Like many people I know I’ve just returned from dropping my daughter of at college. My youngest. My baby. The one 6 years and 10 months younger than my first daughter who I’ve always referred to as a “self cleaning oven” because her M. O. from the beginning was to self motivate and get the job done. Not so with my little puppy. Anyone with more than one child can testify that each one of their kids is totally different. Each fabulous and each challenging in their own unique way.
Because I dropped my sweet baby off in London of all places, ( oh yes, I have an artist who had her heart set on going to the University of London Arts and chose it above all of the prestigious art colleges in the USA she got into (forgive me the bragging but what’s a mother to do!) and am totally twisted from jet lag, instead of writing about my experience with that, I am reposting something I’ve been wanting to repost since first reading it.
It is written by a friend of my daughter’s who I’ve known since they were in kindergarten together. Since she and my daughter raced hamsters around our living room in those obscene hamster balls. Candy, Mister and Sweetie in that order. But Sweetie wasn’t sweet at all. He was the biter.
I’m proud to say that I know this girl pretty well. And I’m prouder to share what she wrote on her blog, ….. It’s extremely important , totally experiential and straight from the source.
If you have school age kids please read it. If you have friends or relatives with school age kids please share it.
If you are an educator…please take it in and act on it.
We’ll discuss London later!
Grace Weinstein’s post from http://graysgang.tumblr.com/
Everything about adolescence is anxiety provoking– friendships, love interests, insecurities, the list goes on. So here is my question: why is it that there are so many external forces and influences that provoke even more anxiety in teenagers? Years 14 through whenever we figure out how to rope in our frantic feelings are just a black hole of absolute terror. I am the first to acknowledge that. The part that I don’t understand is the apparent lack of willingness and dedication to figure out how we can take it down about 10,000 notches.
I was reading a New York Times article a while back about anxiety. It stated something along the lines of the fact that adolescence is synonymous with risk taking and outlandish behavior. This struck me as kind of funny because the first thing that pops into my mind when thinking about being 15, 16, and 17 is stress. I got totally freaked out by the fact that stress of all things was the first to come to mind. That’s really freakin’ unfortunate if that’s what I think of when I recount the past 3 years of my life. I then asked a few friends what they thought of. They said stress, pressure, panic. This is so beyond messed up, I can’t even tell you how much this angers me. I had to force myself to remember all of the good things that had defined my previous three years: falling in love with music, movies, food, and friendship. Ah, relief! But then I revisited the fact that stress had been the trademark element of high school. Risk taking and outlandish behavior? Hell yeah it was there, we all fell predator to our daily dose of stupid, but I wouldn’t say that my golden years (which are far from over) were marked by absolute freedom and leaps of faith. Why was that? It’s because teenagers now are taught from so early on that their future is the only thing that matters every second of everyday. We’re taught that the snap judgments and quick decisions of today will inhibit our potential for tomorrow. Teenage years have evolved from total freedom to total fear. So I asked myself, why should anxiety be looked down upon as such a defect if it has inherently become a part of teenage culture? Do I want it to take the place of rebellion and chaos as the symbol of adolescence? Heck no. But if that’s what society is moving us towards, we need to find a way to work with it instead of shrugging it off or hiding it. No one wants to admit that they have an anxiety problem. Teens hide it from other teens which results in terrible coping mechanisms and even worse outcomes. Parents hide it from other parents, afraid of the stigma. And schools hide it worse than anyone out of fear that their reputation might be tarnished because their students collectively suffer from horrendous panic, pressure and anxiety
Why should education add anxiety instead of trying to foster healthy learning? My school cared so much about the fact that it was an elite private college prep school that they weren’t going to let a tiny bump in the road, such as the fact that their students were literally going crazy, get in the way of shipping their kids off to prestigious schools (aka USC, Stanford etc). I can’t say I made it easy for myself. I took hard classes. But I found little help from the environment. I was told if I didn’t get A’s, have fun at a third-tier school no one’s ever heard of. I remember being asked what I was the best at. I didn’t have anything to say. I wasn’t the best at anything. I was good at a multitude of things, but I didn’t excel at anything. This shattered me. We were writing a brag sheet in which we were supposed to advertise all of the best qualities about ourselves. There’s that word again, “best.” I’m not the best at anything. I was an average athlete for a while until I quit sports. I was quite a talented artist until I had to throw all my creativity aside to focus on school. Still, I wouldn’t say “best.” So what the hell was I supposed to say to that?
Now as I write this tirade for demystifying anxiety, I’ve realized something that could help a lot: isolate the word best. Make the word “best” only applicable to personal best. If the question had been “what are some of your personal bests” I would have a million answers. There are plenty of things that I have accomplished that I am proud of. Everyone has things they’ve done that they’re proud of. It’s a complete shame that there has to be such a heavy focus on being The Best, instead of one’s own best.
I had my first anxiety attack at school, no doubt caused by the looming AP US History paper I had due the following week. This was the type of assignment I spent all weekend writing, not just a few hours everyday, but legitimately an entire weekend. The idea that if I got a B my GPA wouldn’t be high enough and wouldn’t qualify me for the college I wanted to go to, was hammered into my mind from the first day of junior year. So I ask: is this fair? Is it fair to assume that every 16 year old should know what they want to study, what they want to be, and what they want to do? (I’m 18 and sure as hell can’t answer those questions )
What is the big deal with harping on the future? I’ve seen so many parents manicuring their children from the tender age of 5 to take the right classes, do the right activities, and of course go to the right college. If their kid strays off the path just a quarter of an inch, let the panic ensue. I live in a city that seems to be over run with pushy parents that glorify their children. That’s fine with me, I don’t care. But I’ve come to realize that all of these perfectly manicured children seem to not be living up to the expectation of being top of the charts. There is nothing but cover up. Yo parents: it’s fine. Clearly you’re anxious about what your child is going to amount to. Let them find that for themselves. Of course they need encouragement. Of course they need some pressure. But if they have a misstep, it’s not the end of the world. There is no need to conceal the fact that teenagers screw up. If I hadn’t felt that there was such a stigma around anxiety or depression, talking about what I was going through would have been a lot easier.
Sitting down with my best friends and saying, “Hi I hope this doesn’t scare you but my life is basically spiraling out of control and I can’t get a grip” was terrible. With high school friendships, I was playing it safe, not letting people in too much to see that I was broken inside. But now it’s different. I think people are so scared that they will be judged for their anxiety or looked at differently for their depression. I could not speak more strongly against that. I didn’t want to be judged or looked at differently but it was more than that. I was in total fear that no one would understand what I was going through because of how alone I felt. As I opened up, I realized its like the whole world is infected with this anxiety thing. My friends were so quick to say “oh I totally understand, I get panicky all the time,” or “I didn’t sleep last night either because I was so stressed.”. Open up. Talk about it. Put your feelings out there to the people that know you best. They are dealing with things that parallel to yours.
I feel like this topic is written about all the time, so I’m not sure if my musings really contribute anything new. I need to say screw anxiety. It’s not the boss of me. I want it to be fired as the boss of everyone around me as well. I can’t say I’m going to overthrow education systems, parenting ideals, and teenage insecurity as they exist, but I feet it is necessary to start talking about what needs to be changed instead of dodging the subject.
So here I am. I didn’t get that GPA that would have gotten me into my first choice of college. I had to change all of the habits that pushed me towards losing control. I had to reevaluate all of my priorities, shifting them from grades and collegiate prestige, to my own mental health. I had to face the fact that I wasn’t the number one best at anything and that that was completely okay. I don’t want this to be the cycle that everyone has to go through. Anxiety disorder can take hold of anyone. It’s time to make changes and stop feeding into a disease that does nothing but destroy. I’ve realized that I’m too young to think about the future every second of everyday. I’m too young to take the future so seriously and have it occupy my every thought. To me its just infinite space that I have plenty of time to fill. I’m just trying to get there safely and soundly with as much experience as I can under my belt. Anxiety won’t stop me from doing that. I accept the fact that it will be a part of my life. Probably forever. I accept the fact that “To venture causes anxiety, but not to venture is to lose one’s self…and to venture in the highest, is precisely to be conscious of one’s self.” (That’s Kierkegaard). End.
Dare I say, venture on, Miss Grace! To quote an overused phrase, “Out of the mouths of babes”…
As always, sent with love xxxAS