High school was not easy for me, and I bet it was just as hard for you. The pressure to get the best grades, win the next sports game or meet, maintain well-known social circles, and get into the “right” college can spin a student around enough to feel shaken by a tornado. High school is hard.
Not only do students think about the present stressors in their lives, but they are constantly forced to think about the future. Every award, every test, every relationship, and every decision can ultimately make or break the big decision–what to do after graduation. Most people feel expected to go to college, but to where, with who, what for? What if the costs are too much, what if no one else goes there, what if it is far from home? What if it isn’t the “right” place? What if a decline letter arrives in the mail to withhold dreams?
Bottom line: high school sets students up for major stress, and they may not even recognize it.
I look back to my high school years, and I remember how anxious and worried I was about everything ranging from my athletic performance to my AP tests. I constantly weighed myself (literally, and figuratively against every other pretty girl out there.) I couldn’t shake the constant jitters that warned me something would go wrong or that I may not be good enough. Instead, I developed autonomic nerve dysfunction–or so I was diagnosed.
I always had headaches, my clothes would be covered in sweat, I got light-headed each time I moved, and chest pains were part of routine. I also developed an eating disorder. At this point I still didn’t pin my problems on stress. I was convinced that something was seriously wrong with my health.
What I didn’t know was that the impact of stress does seriously impact one’s health.
During my second trip to the Mayo Clinic (the first was during my sophomore year, and the second was during my senior year), I had to visit a psychologist. I wasn’t sure why I had to see her. All I knew was that I didn’t want to.
After I shook hands with her and introduced myself, she handed me a pile of forms to fill out. I went into another room and bubbled in answers as my mom talked with her in the other room. I remember reading statements like “I feel sad all the time” and having to say to what extent I agreed. Why am I doing this? I thought. I am not crazy. I am just physically ill.
Once I filled out the answers, I went back into the patient room with the psychologist. My mom was told to leave so we could discuss the forms alone. Within five minutes, I was telling the woman about the deepest parts of my life–the emotional pain, the stress, the deaths I dealt with in the past, the way I felt about myself. As I spoke with her, I realized I had told her some of this information before I had told any of my closest friends. She was getting to know me very well.
After our brief session, she recommended I see a psychologist in South Dakota to discuss some of the major stressors in my life as well as to work on my eating disorder.
No way, I thought.
I didn’t see a psychologist after that session. Nor did I ever plan to. You see, the problem with psychologists is the stigma that follows them like a shadow in the night. It chases people away, it scares them into hiding. It illuminates fear and misleads people who really just need someone to talk to.
The problem with psychologists does not reside in the psychologist but in the perception of the psychologist.
Now, four years later, I am starting a job where I will be able to talk with kids like that psychologist had talked to me. I will be working for the experience to perhaps one day have that title. I desire to change people’s lives in the way that a psychologist could have changed mine in high school.
Quite the turn of events, right?
Psychologists don’t “fix crazy people” like the world thinks they do. First of all, people are not “crazy;” instead, some may have poor mental health. Whether it is a series of stressors or a biological predisposition that contributes to the diagnosis, the result is never the person’s fault. Next, a psychologist can help guide someone to health, but he or she does not “fix” anything. It’s a team effort, a partnership.
I like to think of psychologists as the doctors who walk alongside their clients in life, and I hope to one day do this as well.
So why the long blog post? I don’t have many regrets from high school, but I do regret not ever talking to a psychologist about the stressors I faced. It significantly impacted my health, and also my relationships and my life.
There is a problem with psychologists, but it isn’t anything they can fix. The problem lies in the way we view them, and I firmly believe that if that view changed, so would part of the world. We are afraid to get help when we need it. We are afraid of being seen as “crazy.” We are afraid of negative labels, yet we label all the time.
I believe it is time we recognize the truth. It is time to remove the stigma. It is time to open up to a new world–one where people are waiting to guide us to a healthier and happier life.