This is a story of how I let myself down. This is also a commentary on mental illnesses in education, and a narrative of my college’s failure to help me. Before I begin my tale, I would like to acknowledge the inspiration for this post. The Only Way Out is Through is a post recently published on the US Department of Education’s official blog, Homeroom. I encourage any educators to take a peek at this post in particular.
Now, this is hard for me to open up about. As a child, you see, I was constantly told how smart I was. I loved hearing that. I became more and more interested in academics. I read book after book and my knowledge expanded and I wasn’t satisfied until I was the smartest in every room I entered. My family nickname was “Smartass,” and I’d challenge anyone on seemingly any topic. Information was the thing I cared most about, aside from a yoyo I once had that I apparently carried everywhere.
Flash forward to, about fourth grade. I was days away from skipping ahead a year, then suddenly I moved. I changed schools, I knew nobody, it sucked. I was still the “smartest” kid in the class, or so I was told. And while I still loved to learn, my motivation to actually do any work was slipping away. I have a very vivid memory of a time I ripped up a half-finished memoir and stashed it in my locker. Mrs. Moore was PISSED.
We’ll skip ahead now to high school, where I realized that I was a bit more average than I had thought. I continued to learn, and remained passionate, but my grades never showed that. Homework always came home, but never went back. My test grades were all that saved me. I graduated in a position far below my potential, and honestly, that never bothered me.
Then I went to college, where I was no longer special. I was mediocre. And worse, I was depressed. I was anxious. I was completely without direction. I spiraled deeper and deeper each semester, and hardly anyone seemed to noticed. My mood followed my grades, which followed my mood, and I was trapped. One semester, I was put on academic probation. In other words, I was failing. Not because I was incapable, but because I was indifferent.
Despite being on probation, nothing changed for me. I was supposed to go to all these meetings and visit with my advisor. I never went. I never scheduled anything. And for some reason, nobody ever checked on me. Nobody called me out (save for my cross country coach, only because I got pissed off at a spectator who stepped on the course and cut me off). I had no help, no support, and no desire to find it.
The next semester, I was told not to come back. I failed out. And I sat there in my dorm, reading this letter, feeling only shame. As it turns out, guilt and embarrassment are very powerful motivators. I finally sought help from a therapist, and with a diagnosis in hand I felt confident enough to file an appeal. Somehow, I was allowed back without missing any time. I remained on probation, but I still didn’t get the support I needed. Nothing. No check ups, no reminders (after the first couple weeks). So I did it on my own. And I struggled. It was hell, and I wanted to quit. In my last semester, I considered just… leaving. Yet, for reasons I can’t identify, I continued. I even took summer classes to make up for those that I failed.
Today, reading the above post, it occurred to me for the first time that I didn’t fail on my own. There were people there to catch me, and they let me fall. And yeah, I know, maybe you needed that to happen to *insert something about learning/getting stronger/whatever here*. I don’t disagree. But there are plenty of people who can’t make it on their own: sicker people, younger people, people who haven’t learned to cope. It’s important, I think, to give these individuals the attention they need to ensure they have the same opportunity. Go read that post.