An Open Letter To High School, The Best & Worst Place To Be A Teenager

CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses mental health. If this article has touched on issues for you, please don’t hesitate to contact Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.

Before I begin, I want to acknowledge that I’m speaking from my own experiences. After all, everyone’s experiences are so diverse, and there are many ways to seek help and guidance.

Dear fellow stomping ground,

Long time, no see ol’ friend.

It’s been a while – a little over 5 years, to be precise – since I finished my last exam and swore I’d never step foot inside your gates again. We’d had a turbulent relationship to say the least but, first, here’s my year 12 photo to refresh your memory.

lil bébé

Remember him? The pimply-faced, oily-haired, still-pubescent boy? Yeah, that one. He’s the tennis captain here, he’s on student council and he has no clue what he wants to do after school. He’s smiling, sure, and to many around him he is the happiest student, but, looking at this picture now, all I can see in those eyes is fear.

To be honest, I was scared of many things – about the future, about not fitting in or letting anyone down, about being gay. I remember sitting in class, stomach constantly churning, with this permanent fogginess around me.

Mum recalls a moment when I came home and said, “I’m so anxious that I literally can’t function.” This became a regular occurrence. I almost felt like I was on autopilot – just getting by.

It all came to a head that one time in Year 12 when I ran out of French class, literally having burst into tears and bolting straight to the toilets. I blamed it on the French oral that I was stressed about, but it was more than that – I just felt super weighed down all types of expectations (from what ATAR I’d get down to what type of person I’d come to be).

That being said, high school, you definitely had some positives. The English and Literature teachers were the people who first encouraged me to express myself through writing. (I still grab coffees with a couple of them to this day – a nice mentor/friend relationship.) Theatre Studies was also a highlight, because I could scream on stage and mean it. (I highly recommend to anyone who wants to blow off a little steam)/ The canteen, by the way, was off the charts. Those spicy chicken rolls, and yoghurt frogs… oooft.

That being said, I left school still wondering who I actually was. In fact, I felt like a product of everyone else’s expectations, rather than my own. I thought I’d have things figured out by the time I’d finished. I couldn’t talk openly about my feelings.  I was also as closeted as ever.

Fast forward to roughly a year after leaving school. Here’s another photo of me – semi-sprouted neck beard, some ~fresh~ piercings and some fallen-apart clothes thanks to my predictable Europe travels.

I’m happier here. I’d been away from home for about 6 months at this point. I’d come out to a few close friends. I started to write, and enjoy it. I didn’t feel like I had to regulate myself. That smile is genuine.

But why did it take me having to leave school in order to feel that sense of security? Shouldn’t school have nurtured this sense of security to being with?

Some of you might be thinking, “Why is this dude even talking about his school from half a decade ago?” 5 years is actually a considerable amount of time. Even now, it almost feels like a different era – a lot has changed since then. 

No matter how much time has passed, though, there’ll always be one or two kids in each classroom, heart racing, head pounding, feeling scared or insecure. There’ll be students who feel like there’s no one they can talk to. There’ll be others who feel like they’re spiralling out of control. It’s these students who I have in mind when I write this.

So with that being said, to my dear, dear friend (high school), remember that every student is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Every student has their insecurities, no matter how smiley or extroverted they may seem. I hope you’re now providing resources that allow students to talk openly, and to be safe. I hope you’re helping boys talk about their emotions and vulnerabilities. I hope you’re encouraging growth and individuality rather than conformity. 

Students shouldn’t be placed into glass boxes, they should be taught to shatter them.

There’s a part in Love, Simon, when Jennifer Garner‘s character says to Simon, “When you were little, you were so carefree. But these last few years, more and more, it’s almost like I can feel you holding your breath… You get to exhale now, Simon. You get to be more you than you have been in… in a very long time. You deserve everything you want.” 

Mum reached out to me after watching it, and said that it reminded her of our experiences, and my inability to breathe.

No student deserves to hold their breath. Every student deserves to exhale.

I think I could come back to your grounds now.

Yours sincerely,
An old friend.

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