Image courtesy of Courier Journal
Los Angeles High School of the Arts

College: The monster in our head

In the process of trying to look good to colleges on paper, it’s easy to lose track of what’s real.

Throughout my high school years, I felt the college-focused monster in my head growing bigger as I pushed my family and friends away to focus on school.

I stopped talking to or hanging out with my friends unless it was to ask a question about homework or to study together at a cafe. I spent countless hours obsessing over my grades and test scores, and too little time focusing on what made me happy. I often lost my appetite for childish fun as my hunger for good grades took over my life. I would break down in tears while doing my homework, and the question “what if I’m not good enough?” constantly filled my head.

In the midst of all this, I felt the need to put on a mask when I went to school. I thought that if my teachers knew how much I was struggling to balance my academics and the rest of my life, they would think less of me. I kept a smile on my face during class, even when I was screaming on the inside. I put an overwhelming amount of pressure on myself to act like I had everything handled.

Eventually, I broke.

My teachers were able to tell something was wrong when they saw that enthusiasm for learning was replaced with a looming fear of not achieving perfection, and they encouraged me to share about my struggles.

Talking about it was the best thing I ever did. I no longer felt alone; I knew I had people at school who would support me when I needed help.

After many deep conversations and warm hugs, I came to the realization that enjoying the little I have left before adulthood is so much more important than my stats. I started hanging out with my loved ones again and just doing things for fun. This was when the tears stopped.

Now, as I am beginning my senior year, I see that my situation is common among high school students. I see my younger friends struggling in the same way I did, and they feel ashamed as well.

I want everyone to see that these feelings of anxiety and depression are normal during the most stressful years of our childhoods. These feelings aren’t bad; they’re only bad if you keep them bottled up like I did.

So please don’t think this is a battle you have to fight alone. Whether it’s a family member, friend, teacher, or an outside resource, someone will be there for you.

You just need to take the first step and ask.