetically high school didn't give me what I needed to be one. The people at my high school weren't people I connected with. Plus, I knew a lot of the kids at my high school were working through baggage of their own, so I grew to be very socially cautious. These people are not here to be your friend: They will do what it takes to survive, so tread carefully .

All in all, compared to some of the baggage a lot of my peers growing up seemed to carry, in conjunction with doing well academically (comparatively), I grew to be a nice buffer for people. I would let people come to me with their problems, but god forbid I tried to vocalize my own. Hearing my friends vocalize their urges to end it all left me scared and quite frankly confused because I had no clue what they were actually going through. But one thing I did know was that I carried a lot of the same worries and the same thoughts.

I couldn't tell anyone though. I couldn't risk being another issue that needed to be dealt with. Also, when the teachers at my school had to put so much of their focus and energy into students on the verge of dropping out, why should a student like me be given a second glance?

But there were moments I did break. There were moments I completely floundered on tests out of sheer exhaustion and panic. But I learned to move on. I learned to let myself break at times, in solitude, and try to put on the best poker face when I came out of it. But I was always distracted, always a little out of it, always dissociating from what I was doing and instead just sulking within my feelings and emotions. When teachers would point it out, I would get embarrassed, really embarrassed. Attention was brought to feelings I was having that I didn't know I had the right to be having. But they didn't know.

Yet, I grew up wondering if I even had the right to feel bad. I thought, "You're a 4.2 student, with a good, intact family with money issues nowhere near as bad as the rest of your peers. You can't really be that bad if you can still function like this."

I want to take some time to say I was wrong. Because I spent no time working on my mental health growing up, I had to spend a lot of time working on it in college. I really didn't know how bad my nerves were when it came to school until I got to college. However, I knew that if I wanted to do well in college, I needed to work on a lot of the anxiety I had socially and academically. I need to put every ounce of effort I can into working on my nerves because I need to be able to connect with colleagues and professors. I want to, for once in my life, actually have friends without being scared of building trust and relationships with people. Holding in 12 years of fears and anxieties around school lead to a massive breakdown in front of a professor. I couldn't keep holding things in. I knew it was time to put my pride away and admit I needed a little help because I was too quiet for too long.

I remember blatantly telling some people how bad I was feeling. Whenever I would, it was kind of shrugged off. "You'll be OK," "You're fine," "You're not really feeling/thinking those things, are you?" were common motifs people would spew at me, but ones I was honestly sick of hearing. I don't feel OK at all. My nerves are so bad, and I can't keep doing this. Even in college, I would tell people how scared I was of failing. They just about laughed in my face. You have a 3.9. Stop.

So this is a homage to the people wondering if the way they feel is valid. We need to understand that bad mental health doesn't always manifest itself as tears, visible anxiety attacks and bad school/work performance. For high-functioning individuals, it's the fight we have with ourselves every day: wanting to do absolutely nothing versus the fear of failure and poor performance. It can be dissociation: playing the part (and not badly), with little to no emotional investment. It's shying away/keeping a distance from people. Or sometimes it's the complete opposite: being non-stop all the time with a refusal to put work down until exhaustion hits.

So now I want to ask everyone to be more observant of little signs within people that seem OK. Every single person has some sort of baggage to work through, and no matter what your baggage is or how much of it you have, you should have the ability to talk through it/work through it. The hush-hush attitude towards mental health has got to change. It wasn't until I actively took charge of my mental health that I honestly could step back and realize I would be OK. I was just so immersed in my own little world, always waiting for something horrible to happen, so scared of diverging from sheer perfection that I just couldn't see it at the time at all. I'm doing really well now because I took charge. Please do the same for yourself because I promise you are worth it.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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