I think it’s genetic in my case. I don’t know how else to explain it. For as long as I can remember I’ve had issues with anxiety. Especially in social situations. We all have memories that remain more vivid in our heads. Some good, some bad. Mine, however, almost exclusively revolve around my anxiety. Those are the most vivid of all and the ones I tend to relive over and over again, no matter how much I wish I could stop.
I know I’ve written about the first major incident when I was in first grade. Then in second grade, at a different school–Did I forget to mention that we moved constantly as a kid? It was pretty normal for me to go to two or even three different schools in one year. I remember one school I only attended for three DAYS! Now how the hell does that work? How the hell is that LEGAL? Think all that might have anything to do with my anxiety and/or depression issues?
Anyway, second grade, when the teacher made an example of me for needing to sharpen my pencil during a spelling test. She was in a bad mood but still, you don’t do that to a student. And one that wasn’t misbehaving at that. Needless to say I didn’t get to sharpen my pencil and I failed said test since I was literally incapable of answering any of the questions. It really hurt me a lot getting that test back knowing that I knew all the answers but being arbitrarily unable to give them. I think this was the beginning of when I realized that effort and reward were completely unrelated to one another.
On to third grade where things really started to fall apart. The incident concerning our state capital’s project really stands out for me. We were put into groups to work together. Me, being the always helpful person that I was (and still struggle with being), assumed that meant we were actually supposed to be working together. Instead, the girls I was grouped with decided that they were one group and that I was another. So much so that when I continued to actually try to work with them one of them suddenly screamed, very loudly, right in my face, for the entire class to see and hear: “We don’t want your help!”
I simply crumpled up into a ball at that point and started crying. Eventually one of the girls told the teacher I was crying, without mentioning the reason, of which it was impossible for the teacher not to know about because of the loudness associated with the origin. All I got from the teacher was to go to the bathroom and clean myself up. All I wanted to do was run away and hide. I don’t remember anything after that.
Another incident in third grade involved my birthday, or rather the way birthdays were dealt with in my class. They stood you up in front of everyone and had students ask you questions about yourself. At the time I actually had a school friend. His name was Charlie and he was the first real and bestest friend that I had ever had (ever would have really). So it comes time to answer questions about myself. I don’t really know anyone else in class, and had already been shown that most didn’t want to get to know me anyway. Because of that I ended up calling on Charlie over and over again, who thankfully was in the same class as me. After a few questions the teacher steps in and tells me that I have to let other students have a chance to ask me questions, students that I didn’t like and that didn’t like me in return. Any good feelings I had that day evaporated near instantly. I don’t remember the rest of that day. We moved again shortly after that. Charlie, my one buffer, was now gone.
Here’s some more third grade just to let it sink in how bad things were starting to get then. We were having an assembly in the cafeteria. We were all sitting on the floor listening to the principal talk about, I don’t remember what, I was nine or ten. Anyway, the kid sitting next to me, who I was acquainted with, wanted to play a sort of hand game with me. I was trying to be a good student and listen to the announcements. He continued to insist while I rebuffed him. Suddenly the principal calls both our names and we’re told to come up to the front of the cafeteria where kids who can’t listen are sat to be watched.
What was going on here? I was trying to listen and for that I was being publicly punished. After the assembly we were all lined up with our noses against the wall until the principal could decide what to do with us. Eventually we were given a talking to and then sent back to class. I learned from that day that it doesn’t matter if you’re being good or not, you’ll end up being arbitrarily punished either way. The best way to avoid that was simply to hide. And so I dug deeper into myself and away from everyone else. Somewhere it was safe. Where I wouldn’t be judged or punished.
Fourth grade was less eventful but I had already internalized a lot of terrible ideas and thought processes by that point. At least I had my friend, Charlie, back and that made things more bearable. But I couldn’t go one year without being psychologically scared and so I remember the one major incident with my teacher that year. I had finished my assignment early and was eager to do something more. I wasn’t a teacher’s pet but I enjoyed being appreciated and receiving praise, two things I never saw at home. So my teacher has some short boxes, sort of like those cardboard cases that hold four six-packs of soda, about two inches high on the sides with no top. Anyway, she gave me a roll of shelf paper and asked me to use it to wrap around the sides of the boxes, to make them more presentable. I gladly obliged and quickly got to work.
As I finished the first box though, something went wrong. She was suddenly agitated and upset with me. Not because I had done a bad job but because I had done too good of a job and in the process had used too much of the shelf paper. Wrapping two pieces around the box left a small gap on one side. So I cut a third piece and overlaid the other two a bit with it. That had been a sin apparently. The shelf paper was expensive and I shouldn’t have done that. All I had been told was to cover the sides of the boxes. No other instructions were given. But now I was being admonished for not doing it the was she hadn’t instructed me to.
It felt a lot like the incident from first grade and simply re-enforced the lesson I learned then: Never do anything without absolute crystal clear instructions on how to do it, and even then waffle and freeze with performance anxiety. I know she didn’t mean to but she hurt me badly. I had been feeling good that day but in one swoop she had taken that all away and I felt on the verge of tears. I don’t think I ever offered to do anything like that for her again.
And that’s as far as I’m going to go with this today. I’ve already written so much as it is and to get into fifth grade, the Year of Hell, would be simply too much for me to deal with right now. I feel emotionally drained and even thinking about it makes me want to just cry uncontrollably. So much had already happened and then for that… that year… to compound things so much. I will say that if I had even known at the time that suicide was an option I probably wouldn’t be here today. I was a very socially stupid kid by that point, and that probably saved my life.
I need time to prepare myself if I’m actually going to talk about that year, and the ensuing nightmare that my life became. Yes, it can take as little as one school year to ruin you for life. I’m living proof of that.
But I need some rest now. Exhausted both emotionally and physically. It’s almost 4:00 AM after all.
The Year of Hell can wait.