Someone asked me to share about my high school experiences related to mental health. I was highly resistant to this at first, because I haven’t been in the mood to share lately. But I decided to take a stab at it. What would I actually share if I sat down to do it. Here goes . . . .
For most of my life, I’ve been shy and self-conscious to varying degrees. As it may be for many people, high school was a pressure cooker. It was a time of rapid growth, and that growth felt like it was being done in a fishbowl; everyone can see you and judge you. That may not be true, but that’s what it felt like at the time.
I wasn’t a popular kid, but I had some good friends that I liked. I could never understand why they liked me, but I was always grateful that they did. I’d take it. I was always like that, which sounds kind of pathetic when I write it. But I genuinely liked and admired these people, so I guess it’s OK. And some of them (not all), like me, didn’t party, drink, date, or any of that stuff. It was like a never been kissed club for a while. So we had each other to do things that we actually liked.
I was pretty good in school and could get top grades most of the time if I put in effort. I liked learning and I liked listening in class. I’ve never really liked studying, but until high school and college, I could get away with just listening in class, doing the homework, and reviewing the things that needed to be memorized. I was socially rewarded for doing well in school and proud of that.
I went to a small parochial school through eighth grade and then attended the local public high school. So my freshman year, I was suddenly thrown into a big pond with lots of strangers. I really wanted to do everything—and do it well. My Earth Science teacher emphasized consistency in order to do well. So I spent my freshman year in a constant state of stress. Although I fell asleep at night easily because I was tired, I was even stressed while I slept. I had picked up so many balls and I was afraid of letting even one of them drop just a little for fear of what that would mean. Would it mean I was incompetent? Would I even have a future if I can’t handle this? It felt like a time that would define my life. I was stretching myself so much, trying new things, while not knowing at first who really liked me and whether I was good enough. So of course I was stressed. I had no sense of security or safety outside of my family. My family was helpful, but even that had limitations.
I realize now that it was natural to feel stressed, and that I don’t need to be stressed about being stressed. But at the time, I thought that maybe I was bad, because everyone else seemed to be handling life with relative ease and even seemed to have fun sometimes. And everything seems bigger and more dramatic when you’re younger, growing, and subject to hormonal fluctuations than when you have some experience and your life and body have stabilized.
My first semester freshman year of high school, it got to the point where I even broke down crying during our swim team practice. So my wise and warm-hearted coach recommended I visit the school counselor. I started seeing her regularly, and it was helpful. At one point, she pointed out that I was not only taking on my own problems, but felt like I was responsible for everything and everyone around me. I laughed out loud with relief at that and started to chill out more. That was a big relief for me.
Of course, with time, I got used to high school. It was a lot of work, and I was still trying to to better, but I wasn’t having emotional breakdowns like my freshman year, when I felt like I had no time to stop or think or feel. I became at least a little more confident socially and academically, although I did have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome after having a mild Epstein Barr infection my junior year.
By the end of high school, though, I was so burnt out. After college, I was even more burnt out, and that memory has made me resistant to making something so important that I feel too burned out. Burning out, though, makes you slow down. That taught me that slowing down or not doing well is not the end of the world. Life goes on. So you always have a choice.
One thing I can say is that although I was self-conscious, I was looking for my own values in high school, exploring what I wanted to value. My teachers, family, friends, and the media influenced that, but it was a calculation my brain was constantly making without my explicitly asking it to. I was trying to figure out my world. It wasn’t like I was only trying to fit in, although I did try to some extent. But I also wanted to express myself and be seen as who I was (which I thought was a fixed thing at the time). So I was resistant to changing myself too much for others. I’m still like that today, although I’ve become a bit more flexible.
Nowadays, I still want to do well yet never feel like I am. I also retained my tendency to take responsibility for everything, although I end up actually taking responsibility for nothing. But now I have tools—Brain Education tools. Through Brain Education, I’ve realized that my desire to take care of everything is a natural desire of my soul, which is connected to everything. Brain Education taught me that if I keep my energy full and bright, I can handle that responsibility. And by keeping my energy full and bright, I’m actually fulfilling that responsibility. I’ve also learned that if stay consciously connected to myself and the universe, the energy I need for my intentions will come to me. I also know how to gather that energy in my body in a way that let’s me use it effectively. When I do this, I don’t need to worry so much about burning out.
On my Brain Education journey, I’ve been able to discover my true self and true value, which is independent of my environment, including other people’s thoughts and opinions. It’s even independent of my own thoughts and opinions! Having a visceral experience of this has helped me tear myself away from any self-flagellation I may initiate out of habit, hormones, or low energy levels.
I wonder . . . how would my high school years have gone if I’d known Brain Education then?