Finding Support Within Yourself
Ever since I was young, anxiety crept into my life in more ways than one. It was difficult to focus in school without losing my train of thought, getting distracted by the items in the room, or wondering what others in the class were thinking about me. Even the things that I really enjoyed, like dance class, got harder as my social anxiety compared my 10-year-old body to the other girls at my studio, or my heart started racing if I couldn’t execute a dance move as well as the rest of the class. Coming to terms with the fact that my anxiety was something really present in my life has been a long journey, but now that I have, I’ve been able to turn my life around.
The first, and most essential, thing I had to realize is that everyone expresses their emotions, feelings, and inner thoughts differently. My entire life I’ve been surrounded by family and friends who also experienced extreme anxiety, but they expressed it very differently. They were much more open in a moment of panic, where I was and still am much more reserved and to myself. Because of this, I wasn’t seen as someone who was in need of extra support.
As I started to get older, I started to become more frustrated about the lack of support and validation I was receiving. Once I got into high school, I decided I needed to start advocating for myself. I met with my school counselors time after time throughout my entire sophomore year in a long, exhausting attempt to gain some extra support in order to succeed in school in a healthy way. After months and months of meetings and discussions, I was put on a Zoom with my parents and the school’s administrative board at the end of second semester in my final attempt to prove that my struggles were worthy enough of some small accommodations I was asking from the school, like the privilege to take a 3-minute walk during class. The board presented me with a survey from my teachers answering questions like, “Do you notice Shaya having anxiety in class?” “Does Shaya’s anxiety affect her focus in class?” “Does Shaya have a hard time making friends in your class?” The collective responses to these questions were pretty similar from all of my teachers across the board, stating that they didn’t notice I had a particularly hard time focusing in class, getting my work done, or being social. But that meant nothing to me. I had been verbalizing the entire year my feelings and my experiences, it didn’t seem relevant to me the opinions and observations of outsiders. As the meeting came to a close, the board shared the news that they had decided to not grant me these accommodations. When I asked them why through my tears and immediate panic, they told me, “Your GPA is above the average students, these accommodations won’t serve you academically.” How could my GPA, a set of letters and numbers that only reflected the level to which I had to push my mental health in order to gain academic achievements, constitute that I didn’t need the support I vouched for? If I had let my GPA slip over the course of the year, would I have been granted these accommodations?
I had never felt more vulnerable and more frustrated in my life. Adults tend to push kids in the idea of self-advocacy, and that your mental and physical health should come before anything, but I had done everything right and still wasn’t being validated or supported in the ways I knew I needed. This is when my perspective had to shift. I had to start relying on the people in my life that I knew would support me through anything. I had to learn how to cope with my own anxiety, researching the strategies, like breathing and journaling, that worked for me. With the lack of direct support from the school, I learned how to communicate with my teachers, sophomore year and beyond, so that they understood what I was going through. This would involve me having in-person or emailed conversations with my teachers and explaining my struggles to the best of my abilities. Depending on the teacher and how comfortable I was with each of them, I’d share only the amount of information that I wanted them to know. This made me feel secure in knowing that each of my teachers had some knowledge on what I’d been experiencing, and I felt I then had the right to expect a mutual respect and consistent communication with my teachers. If I hadn’t had this experience, if I had let myself rely on others to validate and understand me, then I don’t think I would be able to support myself like I do today. I think that in the end, validation and recognition of your struggles comes most authentically from your own self, and once you can find that, it becomes a lot clearer what needs to be done in order to let you succeed.