Exposure Therapy: Katherine


Katherine Kregness, Sophomore

     Being a person with anxiety and a high school student are two identities that are simply not compatible. Many of the hurdles set in place for people like me are not only easily avoidable but fueled by the administration, the curriculum, staff members and overall school climate. The testing packed curriculums aren’t “helpful for evaluating student progression” if I’m more focused on remembering how to breathe than answering the questions. The newly introduced speech-based project isn’t “nudging students outside of their comfort zone” if I spend twenty minutes beforehand hyperventilating in the bathroom. Being told by teachers that my anxiety is not a valid reason to be excused from a frankly terrifying activity is not only ignorant and insensitive but also augments the culture found at our school that portrays mental illness as something to be ashamed of. 

     The social pressure of a high school environment is enough to give anyone anxiety, but for people who struggle with it regardless, high school can be hell. School policy is not mental health comprehensive in the slightest. Health class and hallway posters discuss the ways to best combat suicidal thoughts and panic attacks while our administration outlaws those same techniques. 

     If I need to go to the bathroom to sit on the floor and walk myself through breathing exercises, I can expect to be shouted at upon my return to class for taking too long or get a marked up attendance record. With the addition of the new school hall pass policy, I don’t have the option to take a minute to myself or privately stave off an anxiety attack. When the bathrooms are full or don’t feel like a safe space, I’m forced to resort to corners such as under stairwells and empty hallways where I get shouted at by security guards with no regard as to why I’m crouched in a fetal position. 

     The health office, as you may be thinking, is also not an option, because, to many of the staffers, my anxiety is both not valid enough to warrant a visit to the nurse in the first place and also a general distraction from their other patients. Going to the nurse gives me two options: I go home and have to explain to my parents why I can’t manage to get through an hour of biology, or I’m immediately sent back to class. 

    When presenting this predicament to staff members, I’m most often met with something along the lines of, “It is not the job of a teacher to read minds,” and that it is my “responsibility to inform staff members of potentially problematic issues”. Well, to those people, I invite you to look up the dictionary definition of social anxiety. Please, take a moment to consider, with this newfound information, does that sound like something a person with anxiety would be inclined to do? Because I am here to inform you that no, I would not like my first introduction to a teacher to be addressing a mental health obstacle that is looked down on socially and causes me to be terrified of every conversation I have. Yes, including this one. 

     Especially with the current political climate around mental illness, telling near strangers about mine is frankly terrifying. Yes, I have some issues, as does everyone. working on it, but I guarantee you that being the “mentally ill” kid isn’t going to help with that. Staff who single out students or use humiliation as a scare tactic into good behavior are the worst nightmare of any anxiety-ridden student. It should not be my job to single myself out as a student who requires special treatment because teachers and staff members shouldn’t have a default that doesn’t work for over 25% of kids. If it is not the job of the teacher to alter their methods in order to accommodate the needs of students, then their job descriptions need to change.  And that responsibility falls to the administration.