On my second day of 11th grade, I made the decision to drop out of high school. Though I had been dealing with major depression for four years by that point, it felt like I was only getting worse and life more unbearable. Getting out of bed became harder than algebra, and my social and regular anxieties only added to the mix.
The first day of that year, I have a vague memory of walking in to the records office at school and asking for a form. That’s right, I was so clueless at this time that I thought you needed to submit a form to drop out of high school. (I had had to complete lots of paperwork in changing schools, I guess that’s why). The lady thought I meant to drop a single class, and lectured me when I tried to explain my situation.
Ironically, though, it was a guidance counselor at the school that helped me drop out altogether. I had already stopped showing up, and I guess my dad called to discuss options with a counselor because I was still not quite 16. The counselor signed me up for night school, knowing I’d never go, and my name would appear on their roster until I could legally withdraw.
By this point, my parents were so addled by a suicidal teenager that they didn’t put up much of an argument, except to send me to the wilderness months later. In addition to the snowy woods, I would spend three weeks total between two mental hospitals, unsure about everything except how much I loathed school. Between hospitals I somehow managed to keep a job at Dairy Queen for two weeks, which might have been worst of all. If I had any self-confidence then, it was quickly diminished as I ran into former classmates while pushing my DQ cart across the mall, explaining that I dropped out to do, well, this.
Though that might have been the most ‘drop-outy’ I’ve ever felt, it did not convince me to stay in school when I was forced back months later in order to receive a plane ticket home from Montana. This time anxiety strangled me even more than sadness and I stopped showing up again.
Months would pass before I found a Freudian psychiatrist who was very lie-down-on-ze-couch, but also very helpful. I started on the right medicine (Lamictal, Lexapro AND Wellburtin, if anybody cares), and life got better.
So much better, in fact, that by the following fall I was able to take classes at my community college, which was probably the best thing I have ever done for myself. Where high school was draining, college was inspiring, and I was taking classes that I actually wanted to be in. Though my parents made me get a GED that year, I started school without one, and to my knowledge there is no diploma requirement to attend any community college, and most do not have an age requirement, either.
Before the preliminary test, my mantra was “If Paris Hilton can get her GED, then dammit so can I!” and I was relieved to find it pretty easy. I think with two years of high school or a little studying (or GED classes), the average person is good to go. And I wish more kids knew that.
I wish more kids would leave the most oppressive setting they’ll likely face in their lifetime, and realize that life really starts after high school. As I say this, I do realize the statistics of drop outs that will never get a GED and the burdens they face in the already limited workforce, so I will limit my non-advice to those kids that are really, really struggling. The kids that are teased and taunted to the extent that their morning bus rides feel like a shuttle to hell, as they sink into the seat awaiting their tormentors. Or the kids that have such deep-rooted psychological issues that their minds have no room for the Pythagorean theorem or ‘where do I sit at lunch?’ dilemmas. I wish the kids that have taken their own lives had known that the small population of teenage horrors do not represent the real world, and that they lived long enough to enter it.
When teachers fail to help these kids, and parents are out of school districts to transfer to - what’s left? Should we really drag them through four painful years where bullies’ perception of them sticks like gum to a desk?
My mom was friends with a former superintendent of our school district, who learned of my dropping out and said “high school is not right for everyone,” and I really, firmly believe that. I’m not a parent, but if I saw my child truly shrinking emotionally because of their high school experience, I would take them off the bus as soon as it pulled alongside my suburban lawn.
Maybe high school is a necessary stepping stone for adolescents learning about themselves, others, and somewhat useful subjects, but maybe this four year purgatory is more harmful than helpful for a lot of kids, too.