Note: Writer Chris Croll is dedicating her newspaper column each month to a student who bravely, and in their own words, shares what it’s really like to be a teenager growing up in Loudoun County. Submit your story at BeingATeenInLoudoun@gmail.com
School was an absolute nightmare; a dream I could never wake up from. Even though I kept trying my hardest, I got F’s on every test. After years of this emotional torture, I finally looked at myself and knew there was something wrong with me. Like a turtle, I wanted to retreat inside my shell and never come out.
My parents had always told me I was smart, and deep down I knew it myself, but my grades didn’t reflect this. I didn’t know how to show the world how smart I was. Inside, where no one could see, I was a perfectionist; outside, I was being blamed for being lazy. I had to find some way of being good at something, so I found loopholes and developed unhealthy habits. I started putting others down with hurtful comments, trying to make myself feel better; I also started bragging to build myself up. Things were spiraling out of control.
By the end of third grade, I got tested and was diagnosed with dyslexia, ADHD and dysgraphia. I was confused because I didn’t know what these words meant. After my mom explained, I was too embarrassed to tell anyone because I was afraid, they would laugh at me and call me stupid.
Because math class was scheduled around reading group, I had to be placed into a math group with kids who didn’t understand math. This was extremely frustrating because math was my best subject, and I wasn’t learning anything new. At one point, we were an entire month behind the math group I should have been in. Worse, the teacher “worksheeted” us to death.
I was also bullied at school and felt very alone. After four years of this emotional torture, I started to refuse to go to school. My dad would actually have to pick me up and throw me into the car like a rag doll.
I lost the real me. I lacked self-confidence. I felt vulnerable. I would act one way at school, and then let it all out at home. It was exhausting. I didn’t want people to get involved in my life or to know how I felt. I avoided all my problems and hoped that they would go away. I kept wanting to just be “better” without doing the work.
My English teacher decided to start holding me accountable. She started pushing me harder to get my work done. It felt like a punishment. It felt unfair, like she was being super picky just to catch me. It seemed like she wanted to do everything in her power to make me look bad and feel bad.Finally, I got so angry, I sent an angry but very honest email to her and my other teachers.
In my email, I stated that no one understood me—and that I couldn’t do what they were expecting of me. Deep down inside, I knew this wasn’t really true, but I felt it so much, that it overwhelmed that small part that “believed” and almost made it disappear completely. At the same time, I was so tired of the way my life was going that I knew I had to change. I needed to fully come out of my shell … and the honest email was my first step.
After the email, I went back to school, but something was different. I had become so tired of pretending that I decided to just be honest. I wanted to start over in school; this time being honest. Being dishonest and loop holing took a lot of effort. I wanted to stop and become a new person.
To be honest, there are still two conflicting sides that exist in my mind almost every day. My ADHD tells me that I need a break but my other side knows that even if it requires an extreme amount of effort, it’s better to get the work done to avoid problems in the future.
Today when I hit a roadblock, I know that I can talk to people honestly about it and get help. I have learned to resolve my problems in a much, much healthier way. I am still growing and learning – I am not completely out of my shell yet—but in time, I know I will be.
[Chris Croll is a writer, community activist and former member of the Loudoun County School Board (Catoctin District). She lives in Leesburg with her husband and two children.]