My Undeserved Recognition

This evening, I was inducted into the National Honor Society. I suppose I’m proud of myself for my academic performance–though, because I’m riding on the coattails of my freshman year, I really should be thanking that self-hating, compulsively perfectionistic girl I once was. You did a good job, little me. Anyways, I really only wanted the title. It felt prestigious to walk across that stage; plus, I enjoyed pretending I was a tough-minded, high-powered businesswoman.

The ceremony got me thinking once again about the letters and numbers the school system measures us against. We inductees were there in that auditorium because we got good grades (we had to fill out a form with leadership experience and write an essay about it, but we wouldn’t have even been invited without the grades). They were treating us like royalty. As much as I enjoy being praised, it kind of made me uncomfortable. Why am I supposedly more intelligent and prestigious than the people who didn’t get in?

They hailed us for our diligence and character, but it was all wrong. Yes, we couldn’t have gotten in without volunteer hours and an essay, but the chance wouldn’t have even been offered to us if we hadn’t gotten the 3.5 GPA. How is that fair? Our grades make us somehow more noble and diligent than people with worse academic performance, but equal (or better) character.

I feel like I don’t even deserve my place in the Society. I have absolutely no work ethic. I do as little as possible to get by, and I’m very uninvolved with my school and life in general. I’m in because my stellar freshman grades are managing to dilute my not-so-pretty sophomore and junior performance. I’m in because I kept failure logs and snapped rubber bands against my wrists when I was fourteen, yet I am hailed as an intelligent and revolutionary rising star of our generation. The real revolutionary is the kid who works his ass off day in and day out, just managing to scratch by with D’s. He deserves to be in the Society, not me. What about the rising star who gets very poor grades, but spends every bit of her time pouring into others’ lives and doing charity work? She should have my place.

To be fair,  though, I have overcome a great deal of adversity in the past two years, and I am prouder of that than I am of my grades. The fact that I still managed to get straight A’s while clinically depressed/manic completely baffles me even to this day, but those marks are really only a small part of the larger, more important picture. Since I entered high school, I have had three therapists, three psychiatrists, two therapy groups, have been on four different medications, spent seven days in a psych hospital, and took a million steps toward a fuller, happier me. Those numbers–not the silly decimals in my GPA–are the ones that help tell my story.

But I don’t want to toot my own horn. There are others who have gone through similar or worse things, but weren’t lucky enough to get the grades. There are others with completely different stories who are just as deserving as recognition as I am. And, in reality, I’m not being recognized for the turmoil I have endured. I’m being recognized for how I lived up to a narrow and objective standard while I was in the midst of that turmoil. The Society wouldn’t care if I’d been constantly happy all the way through the school, and they wouldn’t care if I was on the brink of a mental breakdown, either. They don’t see the individual; they see what they have produced. And I don’t feel qualified.

I walked that stage with my head high, legs only slightly shaking from nerves, being awarded with something I shouldn’t even have credit for.

 

 

How To Survive School As A Sensitive Person

School is difficult in some form or fashion for everyone. Sensitive or emotional people often have great difficulty trying to get through life in the educational environment. As a sensitive person who has been in the public schooling system for more than a decade, I’d like to share some tips on how to get through the day well. (And you don’t have to be sensitive to benefit from these tips!)

I. Day-to-day maintenance

These are tips you can practice every day in order to prevent freak-outs and breakdowns.

  • Take advantage of opportunities to relax. During lunch, I like going to the library. It’s easy to rest my mind when in the presence of so many delicious books. My school also has a free period, during which I find a hallway to sit down and take a break from working. Technically, I’m supposed to be in a classroom–which is why I choose the most secluded area of the school to avoid confrontation with patrolling administrators. 🙂 If that would stress you out, find an authorized place where you know you don’t have to be working.
  • Schedule your breaks for when you need them. Last year, right before my geometry class, I would find a bench to sit on and listen to a calming music playlist. Sometimes I got to class a tiny bit late, but that bit of relaxation was vital to help me through the period. Most of the time, though, I learned to budget my time well.
  • Allot yourself some break time during a class. No, this is not an excuse to slack off–you’re still responsible for your work like everybody else. But to maintain sanity, it’s necessary to take a minute to stare off and breathe. I enjoy keeping a “jar of daydreams.” All the thoughts I’ve collected during the day are like treats. Periodically, I reach into the jar and allow myself a little morsel of daydreaming.
  • Choose something to look forward to at the end of the day. For me, it’s my afternoon snack and nap. Look at the day not as one large chunk, but as many, smaller chunks. It really helps put things into perspective. Tell yourself, “I’m just going to get through the next ten minutes.” Keep saying that until you’ve made it to the end of the day.

II. Preventing upset

If you feel yourself starting to get tearful or weary, use these tips to help ease yourself back into a pleasant or neutral state before things get out of hand.

  • Listen to yourself. What are you feeling–sad, overwhelmed, irritated, tired? How are you feeling physically and emotionally?
  • Try to evaluate the situation. Recognize what might be causing your unpleasant state of mind.
  • Once you’ve figured out how you’re feeling and what might be influencing you, you can start looking for solutions. If you’re feeling tired, maybe you need to drink some cool water. If you’re sad, maybe you need a quick bathroom break to release your emotions and gather your thoughts.

III. In the middle of it all

Things have gone from bad to worse. Here are some ideas to help you when you’re in the middle of it all.

  • Take a bathroom break. I cannot tell you how often I’ve done this or how much it’s helped me. It’s my personal cure-all. Find a bathroom that’s empty–schools have several bathrooms to choose from if one has lots of commotion. When you’ve found the bathroom, just cry. Talk to yourself or to God. Close your eyes and enjoy the relief (the bathrooms I’ve been in are cool, calm, and have good acoustics). Wash your face. Sing. Anything, really. Do what needs to be done.
  • Talk to somebody. Excuse yourself to make a phone call. Text someone for support. Or, if you think it would be helpful, see the guidance counselor (I usually don’t recommend this one much because most people aren’t comfortable with it–but if you are, this is an option).
  • Be mindful and close your eyes. It’s cliche, but the deep breaths thing is actually very helpful for many different predicaments. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, closing my eyes and focusing on my breathing helps shut out what’s going on around me, at least for a moment.
  • Practice discreet crying. Sometimes you’re just gonna cry before you can go anywhere. There are ways to hold back the rivers until you can find a safe place to let them free.
  • Go home. No, you can’t just go home whenever you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or upset. This is the last resort for when shit has really, really hit the fan. If you are having a full-on nervous breakdown, school is not the place for you. You’re not going to learn anything anyway. Think of this as if you’re throwing up uncontrollably or having a very high fever. Your mental health is no less important than your physical health.

Emotional, not very emotional, or somewhere in the middle, I wish you the best of luck in maintaining sanity in the stressful education system. Listen to your needs and act accordingly.

 

 

 

Ache for Freedom

We live in a society where almost everything is listed, labeled, and scheduled. We’re evaluated based percentage points and numerical scores. Our lives revolve around agendas of hours and minutes. Maybe some people work well within those structured systems, but not me. I long for a free life.

One day I’ll escape all this. I’ll spend my days relaxing and deciding how I want to spend my time. If I want to sleep from 2-11 AM, I will. Maybe I’ll write some short stories or become a professional blogger, setting my own hours. I won’t be graded or given GPAs, nor will I have to worry about SATs and strict exams.

I am a human being. Ten thousand words cannot fully describe me. How, then, am I supposed to live up to a single letter? It’s unfathomable. I don’t want to spend my precious days shackled to labels. I ache for freedom.

Social Jet Lag

I am a high school student. I set my alarm for 7 in the morning, snooze it for half an hour, and get to school around 8. I’m sometimes at school for more hours than I’ve slept. Unluckily for me, I’m also a marked night owl. The morning-to-evening world I live in has always posed a problem for me, and it probably will for the rest of my life.

Night owls struggle with social jet lag–the misalignment of our natural bodily clocks with the 9-to-5 culture we live in. At least for me, if I want to get an adequate amount of sleep, I have to cut myself off when I’m in the middle of my productive hours. It doesn’t seem to work anyway. Mornings are drudgery no matter how early I go to bed. I have trouble explaining myself to teachers. I can’t walk in late and start discussing the genetic and biological differences between night owls, middle-roaders, and early birds.

I hope I’m self-employed or something when I’m on my own, that’s all I can say.

What They Want To Hear

In fifth grade, the art teachers asked us to write what we thought about a project we’d just finished. Did we enjoy the assignment? Why or why not? Every year, I had told them that the project was great and that I learned a lot. But after the tedious tessellations they’d put us through, I just couldn’t lie. I told them that I didn’t like the project and that the art teachers were very creative individuals who could come up with better ideas.

Everyone flipped their shit.

Admittedly, I could have worded it more respectfully, but I was a ten-year-old who was just starting to open her eyes to a whole new world of complete honesty. Even though all the ruckus, disappointment, and “little chats” with the teachers brought me to tears, it was strangely freeing, in a way. I’d refused to conform, and it felt absolutely amazing.

It was another five years before I decided to commit to a life of candidness. My freshman year had been enormously turbulent and full of fake smiles, good reviews for everything and everyone, and sickeningly fake austerity. Tenth grade, I decided, was going to be different. When I had to write papers reflecting on the quarter, I told them that I was a horrifically lazy student who’d only regressed academically. I flat-out told my classmates–in front of my teachers–to ignore school if it was getting in the way of personal health. The best part? The teachers high-fived me for it. I got compliments on my honesty. I stood out because I didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear. I told them the truth. If something sucked, it sucked. I saw no point in sugarcoating things.

I’m glad that I made the decision to live in (often brutal) honesty, and I hope that I can inspire others to do the same. This world will never change if we don’t decide to buck the system of smiles and excuses. Surprise people with your sincerity. Tell people what’s really going on. And whatever you do, don’t just spit out an answer because it’s what you were told to do. Each person has her own brain for a reason, and it’s yours forever. Use it well; use it wisely.

Honor & Choices

School will get you into colleges, send you on your way to a lucrative career, and make you look smart, but it can’t do anything for your honor. Just as you have to work hard in school, you must actively pursue your sense of honor in order to live a true life of honesty. What’s the point of getting ahead in life if all you did was use other people’s hard work to be successful? You have to evaluate what’s important to you and why you’re attempting success in the first place. I would rather be a failing student with a strong sense of honesty than a Harvard valedictorian with a diploma and a heart full of lies. In life, you have to make choices. As for me, I will choose honor and character–which grow and bloom forever, if cultivated–over a wrinkled, yellowing report card with a few pretty A’s stamped on it.

Excuses

“I forgot my homework at home.”
“My printer stopped working.”
“My locker was jammed.”

There was once a time in my life (middle school) where I frequently came up with excuses to justify or explain away a lack of personal responsibility. It was my way of reaping the benefits of carefree leisure time without the hassle of fallout. Eventually, as I went through a mental growth spurt, I began understanding the importance of owning up to one’s shortcomings.

Let me make one thing clear: I am not the most responsible or reliable person. I sleep in, ignore my obligations, and I’m a chronic procrastinator. But I own up to it, almost brutally. If a teacher asks me why I’ve missed an assignment, I just flat-out tell them that I’d spent the previous night doing absolutely nothing. When I’m late for school, I just admit that I’m sorry, I don’t have an excuse. I can’t have my cake and eat it, too. If I’m going to waste my time, I won’t cover my ass by pretending I was working hard. That would be a lie–and there are few things I hate more than lying.

My Project

National Do Things You’re Bad At, day five.

I didn’t write last night because I was finishing a project. It’d been assigned weeks ago, but, being the lazy ass I am, I did absolutely nothing. So I completed it all last night. I had a lot of fun for a while; the project was interesting and entertaining to make. As the hours dragged on, however, things gradually became unpleasant. I needed to go to sleep, but my work was unfinished. I stayed up until an ungodly hour getting it all done (2:47 AM is when I went upstairs). My goal was to wake up in the morning feeling refreshed–somehow.

When I woke up for school a couple hours later, I felt like a rock. A numb, expressionless rock. I asked my mom if I could pay her to let me go back to sleep. I did (not the paying part). I feel awful about it now, because I missed school (that’s not something I enjoy doing, even if school sucks), but I realized I wasn’t going to be productive anyway.

I suppose it’s only natural that I’d fail. It’s not really possible to function well on four hours of sleep. So I’ve learned my lesson: on school nights, do not stay up past 1:30. I’m fine with 12:30 or even 1, but once you get to the 1:30 mark, you’re shot.

How to Wake Up

In elementary school, particularly in fifth and sixth grade, I felt cool when I got up early. I would imagine I was finally in middle school, waking up before seven and strutting out to the bus stop like the world was my own. After one month of seventh grade, my outlook changed drastically. For the first time, I understood true exhaustion–being glued to my bed in the morning, struggling to hold my eyes open, desperately wanting to collapse into a ball of slumber, regardless of the situation or context. I woke up at 6 in the morning, got on the bus, and went to school from 7:50 to 2:40. Monday through Friday, rain or shine. It was a lot for a growing twelve-year-old kid.

It’s been four years now. Nothing has really changed, because secondary school is what it is. However, I’ve learned a few tips and tricks that have helped me bear the weight of morning exhaustion.

  1. Coffee. I bring it to school every morning (except Chemistry, because I can’t eat or drink in the lab). It’s helped me immensely. I used to hate it, but I eventually I adapted. I’m sixteen and I drink coffee every morning. Oh God. But, in all seriousness, I would consider caffeine. Everybody says it’s bad–maybe it is–but at least it keeps you awake enough to function.
  2. Exercise. You don’t have to be one of those freak-of-nature superhumans who goes for runs at 5 in the morning (I’m teasing, by the way). I walk to school, so that helps, but even five jumping jacks can do the trick for those of you who don’t. Just a few honestly makes a world of difference.
  3. Set your alarm earlier. It sounds counterproductive, but having the power to hit snooze a couple times actually feels empowering. It’s a lot easier to get up once you’ve gotten a little warning than having to force yourself up immediately.
  4. Change your alarm sound frequently. If you have an iPhone, there are plenty of different alarm tones. Switch it up. Waking up to the same old thing can get really annoying. When you change it up, you at least get a little surprise.
  5. Eat breakfast. Everyone says it’s good for you, and that’s true, but I say it for different reasons. I suggest it for the sensory appeal. Nothing is more motivating to get out of bed than something delicious. Buy a new cereal. Have someone make you waffles. Anything.
  6. Keep a water bottle on or next to your bed. Dump it on yourself when your alarm goes off.
  7. Listen to music as you get ready. Choose something motivating and upbeat. My personal favorite is BO$$ by Fifth Harmony. It’s catchy.
  8. Push yourself off the pillow. This is the first strategy I ever discovered. Exhausted, twelve-year-old me would put her hands on the pillow, push down really hard, and use the momentum created from the push to sit up. Sitting up is half the battle.
  9. Don’t think about going back to sleep. This is the most important of all, I think. It’s so easy for me to fantasize about curling up under a mound of thick, feather comforters, or imagining my mom walking into my room saying, “School’s been delayed by two hours because it’s 55 degrees out, and 55 isn’t an even number,” but reality doesn’t work that way. The morning is the morning. Unfortunately, we all have to deal with it.

Find out what works for you and stick with it. If you have trouble falling asleep, stay tuned, because I’ll be writing on that shortly.
Happy morning! We’re all in this together. Somewhere, there’s someone who’s struggling just as much as you are. Stay alert and stay strong.

The Personal Relevance of School

All these teachers tell us, “This class is relevant because it will teach you critical thinking skills.” But is it critical thinking to spit out equations on a worksheet of busywork just for an A? Is it critical thinking to memorize a list of words only to forget it after a quiz?

I want my education to be relevant to me personally. I’m never going to have to graph a cubic function, find significant figures, or balance an equation, but I’m forced to chew and swallow all of those lessons anyways, because they “will help me learn thinking and working skills for real life.” I don’t want to be lied to. I’d rather the teachers straight-up tell me that their class will never be relevant if I’m not going into that specific field. If I could go to school and spend the whole day taking classes that will leave a mark on my life, I would be excited to wake up every morning. Deep down, I love learning. You wouldn’t know it from most of the classes I’m taking, but I do. A love of learning isn’t necessarily indicated by good grades or the timeliness of homework completion. People want to learn different things. Students might even be excited for school every morning if they were allowed to take classes that would fascinate them. Of course, nothing can be fun all the time, and there are certain basic math and science concepts that must be grasped, but can’t there be some way of letting us thrive?

Everybody is curious about something. I believe that everyone really does want to learn. The problem is that we’re not being educated–we’re being schooled.