High school was hard for me. I was misunderstood a lot. I was misunderstood by teachers, educational assistants, friends, crushes. I didn’t even understand myself most of the time.
I’m going to share what I went through in each grade. I think it is important to share my experience to teach people in the school system how their actions could affect someone’s life, for better or worse. My purpose for this is not to offend anyone but to show the reality of what it was like for me.
I don’t remember much about Grade 9. I didn’t have my motorized chair at the time and I remember how hard it was for me to depend on others to push me around. I remember my best friend leaving me alone in the cafeteria and me not being able to move. I cried a lot because I got so frustrated.
I had a major spinal surgery where I missed almost 3 months of school. I failed a class or two because of it.
I didn’t feel independent. Or at least as much as I do now. Most of the time, I had someone making my decisions for me and protecting me from “real life”. I had someone with me all the time as I literally couldn’t move unless someone pushed my wheelchair. I had no real responsibilities or stressors as everyone pretty much took care of everything for me.
The first semester of Grade 10 was more of the same thing.
The second semester is when I met my high school crush. He walked into class on the first day of school that semester. I remember he had gorgeous blue eyes that just made me get butterflies in my stomach. He was cute, but probably not one of the best-looking guys in school. Those eyes made him stand out to me though.
It was tough because I had zero confidence it would ever go anywhere and it didn’t. Probably because I had never had a crush before or had been left out of the “real world”, I had difficulty expressing my feelings and figuring out what to do. I came across as obsessive and abnormal, probably because I thought real life was like movies and Taylor Swift songs. I eventually became cyberbullied by him and his friends. But he also told me things I wanted to hear, which made his behaviour okay in my mind.
This was around the time people were thinking about college but I didn’t feel the need to go to college. At this point, I felt like I couldn’t anyway. I thought since I had a disability, I needed someone to take care of me all day and I couldn’t be independent.
Towards the end of Grade 10, I got a motorized wheelchair and I slowly started to gain more independence.
The bullying and manipulating got worse the summer prior to Grade 11. At this point, I had told him I liked him and we had longer conversations online. I thought we were getting closer as friends. But in the group chats with him and his friends, he was mean to me. Of course, I let it go on. I was also struggling from some issues from my dad.
So, I was depressed when I started Grade 11. I didn’t know what depression was. I thought it was just another word for sad. I started showing symptoms but I was confused as I didn’t understand what was going on. I was always tired, sad, irritable.
My educational assistant for one of my classes was very supportive. If I started to cry or just become very agitated, she would pull me out of class so I could calm down. She eventually started to get worried though after noticing a pattern. One day, she brought me to a room. She told me she has been noticing I was showing signs that something might be wrong asked me if I was okay. She told me she was concerned and that maybe I should talk to someone. So, after a while, I did. I started seeing the school counsellor who eventually recommended I see my doctor. I got diagnosed with mild depression and anxiety.
The other educational assistants weren’t as accommodating and understanding as she was. They always thought my actions were a behaviour or disability issue and that I was acting this way just because I wanted to. But it was anxiety and at this point, I couldn’t control any of it as I was still trying to understand my diagnosis. I would get so frustrated and feel so much pressure. Sometimes I would even throw fits and refuse to do my work.
I gained more and more independence. I eventually got stubborn and wanted more than they were willing to give me. I remember getting frustrated the educational assistants if they didn’t let me do what I wanted to do. Some wouldn’t even let me walk to my locker by myself or let me make the decision whether I want to wear a jacket outside or not. Whenever someone pushed me to my limits, which was a lot, I would throw small fits or get anxious and hide.
My best friend was also one of the people who bullied me. She bullied me on and off. She called it “tough love”. But I remember nights I spent crying and begging her to stop being so mean. She didn’t even invite me to her parties because I was a “burden” then talked about them right in front of me. She didn’t believe I had depression so she wasn’t there as much as I needed her to be.
I believe I started to self harm in Grade 11 (might have been Grade 12). I still remember the first time. I used the sharp end of a paper clip to scratch myself. I was playing with one in class and it broke in half, and I did it right there and then. I just got so overwhelmed with everything at school and at home.
But my best friend called me an attention seeker for doing it and told me to stop trying to be emo.
I remember the hallway where my crush’s locker was. I felt them staring at me and talking about me behind my back when I walked through it. I don’t know why I kept going in it without needing to but I did multiple times everyday. I think I just wanted him to notice me in a positive way, maybe say hi to me or something. I’m pretty sure they thought I was creepy. I mean, who wouldn’t?
By this time, I had gotten really close to my counsellor and another girl.
I had a breakdown the last day of school in Grade 12. I think it was the worst I’ve ever had at school. I was bawling, shaking and unable to breathe. I was sent to class during it. It was the worst. I didn’t care about anything, let alone class. But the support staff thought class was the most important thing at that moment. I didn’t. I was more focused on my breathing and my mental health. I was still crying in class and trying to catch my breath. People were staring. It was embarrassing. Thankfully, my school counsellor called me down to her office.
I had to stay for an extra year because I didn’t have the credits I needed to move onto college. I hated the fact that I had to stay but it was easier in a way because my crush and bullies were gone. But I was still dealing with my mental illness and stuff from the past few years. And still, at this point, the support staff didn’t understand or accommodate me.
But they pretty much got the message that I wanted to be independent and make my own decisions, and that they weren’t going to stop me. I was 18. There was nothing anyone could really do if I wanted to get out of my wheelchair or go out for lunch. My school counsellor normally did hall duty and I would hang out with her most of the time. She watched me but she had that, “if she falls and hurts herself, it’s her fault” attitude. I loved her for that.
Because of my newfound independence and confidence, I enrolled in college.
So why did I write this?
To raise awareness and to show support staff and the school board that:
- Everyone with a disability is different and has different needs. If someone actually isn’t safe to be alone, watch them. But it’s frustrating and unfair for people like me to be treated the same as those with severe developmental disabilities. It’s unfair to treat all disabilities the same.
- Listen to the students.
- Not everyone learns the same.
- Nothing is good comes out of pushing a student way past their limits. If you do that, they’re going to throw a fit and refuse to do anything. What else do you expect?
- Mental health is more important than grades. If I was having an anxiety attack or breakdown, I really didn’t care to do my work or go to class. It’s almost impossible to focus when those things happen to you. You will never see a student’s best work if you force them to do something at times like those. I would sit in front of the computer for hours without typing a single word. I failed tests and skipped assignments. But guess what? I graduated college with honours. I did better in college than I ever did in high school. I’m a success story. One bad grade doesn’t effect their life. It’s okay to let them take a breather, or even a day. Mental illness can be deadly. Your number one priority should be making sure they’re okay. You can read more about this in an article I wrote titled Mental Health More Important Than Grades.
- Unless it’s part of their diagnosis, it is rarely a behaviour issue when students “act out”/”throw fits” and refuse to do their work. They don’t do it for no reason. Most of the time, there is a reason. Listen to them and figure out what you can do to help them. Understand that not everyone is a brat on purpose.