“I Want To Die:” Mental Illness in High School

Varona Maysonet-Ayala, Contributing Writer

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Once I remember walking into the main building after assembly, amid the bumbling swarm of people, and feeling like I was on fire. It wasn’t until my boyfriend grabbed my hand that I even realized I was scratching myself raw. All I could feel was the flame, and my lungs and heart throbbing. He stopped my hand before I started bleeding.

This is anxiety.

In my experience, which is not by any means all-inclusive, this is what I make of the magical combination that is high school and mental illness: painful as all hell. Every class assignment brings a new wave of panic, passing all those people in the hallway feels like too much, and god forbid I have to read aloud.

I know, we all identify with these emotions, the panic, the awkwardness, the embarrassment, the sadness. As high schoolers, mere teenagers, these emotions always arise and seem to perpetuate throughout the years. However, the collective experience of rational and routine emotional responses are not in any way equivalent to the terror of living with a debilitating mental illness.

I’m saying that when you have anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, or any mental illness of the sort, matters amplify to a level your still-growing body just doesn’t know how to deal with. Even in a small school such as our own, where people are relatively nice and there is little chance of serious conflict, the world feels chaotic, and unfathomably cruel. I have gone weeks without completing a single homework assignment, or months not understanding material or even attempting to. This is not romanticization. I didn’t do homework because I was itching with self loathing, and if I was going to commit suicide, there was no point in completing vocabulary sentences. Studying is pointless when you think you’re too stupid to even comprehend the material you’re reading, and asking for help is just another embarrassment you cannot afford. So instead, you suffocate on these feelings, and eventually, you’re in someone’s office talking about your game plan for improving, doing better.

When you’re an adolescent dealing with serious emotional and mental issues, it gets to a point at which you’re not sure who you are without the illness. Take depression, for example: you go years with very little expression, keeping quiet, a frown plastered on your small face. Five years down the road, and you’re not even sure who you are, while your classmates unwittingly attempt to explain your “odd” behavior. “Sad, quiet, always-wears-black.” These are your identifiers. You didn’t welcome them, but they’re a part of you now. You’re trying to get used to your body and your friends (if you can even imagine yourself having them), your place in the school, the city, the country, the world. The illness has invited itself into your body, and now, much like when someone grafts two apple trees together, you grow from here on out with your new addition. I am now a mix of granny smith and golden delicious: call me Varona, or depressed, it’s the same thing.

Now, where do you go from here? Surely not college, surely not anywhere your parents have planned for you. You’ve never imagined a future past this thing you’re feeling, past the sadness. So you mumble an ambiguous reply when someone asks, “Where are you going to college?” You get your SATs back just to take them again because you were absent for math all those days you couldn’t get out of bed, and you don’t know where the parts of your brain went that held information. Honestly, were they even there to begin with? Eventually, you think this is a forever feeling, that you are it and it is you, and there is nothing more to be sought. This is the predetermined way to live your life. You can’t imagine anything else; the majority of your memories are enshrouded in storm clouds, and all you see when you look ahead is lightning.

Wait, but isn’t it a beautiful thing to be sad? Isn’t hating yourself trendy? I say I want to kill myself because it’s true, while someone else says it because our homework is too hard.

Imagine this: You have an eating disorder;  your friend says their classmate is so thin she must be anorexic. You have an obsessive compulsive disorder; “It’s just being really clean, right?” You have major depressive disorder; suddenly being moderately sad is equivalent to “I’m depressed.” You actively self-harm; someone jokes about putting a razor to their wrists when they get an answer wrong.

We all have pain, and we all have hearts. My pain is not higher in value than yours, but some things may affect me differently than they do you. I do not mean that people need to be walking on eggshells all the time. I just mean that being more considerate about the range of difficulties all types of people can have, especially in a school as diverse as our own, is key to creating a safe environment for everyone. It is necessary and healthy to express the range of emotions that erupt once you hit puberty, but there is no need to trivialize those who experience mental illness in the process. Trust me, the grafted apple tree already doubts all of its feelings. It doesn’t need jokes to punctuate the pain.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Crisis Text Line: http://www.crisistextline.org/ 

National Eating Disorder Hotline: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/contact-helpline

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“I Want To Die:” Mental Illness in High School