It occurred to me recently that a year ago I would have freshly graduated from high school and been in the middle of my final exams, not having any idea what the next year would bring. High school, or a very large part of it, was not fun for me at all, and while being released into the “real world” and getting to study and do whatever it is I want has been one of the best things to happen to me, it’s understandably made my experience of high school look pretty awful by comparison.
I remember sitting in my school hall (which was really just an indoor basketball court) for our graduation ceremony and being subject to speeches from every important figurehead as to how the past six years would end up having been the best of our lives. How we would never have more people care about us than we had for that period of time. For some people, who made lasting friends and enjoyed all that they could, that may be true. But for a few people like myself, it’s just a downright lie.
When I look back, I acknowledge my years at high school as having completed their purpose: I got an education that allowed me to enter the university I wanted to and I formed interests and a large part of my personality, but it’s certainly not been a highlight of my existence. I was also bullied, forced to get used to being left behind by the same people year in and year out, and I have mental scars that I will carry for the foreseeable future. I never felt like any of these people, whether they were teachers, staff, or students, really cared for me, and I hope that I never have a worse year than I did in the tenth grade.
I realise that all of this paints a pretty negative picture, but it’s not a picture that I would change, either. Everything that I experienced over high school, good or bad, taught me something. While I was learning calculus and scenes from Hamlet, my time outside the classroom taught me about what real friendship is and what it’s like to have to fend for yourself. It taught me how to be strong and intelligent, that I could always depend on myself and work something out.
While I wouldn’t wish my experience of secondary education on anyone, I think that it was a worthwhile ride for myself. Everybody has a different view of their time there and got different things from it. And if you hate high school and can’t wait for it to end, you’re not weird and you’re not missing out. You don’t need to feel bad. High school is the place where you start to carve your own path. And although those six years may not have been the best of my life, they were certainly some of the most educational. Rather fitting, really.
Here in Australia it is currently Mental Health Week, in which awareness and funds are raised for mental health issues of all kinds. One of the most striking things I have personally discovered is that 3 million Australians are suffering from anxiety and depression, and yet a lot of people, not just Australians, have no idea what it’s about or what it’s like, being a sort of social taboo. I however, do know what it’s like to experience mental illness, and although it is a difficult thing for me to speak about so publicly, I think it’s an important issue nonetheless and I’m prepared to share a bit of myself with the world in the hope that it will teach someone something valuable, or help someone to get through experiences that are similar to mine.
Anxiety issues run in my family. Even as a young girl I was all too nervous to go to family gatherings or try new things. I was always very quiet and shy at first, and was only comfortable talking around people that I had known for some time. But fortunately, at that age, regardless of my feelings, I always had my parents there to take my hand and lead me through, and I don’t think my childhood suffered at all. I gradually turned into a confident young girl in my early primary school years, which is something that is now foreign to me when I look back.
My more serious issues with anxiety didn’t start until I was close to reaching adolescence, and was in my final two years of primary school. I found myself drawn into a group of girls who, with the benefit of hindsight, were fairly horrible to me from the start. But I continued in my attempts to be friendly with them because I didn’t know any better. The snide comments gradually turned into full-blown bullying. Slowly, my whole grade got in on it. I was called a loner and was avoided, and when I did find a friend, she ended up being just as awful to me as everyone else. I hated going to school every day, I came home and burst into tears, beaten down by the fact that I couldn’t do anything to stop it. By the time I was getting ready to move on to high school, I had once again drawn into myself.
I began high school as a very shy individual, afraid to speak out regardless of the situation, which did not go unnoticed by my teachers. A few years later it was brought to my attention that I was suffering from social phobia, a type of anxiety disorder where one intensely fears ridicule and social situations. But, not knowing this at the time, I soldiered on and slowly made friends, and it was smooth sailing for me for a few years.
In a typical pattern, my last two years of high school went by in a disastrous fashion. I was lied to and had my heart broken which, along with issues in my friendship group, lead to a very dark period of depression and at one point, suicidal thoughts. I began to be left out of things by people who didn’t understand and skipping school because I didn’t feel well enough to go. And when I look back, I think it a miracle that I’m here today to do so.
It all culminated in my last year. I was left by the person who I had considered to be my best friend, and it occurred to me that she had been emotionally abusive and manipulative from the start. She began to circulate rumours about me saying and doing horrible things that I wasn’t capable of. And people believed her. Even those who didn’t refused to say anything and let it continue. I again began to take more and more time away, I was left uninvited and unwanted, I had to stop myself from bursting into tears and running on multiple occasions as her attempts to deprive me of a place in our social circle proved more and more successful. Alongside this, my anxiety and depression grew worse. I began having more frequent panic attacks as the stress of going to school and facing everything kept growing.
Despite every day being a struggle, I made it through to the end. I attended my formal (even though I was left out of any form of outside celebrations) and tried to make the most of it. I thought that finishing school and leaving would mean that everything would clear up. I was wrong.
After graduation, my attempts of clinging to my friends failed as they were pulled away from me, and my depression and anxiety became so bad I became self destructive. It was then that I decided enough was enough and I had to take steps to make myself better.
I resolved to see my doctor, talk to my mum about some of the things that I had been keeping to myself for so long, and tried to cut the toxic thoughts and people from my life. Even these first steps made me feel so much stronger. My GP prescribed me some medication for my anxiety, and my depression began to clear up. I distracted myself with starting university, and the thoughts of all the great places this new life could lead me. I discovered new interests in TV shows and books, and became interested in feminism and social justice. I started university successfully even though it absolutely terrified me.
I’ve now been out of high school for about a year, and it’s been almost nine months since I decided to make myself better, and although I still have bad days, I still suffer from social phobia and my social life needs some serious work, things are a lot better and I am a lot happier. I’m doing well at university, I’ve made new friends and have put high school behind me. I’ve started believing in myself, believing that I am worth it, that I can be my own hero.
So through my drawn out experiences and this long recount of them, I’ve learnt that things DO get better, despite the fact that it may seem to take a very long time. Things won’t always be bad, and you will feel so much stronger for having emerged on the other side. And this is why I have shared this today, because this is a message that needs to be spread. More people than you think are suffering from these kinds of mental illnesses and they are more complex than most people know, but so many people like myself have gotten through it and are living their lives in the best way they can regardless. So I hope that this has taught you something, whether it has been that you are capable of survival, or added to your knowledge of what friends or family members may be going through. In any case, thank you so much for taking the time to read this, and remember that if you are struggling with anxiety or depression, there is always someone you can talk to, whether it be a friend, family member, teacher, medical professional or helpline, and if you want to find out more, you can visit BeyondBlue.
As someone who has always been partway through a book since I properly learnt how to read, I’d say I’m familiar with the feeling of a good book, and over the years I’ve filed away a list of particular favourites that I will keep returning to until my eyes and ears fail me entirely. This is a very short list, but that’s because they are special in specific way. These books, to me, have their own feelings, their own little worlds that are such a wonder to experience that the sensation almost carves itself into you. These are the books that I am constantly reminded of and that I often crave to re-read. They could be considered staples of their genres or outstanding examples of literature; some more than others, but the most important thing is that they’re an experience that I will never get sick of.
The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
Harry was the first reading love for a whole generation, and will continue to be for many in the future. Nothing can beat the feeling of the first time you completely immersed yourself in another world, pretending to fly brooms around the backyard and teaching your stuffed toys Transfiguration. The story grew with us. It taught us love, friendship, sacrifice and loyalty, and although now the stories are beyond familiar, the awe of that little six year-old is no less relevant.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
The Hitchhiker’s Guide has a cult following for being one of the wackiest examples of science fiction that has ever graced shelves. Although the tale began as a radio show, the little volume still manages to express the weird and wonderful in a way that encourages us to leave behind everything we’ve ever learned and accept a universe where Babel Fish and reside and Vogon poetry is one of the worst things you could ever be subjected to. It has inspired so many authors in their work, but nothing can ever truly beat down the classic.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games may not be the first or best example of young adult dystopian fiction, but it was the first one that I was exposed to. With the genres climbing popularity, we see stories of teens struggling through post-apocalyptic societies and disasters every day. But the feeling of following a character through a world that is different to anything I will ever know rests with the strength of Katniss Everdeen.
Wildwood by Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis
Penned by ‘The Decemberists’ frontman Colin Meloy and illustrated by his wife, this children’s novel had indie rock fans everywhere practically drooling, and with good reason. The story isn’t far off what you’d expect, with a fair share of talking woodland animals and an evil queen to boot, but it’s dense enough and peppered with so many beautiful illustrations that it makes for a mystical read for people far past the age of twelve as it’s brought to life through a wonderful partnership between the verbal and the visual. Talking foxes will never quite be looked at the same way again.
The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling
It’s fitting, to frame this post with books from Rowling, an author who shaped so many people’s childhoods and is now still amazing them in adulthood. The Casual Vacancy is the first book Rowling published outside Harry Potter, and so naturally it was also the first that I read. I finished it with no doubt in my mind concerning this amazing woman’s talent, with the array of characters and diverse experiences entertaining me far more than I expected it to. The detailed intricacy of the plot will be the standard to which I hold anything similar that I read in the future.
I hope that in my attempts to describe my love for these novels I have inspired some of you to pick one of them up, on the off chance that you haven’t already read them. I can almost guarantee that you won’t be disappointed.
Like a large portion of people, I pride myself on the fact that I consistently do well. I’ve never failed a class and I put my best efforts into everything, and I mean everything. My parents frequently remind me of clarinet lessons in my primary school years, where I’d choose to start over in the event of a mistake instead of just carrying on, determined to produce a perfect performance, even if it was just for myself in my bedroom. The times when, as a small child, I’d perform for family and friends only to have them sit through the same embarrassing dance moves multiple times while I tried to get it right from start to finish. This determination to succeed has stayed with me through my school years and into adulthood, and with my rewards for my consistent, self-driven efforts came a reputation of an intelligent hard worker who seemed incapable of slipping up. But under the rosy picture of “success” grew a festering fear of failure.
For a long time, it’s been evident to the people that know me best that I am incredibly hard on myself and that I don’t deal well with letting anyone down. But it’s only now, in my 20th year of life and my first year of university, that I’ve realised what that really means.
I’ve always been aware that I’m somewhat of a perfectionist, a completest, a control freak. There are many terms I could give it. The signs are glaringly obvious: the painstakingly organised to-do lists, the times I have pushed myself just that bit too hard, and so many occasions where I’ve ended up disappointed because I didn’t meet my own expectations, whether it be concerning grades or even the things I do for leisure. I began to run a race with my reputation, and it started winning.
I’ve set the bar so high for myself in the past few years that even missing it by a centimetre feels like failing. After all, for me, it may as well be. I’m so used to being the girl that everyone expects to study the hardest and get the right marks and do anything that anyone feels they want to face me with. It’s like someone tapped a tiny hole in my mind and let everyone else’s expectations of me flow through to become my own. I somehow have to do things close to perfectly for them to be worth anything. But it all comes at a cost, and sometimes I feel like I pay too much for too little of a return.
All my wallowing in the irrational sadness of high credits in place of distinctions has made me realise that it’s not only the negative opinions of others, and even yourself, that can effect you, but that you shouldn’t care what they think either way. It’s okay to get a pass, it’s okay to not finish the project you’re working on at the deadline you set yourself, it’s okay to not always be extraordinary. So lower the bar for yourself sometimes, and know that in a lot of circumstances, it’s totally okay if you fail.
While it might be coming into autumn in the rest of the world, it’s now very nearly springtime in the Land Down Under. Spring is one of my favourite times for music, and it’s filled with a lot of pleasant memories, like going on weekend walks or listening to Florence + The Machine after getting home from school and looking out at the cloudless sky. So here I have compiled a list of some of my favourite upbeat tracks for the blooming season from over the past few years, with quite a few new favourites thrown in for good measure. And remember, if it isn’t spring where you are, it will be sooner than you know it, and who’s stopping you from pretending, anyway?