My beloved Sebastian wrote this essay for his high school application. It is heartfelt and insightful and very, very real. For any parents who are dealing with children who have needs that are special- for anyone who knows children or adults battling mental health issues I pray his essay gives you hope. I am so proud to know and learn from this incredible young man.
School can be tough. As we head to high school we’re going to be exposed to new environments and faced with new challenges we may not feel ready for. We all have struggles. Some are easy to see, others not. I’d like to talk to you about mine.
Nearly every grade presented challenges for me. Kindergarten was tough. Sounds funny, no? Kindergarten is fun! But the days were long. I hated sitting on the floor and getting messy upset me. I was overwhelmed by the newness of everything. First grade felt easier, but reading was tricky and I was upset when friends seemed to grasp things I didn’t. In second grade concentrating felt impossible and I was easily frustrated. Third grade was good. I started socializing more, and I learned to wait my turn to speak and that helped with everything. My teachers used hand signals to show me they knew I had something to say, they just needed me to wait. It was a simple solution but it worked. My Mom still uses it with me today. Fourth grade was amazing. Fifth grade wasn’t amazing. It was bad. A soccer injury led to weeks on crutches. Weeks on crutches made me nervous I wasn’t healing. Health, academics, friends- everything seemed to worry me. School simply became too hard and I left for two months. Tutoring helped me restart school seamlessly. Sixth grade was better. I felt the pressure that came with harder work and receiving grades for the first time, but I made good progress. In seventh grade something clicked. I finally felt like myself. School made sense. I was eager to learn. I was really motivated to improve my grades for no other reason than to prove to myself I could. The good news was I proved I could.
What were all those tough years about? Was I stupid? Was I badly behaved? No. Those years were when I was diagnosed with ADHD, OCD and anxiety. I can talk about those disorders easily now. But it took me a long time to realize getting a mental health diagnosis isn’t bad. It isn’t my fault. As my Mom says, my brain works differently. Along with those labels came therapy. I worked hard in therapy. I’ve come a long way and many things helped: understanding teachers, therapists, medicine, patient friends, and, throughout it all, my Mom.
The two months when I was out of school were the hardest. I felt isolated. One day I was in my room crying and my Mom asked me what was wrong, I said, “I’m all alone.” She started to reply, but I stopped her. I knew she supported me, but she had no idea what I was going through. No matter how much she cared, the things I was feeling and thinking were mine alone. Even she couldn’t know what it felt like inside my brain.
So, what IS it like inside my brain? What have I learned about myself? In those early years, thoughts and worries swirled in my mind making it hard to focus. Yet confusingly the opposite was also true. ADHD makes me hyper focused. I will fixate on one subject or thought. I can be rigid. But being able to hyper focus also helps me pursue the things I love, like math. Math makes me forget everything. For some people, being flexible is natural. For me, it’s a skill I had to learn. I’m still learning. Just ask my friends. They’ve seen my rigidity in action. I’ll often repeat myself. I know it’s annoying and I work to manage my behavior. When I fail? I apologize. I can’t multi-task. My brain simply doesn’t work that way and it never will. I get anxious about things other people barely care about and it’s hard to remember how to manage anxiety when I’m in the middle of feeling anxious. But I try. And the more I try the easier it gets.
The funny, sneaky thing about mental health issues is that you can’t see them. I’m not sure what normal looks like but I’d guess I look pretty normal on the outside. Inside? I work differently. My brain is never quiet. My brain is never turned off. And I’m ok with that. I’m talking about my struggles to help you know me and, more importantly, to help you know kids just like me. Taking the time to imagine what it’s like to have ADHD or anxiety or OCD is a gift you give me. You can never know exactly what it’s like inside my brain but when you make the effort to try and understand me, you take the loneliness out of being different.