To every teacher and educator everywhere,
Imagine running a marathon to school every day without any training, vomiting violently afterwards, and then having a heart attack, all before walking into the school building to attend class.
Oh, and nobody knows. You cannot tell anyone what has happened because it's "all in your head."
As what is debatably the most stressful time of the school year approaches, I ask you kindly to avoid making snarky comments about any students' seemingly abnormal behavior. There may be a war going on inside them that you know nothing about. Sometimes all it takes to make a student with these problems feel like they can face the rest of the day is a reassuring nod, saying "you got up today, I'm proud of you".
Our occasional (or frequent) lack of attendance is not something we do to hurt you, to make your life more difficult, to dismiss, demean, trivialize or condescend to you. Trust me, if I had to stand up and speak in front of a whole room full of teenagers first thing in the morning, I would be an emotional mess. We understand the work you do, and appreciate it.
However, this does not make the anxiety go away. It doesn't make the suitcase full of rocks we carry around with us all the time any lighter. In fact, the guilt we feel about disappointing you makes it significantly heavier.
We want to achieve everything, we want to please you, we want to please everyone. Our need to do everything perfectly gets in the way of our doing anything at all. Sometimes, we just have to throw up our arms and say "I'll try again tomorrow".
Above all, it is important that teachers realize that because the stigma surrounding these issues is so massive, students feel uncomfortable speaking out about what's going on. We're afraid of being labeled weak, incapable, afraid or stupid. Words that we already label ourselves enough for the entire global population.
What we need is a support system, people who will allow you to leave the room when having a panic attack, doodle in class, cover your work when s teacher looks over our shoulder, understand that fits of perfectionism will take someone a long time to do a homework assignment.
But before all of these things, we need to adjust the culture surrounding anxiety disorders. We need to refrain from leading people to believe that someone is a lesser human being because of the behaviors previously explained in this letter.
It's beyond test anxiety, stress about homework or clubs or sports or classes. It's literally feeling like you are dying and there is nothing that can be done to help yourself. It is your body spontaneously releasing incredible amounts of adrenaline for what can seem like no reason at all. Exhausting would be an understatement.
Everyone has a different experience, I am not in any way trying to generalize such a complex subject, but one thing everyone can benefit from is compassion. Please, before you make a less-than-pleasant comment to a student think about the reason behind their actions, ask them if you have to. Then, I guarantee, the need for whatever lacerating remark you had planned will dissipate.