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On the outside, I am an average teenage girl. Brown eyes and hair, which I wake up early to straighten. I get good grades, but rarely raise my hand in class. I maintain a civil relationship with my parents, meaning I talk to them, without ever really telling them anything. I had a boyfriend, once, briefly, but it was in middle school, so it really doesn’t count. Whenever I go on the computer to do homework, I end up on Facebook, spending an hour liking Justin Timberlake and vitamin water. I say I am bad at math, because I’m not a genius at it. But actually, I’m pretty good at math. Actually, I’m pretty good at everything.
But I can't be average. I can't be normal on the inside. Because I get these feelings, like I can't understand anything that’s going on around me. Like everyone else is someone wired differently than me, and that’s why their lives are easier. Like I can't really relate to anyone around me, because they somehow know what to say and do to make everything turn out okay. And for some reason, I’m the only one who wasn’t born with that ability.
I feel like that most of the time, but some days are especially bad. I’ll look around, and just feel so lost, like I don’t even know why I’m here. Sometimes the feeling passes in a moment. Sometimes it lasts all day.
This week, however it hasn’t gone away at all. And I’m starting to think that it never will.
It started on Monday, and by Wednesday, I could no longer handle it. So I decide to do something that I actually haven’t done much in my life: fake being sick.
Actually, it’s more like exaggerating. Because I really do feel sick to my stomach. Even more so because I know missing school means having to do makeup work, and possibly falling behind. But it was hard enough to get out of bed to tell my mom that I’m too sick to go to school, so I guess that it’s worth it.
I pretend to be asleep and wait for both my parents to leave for work, just in case one of them wants to come in and talk to me. I don’t feel like talking to anyone. I don’t feel like looking at anyone.
When they finally leave, I open my eyes and just lay there. I feel like crying.
I feel like dying.
I finally go downstairs, where I try to swallow a decent breakfast while watching trashy TV, wishing I was one of the people I saw on the screen. They must have it so easy. They don’t have to go to college. They don’t even have to finish high school. And everybody wants to be their friend.
If I didn’t have to worry about college, my life would be one hundred percent easier. It’s all I can even think about. In some way, it’s all any of my friends ever talk about. It’s everywhere.
AP classes, sports, extracurriculars, volunteer hours, leadership positions, GPAs, class ranks, standardized testing, letters of recommendation, a well-rounded variety of activities to participate in- you’re expected to be perfect at all that plus stay mentally sane enough to give a good, normal-person interview- because if you come across as psycho and erratic (which you probably kind of are at this point) you just wasted what could have been the best four years of your life.
And if you want any kind of sleep or social life, you can go to community college and work at Burger King. Or so we’re told.
Throw in the fact that these are your teenage years, the most awkward and uncomfortable stage of your life in which absolutely nothing is stable, yet you’re supposed to suck it up and act like a grown-up, and all adults automatically hate you just because of your age- personally, I think that the teenage suicide rate is rather low.
Since I’m missing school anyways, so I might as well make some use out of my day, and I’m already freaking out about this, I go into the computer room to do what has now become my hobby: Googling colleges to see what they require to get in.
I know already that I’m not Ivy League material. Firstly, I come from a middle class family, and we all know you have to be rich to get into Harvard. Secondly, while I am good at mostly everything, I excel at nothing. Except maybe unnecessary panic attacks. I am mediocre at the sports I play, and don’t have a steady volunteering job (just a few CSF bake sales here and there). I’m a member of a few clubs, but really, all that the clubs at my school do is meet every couple of weeks so people can sign in and waste their lunch while nothing gets accomplished. I get straight A’s, but I don’t have the most rigorous course load. My mom talked me down to three AP/ honors classes, and even though I am up to my elbows in work, I feel like I should be up to my neck. At least.
I’m not even sure if I can get into a UC with this. Plus, everywhere seems to favor engineering and science and math, which is the exact opposite of where my interests lie. I wish I lived in New York, where every single possible career seems to have a magnet or charter school to go to that looks great on college apps. But no. I go to a regular California public high school, with regular people, who, aside from my very small group of friends, don’t care about college. At all.
Even with all this, I still find myself on Harvard’s website, then Yale’s, then Columbia’s. Because, in all honestly, they are a secret dream of mine. If I got into Harvard, no one could ever doubt me again. But as I look at the admission “suggestions” (a.k.a. requirements), I feel my breakfast start to come back up.
Four years of a language? Mais, je deteste francais! Four years of a science is already not happening since next year I’m skipping physics (which is specifically recommended) to take AP Psychology. And math through calculus gives me a migraine just thinking about it.
The questions flood my head, and my heart rate quickens. Am I taking enough AP classes? Why did I let myself be talked out of four? Aren’t honors classes ranked lower than AP? Is it bad that I’m taking more regular classes than either of those? Is it bad that I’m taking more honors than AP? Is it bad that I’m not the president of anything, no leadership positions? Am I in enough clubs? And the million dollar question: what should I be doing this summer?
Suddenly, the computer screen starts to blur, and a chill goes down my spine, and my stomach feels like I’m freefalling. I stand up and bolt for the bathroom, making it just in time to spew up half a bowl of cereal and some bile.
I unwillingly start to cry, which turns into sobs and then full-on body convulsions. What college would want me? I’m a mess. I don’t just crack under pressure. I obliterate. I shatter. I crumble into a million little pieces and am stomped on by the feet of the successful.
I wipe the puke off my chin and slump against the bathroom wall. Stanford is for people who know what they’re doing in life. I don’t even know if I’m human. If I was human, wouldn’t other people be going through the same things as me? Why don’t my friends ever freak out like this? How can they manage to get good grades while still having way more fun than me? Don’t they feel the pressure like I do? This is why they just don’t understand.
My parents don’t understand either. When they were my age, everyone who wasn’t like a crystal meth addict got into college. They just sent in their apps with an essay that they had spent a couple of hours on, and got a few acceptance letters come spring. You didn’t need to be president of everything and varsity valedictorian and volunteering in Siberia and at the local food bank in order to even be considered, like you do now.
I have no idea how to be successful. I have no idea what I need to be doing right now, but I know whatever it is, it’s directly affecting the rest of my life. It’s affecting where I go to college, which affects what job I get, which affects how my life is going to be. Forever.
I do know that whatever it is I need to be doing probably doesn’t involve being curled up in fetal position on the bathroom floor. This very second, I could possibly be permanently screwing myself.
The thought of this makes me start to breathe faster. I think my lungs are actually closing up.
Maybe I’m dying.
The thought of this actually relaxes me slightly. Maybe I can just close my eyes and let myself go peacefully. If I just die now, I won’t have to worry about anything.
No more worrying about getting into college. No more worrying about what I’m not doing to get into college. No more worrying that my friends are all going to do better than me in everything. No more worrying that one day, my friends are all going to realize how crazy I actually am, and no one will ever want to talk to me again. No more worrying about what my parents, boys, teachers, strangers, anybody, thinks of me.
I feel free.
The phone rings.
My eyes snap open.
What am I doing?
And then, it happens. Maybe I had an epiphany. Maybe I knew it all along. Maybe I’m just stupid, and it’s something that the rest of the world has always known. Maybe that’s what makes me so different.
What I do know is this: in that moment, I realized something that changed my life, just for a second. But in that second, in that breath, for once, everything made sense.
What am I doing?
I’m lying here, having a panic attack over something I think I can't do, but really, I’ve never even tried.
Instead of doing it and failing, like successful people do, I sit inside and believe I’ll fail. Which might actually make me more of a failure than anything.
But it’s okay. Because I can change that. I can.
The phone keeps ringing, but I don’t care. Let the machine get it. I have things to do, goals to accomplish.
I clean myself up a little and get in the shower, where I start to plan out my day. I can go online and look for classes to take this summer, or places to volunteer. Maybe, if I’m brave enough, I can even make a few phone calls or register for something.
Tomorrow, I can go back to school. I can face my friends as myself, and talk to them like people. I can stop comparing myself with everything they do, and maybe all my friendships will start to feel less fake and forced if I don’t turn them into secret competitions.
Not to say that this will be my last meltdown. But at least I can face the world.
And maybe, in the long run, today won’t actually matter all that much.
And maybe, just maybe, things will work out nicely.