Wellness is about more than just academics

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Wellness is about more than just academics

Audrey Matzke, Features Editor

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We all know the types: stressed-out students in AT Bio, kids who don’t sleep, Ivy-League devotees. They’re everywhere at Lab, and nowadays, many of the adults around us are starting to realize the habits they’ve implicitly endorsed for years are incredibly unhealthy.

And I’m glad. It’s been reassuring to watch this school-wide conversation around wellness unfold, and I appreciate that the adults in our community care enough to write complex surveys and host panels. It’s shameful that so many of us are suffering at the hands of our school’s toxic rigor, and those who are deserve every bit of institutional support they’re getting. And more. However, some of us suffer regardless. 

A detailed backstory isn’t necessary, but suffice it to say that my issues pre-date high school. Long before I could calculate my GPA or point out U.C. Berkeley on a map, I felt lonely, anxious and utterly out of control. Even at 4, I was beyond terrified of saying the wrong thing and getting in trouble. I didn’t need grades to feel like a failure. 

Now, in high school, I am alienated by Lab’s single narrative on mental health — both on and off campus. Last December, I took three weeks off of school to attend a mental-health facility. On the first day, one of the psychologists said something along the lines of: “You go to Lab, right? Don’t worry, I know your type. You’re an over-achiever.”

I tried explaining to her that I wasn’t there for school-related stress, but she wouldn’t listen. She began by restricting my work time, even for subjects I genuinely enjoyed, promising that I’d “feel much better” if I “took some time for myself.””

I tried explaining to her that I wasn’t there for school-related stress, but she wouldn’t listen. She began by restricting my work time, even for subjects I genuinely enjoyed, promising that I’d “feel much better” if I “took some time for myself.” My counselor, one of the first Lab adults to recognize the severity of my condition, had actually referred me to the facility because depression was making it impossible to keep up with homework — and to avoid having to repeat sophomore year, I needed a school-sanctioned place to catch up. The psychologist’s methods were worse than flawed. They were the exact opposite of what I actually needed. 

The Polaris Teen Center, a residential facility for mentally-ill adolescents, lists several sub-categories under the broad and complex header of “anxiety.” Among the most common are specific phobias, social anxiety, PTSD and panic disorders. Yet at Lab, conversations surrounding anxiety are almost exclusively tied to academics. For me and probably many others, socializing in the cafeteria can be just as daunting as taking a test fifth period, yet at Lab, we only seem to talk about the latter. 

There’s more to our chronically stressed-out population than “over-achievers.” When our school’s fight for mental health is centered entirely around convincing us that “getting into Harvard won’t make you happy,” it can feel pretty invalidating to those who weren’t even planning to apply.

It’s time we start listening to everyone, no matter their ACT scores or extra-curricular resumé. Wellness is a community effort, and as long as some of our needs are overlooked, collective progress is all but impossible.