Many of my college classes today feel like a breeze compared to my challenging high school classes. Well, all of my classes besides my reporting classes, that is.
I was raised in Northern Virginia in a county known for its phenomenal public education system. I was fortunate enough to go to a high school with an array of knowledgeable and inspiring teachers. My classmates were all driven and accomplished.
It was truly a privilege to go such a great high school.
However, that being said, it was not an easy four years. In an area known for its competitive nature and “tiger moms,” the pressure was on from day one of my freshman year.
I stacked on AP classes, one after another, even if they I had no interest in the subject. In addition to trying to meet the somewhat unrealistic expectations of the “perfect, straight-A student” in the classroom, participation in multiple extracurricular activities—and summer internships—were not only encouraged, but expected.
Between my peers, it was frowned upon if you only joined one club, make it to only one team or didn’t stretch yourself across a broad range of interests. In other words, being the Renaissance Man or Woman at my school was the norm. Nearly everyone searched for perfection.
All of these pressures ultimately allowed me to build a pretty substantial resume.
But the academic pressure from parents and peers came at an expense.
Now, I often look back to my time in high school and question how I did it all. Between the lack of sleep, the slew of tests, amount of busy work and time spent after school playing soccer, running varsity track or in orchestra practice, it was a lot to handle. It took a toll on my mental health—and I know I wasn’t the only one, either.
I’ve suffered from anxiety since diagnosed at age eight. The high-pressure environment in my school did not contribute toward a healthy mental state. Sometimes I wish I went to a school that placed less emphasis on academics and getting into a “reputable school.” Although I wouldn’t have done as much, I probably wouldn’t have as much anxiety as I did.
However, by the same token, I also don’t think I would be the person I am today—and the student I am today—without those pressures.
In other words, I’m conflicted about my high school experience. The atmosphere was mainly a negative one. I often overworked myself. The fierce competition and the camaraderie between students ultimately lacked, in my opinion.
However, my high school also prepared, or perhaps over-prepared me, for college classes and the high-stress environments that I encounter at the Missouri School of Journalism on a daily basis.
Occasionally, I see students who crumble under pressure and cannot power through difficult times or tight deadlines. They don’t know what to do if their story doesn’t go according to plan or if their professors try to intimidate them during class. If not for the harsh teachers and challenging curriculums I faced in high school, I may have ended up that way, too.
I am a proud alumna of my high school. However, if I could do it all over again, I would place more of an emphasis on my own mental health, above all else—above the good AP test scores, above the internships and above the grades. And I wish that my school did, too.
I guess this is my way of saying that we need to do better to address mental health issues in adolescents—especially in a time as formative as high school. It’s a subject that’s often uncomfortable to talk about, but necessary.
And that’s one of the main lessons I’ve taken away from college. After adjusting to a different schedule, I realized that keeping tabs on my mental health and talking through issues with friends and loved ones leads to a more positive academic environment.
Sure, I have my moments, but I learned to manage them better than I did in high school.
I don’t want to stand on a soapbox and tell you how my challenging my high school. I manageable it, but ultimately, not in the healthiest of ways. All students in similar high-stress environments should know that they should never feel afraid to practice self-love and take care of their minds.
You become your best self when you feel your best self; you may look like a great candidate with a glowing resume for a university or future job, but if your thoughts cloud from stress, anxiety or what have you, you aren’t doing yourself any favors.
But you are also not performing your best.
If you currently struggle with a mental illness, please know that you’re not alone. Reach out to a family member, friend or trusted peer. Speak out when your mental health prevents you from living a healthy, well-rounded and productive life.
And, most importantly, don’t feel afraid to get help from a professional if you think you need it. You are never a burden.