burn it away

We’re doing some spring cleaning, and Mum found an old report card from the end of eighth grade. It shows the beginning of the end of my Academic Golden Girl era. My grades slipped, and a lot of that was down to missed homework and not caring.

Up to that point, I bore more than a passing resemblance to Hermione Granger, except Hermione never had glasses.* Up to that point, my mental health issues had been manageable with therapy (lunches in Counseling at least once a week). I was starting to slide into major depression, though none of us knew it at the time. And what could we have done? Doctors were a little more hesitant to medicate minors around the turn of the century. I figured I could do my pointless effing homework in study hall, or else I forgot about it. Or I took a zero in gym, if I had that option, and sat in the bleachers working.

I was already getting episodes of anxiety-related IBS. My first day of eighth grade, I went home sick with it. I didn’t know what that was, either, until I looked back. I do now. I know so much more now about the things that were tripping me up.

That doesn’t stop the nightmares.

I dream I’m back in middle and high school. I relive all of my mistakes, all of my shame. The guilt returns. It was my fault, I thought. It was always my stupid fault. Except that it wasn’t. Because what does a thirteen-year-old know about what’s happening inside her head? I didn’t learn about neurotransmitters until medication became a part of my life. Depression? Anxiety? Those were for adults, right? Who was going to slap a diagnosis on a kid they couldn’t really help anyhow?

That’s… not the best approach.

You show me a kid who’s struggling in school and who’s having emotional turmoil, I might show you the DSM where it says “hey, watch for these signs”. She could be slacking because she’s a teenager, or she could be slacking because she’s coping (badly) with motivational anhedonia. She could be scatterbrained, or she could be experiencing — and I quote — “[d]iminished ability to think or concentrate”.

Having a name for what’s wrong helps people decide what to do next. If my parents had ever been told “Your daughter has what you have, Dad,” their frame would’ve shifted from “teen angst and rebellion” to “my kid is sick and needs real help”. Treatment starting in eighth grade, not eleventh, would’ve forestalled a lot of the issues I had in high school.

Maybe I wouldn’t still be dreaming myself back there and failing so hard.

I’m going to burn that report card. If I watch it turn to ashes, I might be able to put the guilt to rest. I am a responsible, driven worker when my brain chemistry is more or less balanced. I don’t need to hold myself responsible for something so far beyond my control. I’m going to give that sorrow back to the universe and set myself free, one piece of paper at a time.


* At least Harry did. But Harry was always cool. I would have liked for Hermione to grow up cool and bespectacled.

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