Grade school and I never really meshed well…
I was far too physically active, mentally distanced, or not intrigued enough to fully dive in. And on top of that, I was a young beautiful girl in a public school system which felt like I was a minnow thrown into a deep cage with hundreds of bigger, ferocious fish.
My elementary years were light-hearted.
I was the rough around the edges tomboy who played with the boys. A few “best friends” and a bunch of after school activities such as basketball, soccer, football, horseback riding, and bat-mitzvah preparations, and I was thriving in the busy life of a young kid.
In the classroom I listened to my teachers because at that age learning was colorful and fun. Teachers were enthusiastic and compassionate. Expression was welcomed and harnessed. We were allowed to blossom.
It felt like I was allowed to be truly myself.
I carried big intentions of becoming a zoologist and I made sure everyone knew it.
But I had no idea what was coming for me in the next few years.
The middle school environment was quick to pinpoint any of my vulnerabilities and expose them to all of my surrounding peers. Harsher than a ton of bricks, I was met with cliques and judgements and an immediate request to be someone else. I didn’t fit in with the packs, but boy did I want to. I went from carefree, sporty-chick tomboy to “I’m not allowed to look at a boy because then they might think I like him”. This is when the name-calling began.
I was quickly labeled as a “slut” for having so many guy friends.
Confusion and embarrassment were larger than life.
This had never been a problem before… Why was I now being humiliated for what was so seemingly normal? Why were my guy friends pushing me away? And why are all of these girls talking about me behind my back?
…It was a rough start to say the least.
This quickly got in the way of my academics because now I’m mentally consumed by this idea of who I needed to become. Being a tiny fish in the big sea of students, I needed to reinvent myself to ensure my status. My focus was shifted and I struggled with confidence in every aspect of my life.
The following year I was labeled as a “prude”. The judgements and assumptions that compiled had been reversed and now I was being punished for being too closed off. How else was I supposed to cope and recalibrate after being torn apart so ferociously? School work and testing was becoming harder and harder for me now as I really struggled with concentrating and comprehension.
And by eighth grade, I was back to being called a “slut”.
It’s unbelievable to look back and think of how my peers (and our society) placed a heavy load of labels on my back starting at age 11. The innocence of a child is stripped away and they’re forced to fight their way through to establish dominance or compliance, all while the pressure of maintaining strong academics is being shoved down their throats.
Looking back now, I’m surprised that I didn’t snap.
And that was just the beginning.
High school was a whole different ball game.
By now I was mostly numb to the name game but didn’t truly understand what it meant to be back down at the bottom of the food chain. Freshman year was humbling. Not only was the school bigger, but the population tripled, and the cliques/circles were overwhelming.
I didn’t fit in.
I never truly did.
Freshman year was the first time I experienced a severe depressive episode.
The flush of hormones mixed with the piles of homework topped off with the idea of relationships tipped me over the edge.
Everything went dark for a while.
And though I’m not entirely sure of when I came up for air, I must have at some point.
But not without damage.
Leading into my sophomore year of high school I was deep into severe gastrointestinal issues. We bounced from doctor to doctor with no answers and sometimes no help at all… “Sorry, we don’t know what’s going on and we can’t help you.”
There were times when I was unable to move, eat, or speak. I was stuck in fetal positions with full body tremors, confused and angry and sad.
School became the least of my worries. I was either missing class from scheduled appointments or missing school because I didn’t have the capacity to make it on that day/week. But because there were doctors notes, most of this was excused.
It wasn’t until the end of the year that I was hospitalized and diagnosed with gastroparesis, gastritis, metaplasia, and an H pylori infection (sprinkled with IBS). Needless to say, I didn’t learn much nor participate in any proper academic behavior this year…
Cue junior year.
The year that everyone says is most important.
And yes, this year was an extremely important year in my life but not because of assessment testing and college applications.
This was the year that my entire world collapsed.
There was so much hype at the beginning of this school year because it was when everything was determined. This was the time to put your best foot forward, top off your GPA, and get noticed by the college(s) that you wanted to attend.
I never truly cared much for college.
I enjoyed pissing my dad off by saying I was never going to attend because of course that’s not what he wanted to hear.
My sister was very academically driven and my brother was trying his hand at a community college, but I really had no intention.
Of course there was still a piece of me that wanted to fit in. I wanted to celebrate with an acceptance letter and wanted to make plans with friends about where we’d live and what we’d do.
Even if I wanted to try my best and fix all my grades now, it was impossible.
That was the year my father lost his job, my grandfather (my soulmate and best friend) died, my parents (of 23 years) divorced, and the only house I’d ever lived in was abruptly sold out from under my feet.
More than a collapse, my entire world blew up into a million little pieces.
There was no drive to focus, care, try, or even show up. And since I had a car at this point, I didn’t (physically) show up often.
The year that was supposed to finalize my path for the future just sent me hydroplaning with no idea of what direction I would eventually land in.
Things got ugly for a while and I grew more and more distant to my responsibilities, and instead started to plan my escape. I had no plan of staying home or even close to home once (or if) I graduated, but now that I’ve ruined my options for college I had to start thinking creatively.
Senior year was a year of rebellion.
I was now at the top of the food chain with little fucks to give. Most weekends started on Thursday for me because I’d leave town and go visit with my brother or sister. There was no pressure of college on my back, so I didn’t care about academics anymore.
It was liberating and extremely numbing. I was broken, hurt, embarrassed, angry beyond words, confused, and itching to disappear.
My personal life was unraveling in ways I never saw coming. The fresh divorce, family explosion, and crumbling foundation make for details that I’ll save for another time.
Everything felt messy, agonizing, unpredictable, disappointing, and foreign.
When I was in school, I was mentally disengaged and didn’t care who knew it.
But I had already made it that far and was barely staying afloat with my GPA.
Thanks to a smartass personality and the ability to befriend some adults, a couple of my teachers eventually helped me to graduate with a 2.1 (2.0 was necessary to graduate with a standard high school diploma).
School was far from easy.
Not because of the tests, homeworks, and subjects, but because life got in the way of being able to commit to my studies (and the undiagnosed ADHD).
Following highschool, I ran and kept running.
I bounced from a tiger preserve in South Carolina to my cousin’s spare bedroom in Los Angeles. I experienced life as I was running from (and learning to heal) pain. I found places to fit in and learned where I wasn’t supposed to go. And though I was lacking “book smarts”, I quickly tapped into “street smarts” and figured out how to navigate my own life.
I’ve worked for big corporations and small independent businesses. I’ve put on performances at a zoo, filmed with National Geographic, swam with an elephant, managed a non-profit organization, driven across the country (a couple times), camped in the desert for 7 days, waited in line to cross the canadian border at 3am, lived alone, lived with a roommate, acted on impulse, had my heart broken, broken many people’s hearts, gave birth, helped others navigate birth, hit rock bottom, pulled myself up again, and started my life over many many times.
Eleven years later, I’m a single mother of a beautiful four year old daughter and I’m going to go back to school.
A couple reasons.
While I was pregnant with my daughter in 2018, my highschool was attacked by a gunman. On the day we found out I was carrying a little girl in my womb, 17 people were killed in the hallways I onced roamed.
A place of immense growth.
Our community and our bubble was shattered.
That was the day I vowed to homeschool my daughter.
And I quickly realized that I need to better educate myself so I can (eventually) provide proper schooling for her.
Also this idea has been floating through my thoughts for years now but I hesitated around the commitment.
It felt as if life was still throwing curveballs and I just kept finding reasons not to.
But as of 3 months ago, I came to a jolting pause. Everything in my life abruptly stopped and I came to a really confusing fork in the road.
In one direction, I jumped back into the rat race and figured out how to make things work.
In the other, I entered uncharted territory and took a leap for myself.
Though it’s a leap that comes with a crammed suitcase of baggage, I realize now that my distaste towards school was never *fully* about academics. I held onto some bitterness and jealousy towards the kids who were able to thrive. The students who had the capacity to absorb the information and comprehend the assignments, and then follow through with testing and projects; I wanted that.
As of yesterday, I’m officially enrolled in my first semester of college.
For the first time (in a very long time) I am actually excited for school.
At (almost) 30 years old, I am finally ready.
I have the ability, the space, and the mental capacity for redemption.
With my daughter watching from the sidelines, I am ecstatic to be able to rewrite this story at my own pace and for no one else but myself.
This is my time to flourish.
And I’m proud of myself.
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