“She’s only guilty by association,” A joked in regards to me. There was a hint of playful laughter in his voice, perpetually amused by my trio of friends. M, N, and J were troublemakers. Not the rebellious, dangerous types, but the facetiously bothersome types. They weren’t all considered outgoing, but they possessed a much larger list of friendly acquaintances than I. M and N were particularly friendly and were excellent at making friends. I think J and I were just along for the ride.
I smiled, my face probably growing red like it always did. I was happy A had acknowledged my existence. Not many people did. Even eight years later, I still remember his accusation. Nothing he said to me was ever mean. In fact, most of my high school classmates were nice to me in that regard. Most.
Tenth grade (2011-2012) was a tough year for me. Part of me wants to correct that sentence with, every year was a tough year for me, but tenth grade was especially difficult.
On multiple occasions that fall, my family would pack up very last minute (sometimes in the dead of night) and drive to the middle-of-nowhere, Missouri, where my grandparents lived. They resided in the tiny town of El Dorado Springs in a small two-bedroom house where my grandmother lay dying from her second battle with Cancer.
I never really considered myself close to many people, including family, but of all the funerals I’ve attended over the years, hers was the hardest to get through. Whenever I’d imagine my wedding or my future children, I didn’t imagine my parents there with me… I imagined her. When she passed away that November, I didn’t just lose my grandmother, I lost my fantasy of the future.
Tenth grade was the only year I saw a therapist. It wasn’t supposed to be for grief counseling. I had a little bit of a breakdown at the beginning of the school year. That August, fifteen-year-old me had sent a long emotional email to my mom in the middle of the night. It was full of anger and sadness and frustration. Why couldn’t I be normal? Why was I such a coward? Why couldn’t I speak – I just wanted to speak! For Christ’s sake, I was writing an email – an email – I couldn’t even have a normal relationship with my mom! The darkness – the one I fought and conquered at fourteen – I could feel it haunting me, taunting me. I wanted it gone! I wanted to wake up the next day, put a smile on my face, and speak to everyone I knew (without anyone thinking it was weird). I wanted to do things that I had been dreaming of doing my whole life! Gosh, why couldn’t I keep the tears from falling from my eyes? My throat hurt from trying to hold them back.
I worked extra hard to appear happy after that. I didn’t want to be worried about.
My therapist was an older gentleman. We had to drive to another city to meet him. Dr. H was outgoing and personable – a self-proclaimed “people person.” I spoke with him as if I were normal, so much so that he mentioned one day that he couldn’t tell I had any sort of problem with socialization.
I wished that were true.
We created plans and blueprints for managing anxiety. One week, I was supposed to tell a girl in my geometry class that I thought her hair or her outfit looked nice. Instead, I would watch her from the corner of my eye, trying to figure out how to not make that sound weird. Another week, I was supposed to give a presentation in my English class. Instead, I avoided the assignment and told my praying therapist that there wasn’t enough class time for me to present.
I was bad at doing homework. I was always exhausted from trying to survive the school day. I would spend my free time trying to wind down from the day’s events, never having enough focus or stamina to continue my academics past three o’clock. My brain was done having to process for the day. Dr. H tried to work with me on that, but the effort was wasted. Every idea he’d come up with I had already tried. It was frustrating. I had come to therapy only as a last resort because I had exhausted all my ideas for getting myself better. Therapy was just re-hashing those same ideas.
I didn’t tell Dr. H that, though. Our sessions were running out, unbeknownst to me. The truth was, I liked speaking to Dr. H. He was like a friend. I didn’t have to worry too much about being overheard by others. The only problem was that every time he thought there was a breakthrough, he insisted on sharing it with my mother. I guess that’s what it was like to be a minor in therapy. Complete and total privacy was an illusion.
I was quite upset when our sessions ended. I hadn’t felt like anything had been resolved. Half our sessions had turned away from my social anxiety and towards grief counseling. I guess death seemed a more heavier, pressing matter to Dr. H.
By then it was March 2012. I was sixteen. My sophomore year of high school only had a couple months left. My best friend (M) and I would bounce our anxieties off each other, creating a giant rubber-band ball of emotions. We were emotional people; especially back then. We became our own therapists, fighting our own inner demons alongside each other. We kept ourselves alive and breathing and away from sharp objects. We talked about our crushes (Like many girls, I had a huge, undeniable crush on A) and we talked about things that we felt were crushing us. We’re no longer friends anymore, but we survived high school together, and for that, I am eternally grateful.