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Youth of Canada Mental Illness Awareness Week Entry #3: All the "what ifs"

When I wake up to the sound of my alarm, the first thing I think about, is school. What’s going to happen today? What will I not understand this time? What teacher is going to be in a bad mood? Then I put my uniform on, if I put a short sleeve all I can think is, what if it gets cold? Then I should bring a sweater and put it in my bag, but when I walk home if it’s warm, I’ll get too hot and I don’t have room in my bag to put a sweater, what will I do? So, I decide to just leave a sweater in my locker.

Later on, I arrive at school. I put my things in my school bag and the one thing going through my mind is, what if I forget something? What if I took the wrong book? So, I double check, then triple check. Because if I forget something, after five times, I get detention and all I could think if I got detention, is what a bad student I have become, this is horrible, I’m definitely not going far in life. A few minutes later, I set foot in my first class of the day. That’s when the nerves really kick in. I stress, because what if I don’t understand what the teacher’s teaching? What if I get distracted while he’s teaching and on top of it he notices? Mostly, I stress because I’m stressed about being too stressed. You could say it’s ironic, others would say I just need to stop stressing out for no reason (as if I hadn’t thought of that before).

Obviously, this seems pretty harmless, although it actually occupies my whole mind and keeps me from listening to the teacher and makes me take the wrong books to classes. But the real problem occurs when I have to take an exam, that’s when the cortisol level actually spikes. All I can think about is, what if I don’t get over 90%? Obviously 89% is good and all, but not good enough, not for me. Clearly this distracts me from the previously mentioned test, and so my brain doesn’t know what to put its energy on, it’s so confused. So, it just shuts down. Then ladies and gentlemen, I start sweating, my heart is pounding so hard it’s about to jump out of my chest, I start trembling and getting nauseous, next are the tingly fingers and toes and why not add on to that with chest pains, and finally, the tears start rushing down my cheeks. That is what an anxiety attack is.

I’m often told, not to stress, as if it were that easy, I am told I need to put less pressure on myself, but how can I, when my own teachers are putting all that pressure on me. I am told I have to aim for the moon, because if I fail at least I may hit a star, but don’t people know that stars are light years away, so when I miss, I’m just in nothingness. People tell me that the grades I get today won’t matter twenty years from now, but if I get 89% today and all I’m missing to get a 4.0 GPA is that one percent, couldn’t that ruin my chances of getting in that one university program I’m targeting. My friends and family tell me to lower my expectations, but if I do, doesn’t that mean I’m expecting and accepting what I see as failure. Then I’ll get told to accept failure, but if I fail, teachers will be disappointed in me, so will my family. All these words, meant to be helpful, are actually harmful. Each and every one of them make my self-esteem go down a notch.

All of this was kept inside of me for all these years. Recently I talked about it, although at the moment I hated it, today I certainly don’t regret it. I feel free, I feel light as a feather, as if all that stress and all those words were weighing on me. Today I can talk about it and it’s still hard.

— Written by Gabrielle J. Adams Khoury


A message from Youth of Canada: We are here to support Canadian youth and inspire them. For anyone struggling mentally, we hope the stories of our Mental Health Blog series, in honour of Mental Illness Awareness Week, will help you connect and realize that you are not alone. Thank you to the Canadian teenagers that were willing to share their stories with us.

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