Struggle with anxiety puts future plans into focus

Over the last three years, I have started to loosen up and stop fretting about every little detail, and I want to continue this process in high school. While I still aspire to attend an Ivy League college and graduate at the top of my class, I would also like to broaden my horizons and enjoy being a teenager.

Editor’s note: This essay was written as part of ThreeSixty’s July Intro to Journalism Camp. We’re happy to report that Mina’s first day of high school was a positive experience.

Colorful textbooks are stacked neatly in a pile, each book already labeled and color-coded. A massive pencil pouch containing exactly ten pencils sits next to the pile. A month and a half remains until I begin my first year of high school.

Some may think I’m crazy for already having my school supplies ready in the middle of July, but I take a lot of pride in the fact that I stopped myself from reading all of my textbooks in addition to my preparations.

This year, I am determined to loosen up a bit. This year, my first day at Wayzata High School will not be a repeat of that first awful day of middle school.

“Hey look, the sixlet is trying to follow us,” the towering eighth grader chortled, pointing me out to his friend. I gulped and stared nervously in the opposite direction. I couldn’t believe this. The first day of middle school and I was already hopelessly lost.

“I swear my homeroom should be right here,” I thought frantically, staring down a whitewashed wall. I spun around, a miniature midget swept away in a sea of jeans-clad legs and furry Uggs, searching for a single door. Standing four-feet-nine inches tall, I was a shrimpy sixth grader lost in a middle school so huge it had once been the high school.

My mind strained to retrace steps, but to no avail. If anything, I was even more confused. Just as I began to think that there was no way this situation could get any worse, the speakers buzzed to life.

The first bell of the day rang out, signaling for all students to get to class. “I’m dead,” I told myself in my hazy and dysfunctional brain, “utterly and completely dead.”

Suddenly, a rough shove from a seventh grader forced me out of my daze. “Come on, sixlet! Get to class. Didn’t you hear first bell?” My eyes traveled fearfully up the tall seventh grader and I nodded hysterically, clutching my books and sprinting off in a random direction. I gasped for breath as I kept running and yelped in my head, “You have two minutes to get to class, Mina! Run faster!”

Turning around to spot if the gargantuan seventh grader was still watching me, I dashed backwards as a heavy blanket of terror descended. My teetering brain could not handle the additional weight of my fear. I suddenly wobbled, my backpack tugging me towards the ground. Falling onto my back, I skidded down the hall and landed in a pitiful heap at the foot of a door, looking like the world’s worst turtle.

I laid there, the oxygen circulating through my lungs as my head slowly cleared. Clambering up, I glanced inside the door I had landed by and immediately recognized my homeroom teacher. Thanking my lucky stars, I hurried in.

LASTING LESSONS

That frightening experience occurred nearly three years ago, but the lesson I learned still remains with me today. At the time, I was almost paranoid in my need to always know where I was going, both physically and spiritually. I had always been an extremely competitive person, constantly driving myself to achieve higher test scores, to improve my piano technique. I had been planning a career for myself since kindergarten, and I was pushed to strive for it by the one person who expected more out of me than anyone else. Myself.

Like infamous chess master Bobby Fischer, I was determined to calculate and consider every possible move. Some people said that my attitude would lead me to success, and congratulated my family on the fact that I didn’t need my parents to pressure me. Yet also like Fischer, my drive for perfection began to spoil and fester in my brain.

Before even beginning a project, I would read over the instructions dozens of times, reciting them in my head as I fearfully imagined every way that I could possibly mess up. I was extremely indecisive and often required my family’s input before deciding what to eat or what to wear. My friends and family began to fret that my attitude would end up harming me, but I never listened to them. It took years for me to come to the realization that overthinking things is not healthy.

GIVING MYSELF A BREAK

I still struggle with my anxiety, and although it often manifests itself in mild situations, it is actually a serious problem for me. When I was in 7th grade, my social studies teacher had allotted an entire month to an enormous research project. By the end of the first week, I had already finished and typed out all 16 pages required.

Imagine my horror when my printer decided to suddenly begin printing crooked the night before the report was due. Refusing that any of my pages look less than perfect, I immediately began to handwrite the entire paper, even measuring out margins and line spacings with a ruler.

By the time I had finished, it was almost four in the morning and I was nearing tears. That day, I was so exhausted that I almost fell asleep during an exam.

Unfortunately for me, this was not the only time my anxiety decided to rear its head at an inconvenient time. Every weekend, I spent hours locked in my room doing homework or studying, only emerging for meals. When friends called, I told them I was busy. When the weather was nice, I shut the blinds and returned my attention to books. My strategy for life was damaging my social life and mental health, and although I had realized the effect it was having on me, it took a lot for me to change my attitude.

In 7th grade, I joined UMTYMP (University of Minnesota Talented Youth Mathematics Program), an extremely accelerated math program. Students of UMTYMP attend a lecture at the University of Minnesota once a week. Each lecture covers three weeks of high school or college math, and two-hour exams are held three to four times a semester. UMTYMP’s accelerated speed forced my homework load to skyrocket. I slowly came to the realization that I could not spend an hour painstakingly tracing a single diagram onto my paper anymore.

After a month of staying up to complete my homework, I set up a system for myself. On the weekends, I would spend two hours practicing instruments and only three to four hours on UMTYMP a day. By setting limits on my time, I learned to finish homework quickly and efficiently, and found myself with more leisure time.

I started to enjoy my weekends instead of using them to perfect my homework. When friends called, I agreed to go watch a movie with them. When the sky was blue and there wasn’t a cloud in sight, I happily stretched out on the grass and soaked up the sunshine.

By no means was I over my anxiety, but I was beginning to learn to manage it.

TAKING IT ALL IN

A month and a half away from starting high school, I have high hopes for myself. Over the last three years, I have started to loosen up and stop fretting about every little detail, and I want to continue this process in high school. While I still aspire to attend an Ivy League college and graduate at the top of my class, I would also like to broaden my horizons and enjoy being a teenager.

I want the whole high school experience: SAT’s, ACT’s, Homecoming, Prom. I am going to take high school one challenge at a time, and in four years, perhaps that first day of sixth grade will be nothing but a distant memory.

Share