The Black Box: Mental Health and Stress on Young Minds
By: Destiny Bryant
I’m certain I’m not the only one when I say that I have a lot going on right now. I, like so many other people, have big plans for this year. Publish a novel, do stand-up, be more independent, and so on. With all these things that I wish to accomplish this year, comes other tasks that have to be done to make those happen. These tasks have taken up a significant amount of time. I can no longer sit and watch TV all day if I want to get these things done. I have to get up and get out. Put things and myself on the line and through dedication and hard work hope that it’ll pay off. You want C? Do A and B to make it happen. I often wonder am I using my time effectively, what I should be doing, and what else will I do if things don’t turn out the way that I would have liked? This constant back-and-forth thinking has brought a lot of stress into my life.
Some are blessed with both the ability and the means to deal with stress and keep it at bay. I was not one of those people. In my case, stress is something I have to actively search for and minimize in my life like shopping around for the best price of an item.
This became clear to me towards the end of my high school career.
My parents expected a lot out of me and I expected twice as much out of myself. They wanted me to go to college and get the perfect husband, house, kids, job, etc. The whole American dream sh-bang. For a while, I thought that’s what I wanted too. I took my academic career very seriously to the point where I had begun to define myself through my academic achievements. To get a higher-end grade in a higher-end class meant that I was higher-end. Anything under an A gave me a panic attack and I felt like crap. Hell, if I got a 95% or lower, it was not fun times. I studied constantly, so much so that I was eating or sleeping up to code with the standards of the typical teenager. Come my sophomore year, the stress was so bad I couldn’t sleep at night or eat. I felt like I was being smothered between two elephants. I couldn’t breathe or focus on anything beyond my first name. I was only found in two places-school and home. If I wasn’t at school pretending not to be sleep, I was at home sleeping. The days consisted of the following: Wake up, go to school, come straight home, sleep, and repeat. I was sleeping about 15-17 hours a day during the week and more if it was the weekend. Despite getting so many hours, I was exhausted during the short periods of being awake. I was too tired to eat or do homework so it didn’t get done. My father would wake me up to eat and I’d a couple bites before falling asleep again. I had gone from an alert straight-A student to a D-student sleeping in class all the time.
I remember once junior year this girl named Jessica was telling the class that she wanted to go to Sac State and in an effort to be more social, something my therapist at the time had recommended, I told her that my dad goes to there and maybe I would too. She then asked me what grade I had in the class we were in, I told her I was failing. She told me that she thought I was stupid. Perhaps she didn’t mean it in an insulting way but I took it personally. She was condemning me, a person, with no consideration of my personality or life’s experiences but because of this one grade in this one class was an “F”, an object. The rest of the class heard her and I couldn’t help but interpret their silence and nods as if they were in agreement.
I fell behind in my work and was freaking out. My grades continued to fall along with my self-esteem. I went from being at the top of my class to a D-student fighting like hell just to get out of bed in morning. I timed my mornings so that I would show up just before the warning bell would ring so that I didn’t have to talk to anyone. After a while I was able to sleep but that’s was just about it. . I was sleeping about 15-17 hours a day. When I finally got to school, I was tired all over again before first period ended. If I wasn’t at school pretending to be awake, I was at home sleeping I sat in the back to ensure that I could get some sleep. I had no business being here trying to learn, I thought, it wasn’t like I was going to live long enough to use the information anyway. So I didn’t even try.
I vowed that my junior year will be one of correction. Catching up and making up for the momentum lost during the previous school year. I was enrolled in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at my school. It was thought to be more prestigious than the AP program. Get your IB diploma, they said, and you could skip your freshmen year of college. It was one thing to please my parents and live the good life but to be a seventeen year old college sophomore from the get-go that was just beyond awesome! Maybe then I’ll actually learn something new and be able to apply it to my life!
- I would be exposed to new information at the college level.
- I would be surrounded by people who like to learn and grow like me. I just might actually make friends. Like goes with like, right?
- The grading process would be based on my ability to apply the information I was given rather than factors that my previous classes were graded on that I felt were irrelevant or did not provide an accurate representation of one’s ability to apply such information like attendance and whether or not I brought my book to class.
I don’t want to be here. They don’t want me here. I’m not getting anything out of this. So why am I here? Good question.
Then I had an idea.
I was placed into the level I was at because of my test scores. My scores reflected the level I should be in and then I followed the system up. What if I tested through all the levels? Can I then. . .leave? What if my scores were so high that they had to hand my high diploma or move me to another school so that I could “reach my full potential”? Either way it provided a way out and I’d be free the center of all my anxiety and numbness, my high school. I got in touch with my counselor immediately.
The thought of being free some this place consumed me. I was sure that if I got away from here, this would be better for me. I could have a fresh, new start and everything would be rainbows and sunshine afterwards. I just had to get away from here. I was hoping to come up with an elegant plan for my departure if you will. I sat down in that chair with my posture strong, ready to conquer the world if need be. So when she told me it wouldn’t be possible to graduate earlier from when I was supposed to I was surprised. She then proceeded to talk to me about managing my current workload so that I could graduate on time. It didn’t sit well with me. I was sure there was a way. After all, she works for the high school, isn’t her job to keep students in school and “on the right track”? I searched far and wide for a solution. I then found the California High School Proficiency Certificate program website, took the test, got my certificate and moved on.
Why I Bring This Up
I finished out my junior year and my dad unenrolled me from the school, much to my teacher’s and Blondie’s dismay. They all thought that I’d be better off sticking it out here. That’s the cycle that was before me. I’m sure their good people and didn’t mean any harm perhaps I am in the wrong within their mindset. Finishing high school and going off to college for a good life has worked for so many maybe they did only want what was best for me. But they didn’t see how unhappy I was there. They didn’t see my battles I faced on an everyday basis just to perform normal tasks. They couldn’t see because I wouldn’t let them. As my symptoms got worse, the more I put on a front that everything was okay and that it was all sunshine and rainbows. I thought I could take care of these symptoms by myself. It didn’t cross my mind that it was okay to ask for help until later on. But later is always better than never.
Mental health is essential for any person to function at their best. Take that away from them and you hurt that person’s ability to grow and progress in life. I get the impression that mental health is not in the front of the minds of people my age like physical health is. But that doesn’t change the fact that being mentally healthy is just as important as the other categories. The mind is the tool by which we see the world and learn from it. When the mind is not healthy, everything from your outlook to your decisions is at risk as well.
I may tell jokes for a living but one thing that I am serious about is helping people. If you feel like you’re alone in the world with no one to turn to, know that it is okay to ask for help. We may live in a cruel world but that doesn’t mean we or our circumstances have to be. From parents to peers to trained professionals there’s always an ear lobe willing to listen if you’re willing to look for it.