After almost four years of high school, I’ve come to realize a lot of different things that I should have done differently.

Everyone’s high school experience is different, and I realized that there are so many different factors that change the way we experience high school, but there is one thing that is crucial to a painless (or maybe less painful in some cases) high school experience: self-care. It is important to care not only about surface things like your grades and your friends and your relationships, but that doesn’t mean the importance of your mental health should be compromised just because you need to raise an 89 to a 90. It is also important to realize that your GPA doesn’t define your worth, and that the education system isn’t designed in a way that will work out for every single student.

Ever since I was young, I struggled with academics and focusing on creating a good work-ethic. I never consistently earned bad grades (I was a straight-A student up until high school), but when high school rolled around it literally knocked me right to the ground. Not to be dramatic, but high school didn’t just slap me in the face and provide me with endless wake-up calls, but it broke every bone in my body. I am fully aware that I am partially responsible for this; my work-ethic is not the best, I could procrastinate for six years straight, and I have the attention span of a slice of bread.

My grades weren’t necessarily bad, but my days of being a consistent straight-A student are in the past as of now. I’ve always known that getting good grades required a lot more effort and hours than it would for most of my peers, but when I got to high school my motivation to put in that same amount of effort wasn’t entirely there anymore. I think every high school student has felt defeated at at least one point of their high school career, and sometimes we don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

We all cope in different ways and sometimes we are able to find ways to motivate ourselves to keep going, but this isn’t always the reality for some people. Our education system, like I said before, wasn’t designed to fit everyone’s needs and ways of life, but that doesn’t mean it is the end of the world. I’m sure those few times I’d completely given up all hope of earning an A in a class would have not happened if I hadn’t let stress and anxiety build up and pushed my mental health aside in order to please my parents and my teachers. Not taking better care of myself over the last few years of high school is the one thing that I’m 110% sure that I regret. I’m sure almost every student can relate to putting their health, even physical health, on the back burner because they didn’t want to disappoint other people.

Allowing yourself to not have a mental break down by the end of the week is not selfish. Every day, I usually hear the majority of my friends tell me that they are tired in every way possible because of school. School is intense and tiring and of course it is rewarding in the end when you walk across the stage at graduation, but are the grades really worth your own health? I personally feel that the grades mean nothing if you aren’t okay. Many of us know firsthand how it feels for people around you, whether it was with negative intentions or positive intentions, tell you to ignore how you feel just for the sake of education. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard “suck it up,” “you have x amount of years left until college,” “you’re being a baby about everything,” etc. in the last four years. There is not only stigma associated mental illness, but there is also a lot of misunderstanding around taking care of your mental health and avoiding the development of mental illness if it is possible.

From what I’ve witnessed in my four years of high school, so many people whose traditional cultures and religions are more prominent in their everyday lives that struggle with mental illness are less likely to feel the need to investigate their mental health with their doctor and talk about it with their families. In many cultures and religions, mental health is practically a myth. Mental health, to a lot of people, is something that many people can’t understand because it is not talked about or recognized in their culture. I know so many people who have told me that they have been told by adults at home that their poor mental health “is inside [their heads]” and that “God can heal” the way they are feeling if they focus on their faith. With all due respect to other cultures and the importance of religion to some people, I do believe that if the facts and science are there, then why is it so hard for people to accept that?

Mental illnesses are usually due to chemical imbalances within the brain. There is endless scientific research and discoveries to prove that mental illnesses exist and that they can become just as life threatening as physical illnesses. If the majority of society knows that illnesses like cancer can’t be treated through cultural/religious practices, then why can’t we make the same exception for mental illness? I wish I had the answer to this question, and I don’t think I will ever be able to view an answer to this question as acceptable.

Regardless of the circumstances in you life and what the people you are surrounded by tell you, take it from me: the grades on a report card aren’t even comparable to your worth as a  individual and a human being.

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