School Phobia: “I Don’t Want to go to School!”

Once upon a time I loved school. Then, I transitioned to high school and life changed.  I might have, maybe, made it through one term before the walls began to close in on me.

Suddenly, I was overcome with debilitating anxiety when it came to school. I started out having days off for headaches and stomach aches, I was being physically effected by my irrational, yet very real, fear of stepping within the school grounds.

The worst thing, other than the fact that I actually wanted to go and simply couldn’t was that I had no idea why. As far as I remember, I wasn’t the victim of bullying. I had a group of friends, a typical bunch of teenage girls – we were close but we had our moments. I was doing well in class. High school life should have been a blast.

Instead, I was crippled. Not knowing then what I do now, I was unaware that my physical illnesses were actually manifestations of what was happening with me mentally. In fact, I didn’t really know I was having any real issue other than being sick for some time. But, once it became obvious that my cycle of illness was in direct correlation with school terms and Monday to Friday I could no longer control myself and the chest crushing, mind numbing terror when I was supposed to be getting ready for school.

The night before, I would have given myself a pep talk, gotten my books ready and told my parents I would, unequivocally, go to school the next morning. I absolutely would. And then, the morning would come and all hell would break loose. Screaming, yelling, crying. Me, my parents, all of us in a situation we had no idea how to handle.

Before it had a name, it had a scathing, heart breaking daily routine of mess and torture. I was torn. So torn. I hated that I could be so calm, so sure that I could do it, that I could get up the next day and walk into school like every other normal person in the world and then as the day began I turned into a monster of epic proportions. Only recently have I been able to differentiate that volatile girl from myself and know that I was not a bad teenager. Had I gone through life without this, I probably would have been one of those annoyingly perfect teens. You know the ones.

I wanted to be normal, back with my friends, doing teenage things more than anything. Instead, I left that school. Maybe telling one of those friends, I can’t remember. I couldn’t explain. I knew I looked like a brat. People were offering to ‘look after me’ like my parents were to blame for my rebellion. Nobody knew, nobody could understand and it all simply looked behavioral.

I went to live with my grandparents. I attended the school I had gone to in Kindy. I went to a psychologist twice a week. Eventually, I had a reason. I had a name for the monster plaguing me. School Phobia. To me, it didn’t sound real. Until that moment, the only phobia I knew of was arachnophobia and until then I knew nothing of exactly what ‘phobia’ meant.

I spent more of my high school career out of class than in. Even in that little school, surrounded by people I’d known forever, I felt like everything was too close. I felt the walls. I felt like someone else was breathing my air. Yet, I still had no idea why.

I found a way to work through it and return to my original high school. All my old friends hated me because I’d left, because of the rumours about why (my favourite being that my youngest brother was actually my son and I’d left to have him and then given him to my mum) or just because they didn’t understand or know who I was anymore. I didn’t hold it against them, though it made life that much harder to face every day. Somehow, I did. I managed a year and a bit of my senior years before finishing up via distance. I was proud that I had made that progress and vowed to help others who might feel this same horrible, life altering anxiety.

But then I didn’t.

I don’t even want to think about how many years it’s been since I left school (hello old age) and I certainly don’t want to think about all the time I’ve spent not helping a single solitary soul. A simple search of this blog, which depicts pretty much every thing, turned up one result for ‘school phobia’ – a post about my wish to unschool my children.

When the topic came up recently, I was surprised. It’s like I’ve completely forgotten my entire teenage schooling life. Almost as if that was not me. I still suffer anxiety, even recently I’ve suffered, but somehow it’s like that screeching, phone destroying (yes, really, I pulled it right off the wall) mad woman was a stranger.

And all of a sudden it became very important to me to share my story.

Writing this has been hard. I didn’t think it would be, but it’s like I am back there. Thankfully, I can take a deep breath and remind myself that my own school journey is behind me. Now, I face the future of my children’s journey with trepidation. Never, ever do I want them to feel the way I did. Ever. Not just the anxiety, but the flow on effect of feeling like a bad person, the sting of disappointing your parents day after day and the learned behaviour of not trusting yourself.

I want to help others who have children suffering, or the children themselves because it’s real but where do I start? I can’t think of a single thing that would have helped back then. I want to say “Talk to them” but, my 13 year old self would have raged and carried on. I know we talked. So much talking and no resolution.

For the record, I have since become enlightened as to a possible trigger for my School Phobia – I developed and got my period early. Like, early. And, as I have mentioned before, I was shocked at the changes – didn’t expect them and on top of that I was the only girl with boobs at that time. My early development has been flagged as a probable cause and I absolutely concur – I was young, unsure and changing well before others. I had no friends experiencing the same things. It might seem like not a lot, but when you’re still in primary school and you’re already pretty self conscious, it can be huge.

Linking up with Jess from Diary of a SAHM for IBot

FYBF

25 Comments

  1. Even though i left the School/Town when i was 14, i never knew you felt this way.
    School must have really sucked for you..

    I wish i had known. xx

    • Thanks Jane. I appreciate that. It was something I simple was unable to really voice until recently x

  2. Wow, Becky. What a heart-breaking story. I do understand why you have pushed this back into the recesses of your life, though.

    You know, you may help dozens of people today who are reading your blog who are having similar issues with their kids. Good for you for sharing this today xx

    • Thanks Tam. I find it hard to believe that I was able to forget, it’s amazing what our minds can do to help preserve us.

      I hope to, at least, help one person!

  3. Thankyou for sharing your story Becky. So often we don’t hear of stories like yours and talking and writing about your pains and struggles can really normalise similar feelings for others. Not having answers can make your anxieties even worse. Thankfully some of the answers came to light.

    I am sure your story will only help your children if they ever feel uncertain and a little anxious x

    • Thank you for your comment. I hope that my words can reach someone and make them see they’re not alone – that has to be one of the worst things when dealing with ordeals.

  4. It’s horrible that someone so young experienced such crippling anxiety and kids can be so cruel. It’s lovely that in sharing your story you might be able to help others x

    • It give me a lot of (surprise) anxiety as my children get older knowing that a child can go from a normal kid to an anxious wreck. It sucks that mental illness – or any illness for that matter – doesn’t leave children alone.

  5. Thanks for sharing your story Becky. So glad you are in a position to share this now and I hope those who need to find it here will find it.

    Stories like yours will make life so much easier for those who are experiencing the same thing now, 10 (or 20?) years down the track.

    • Thank you fro your comment, Julie. I love blogs for that reason, the ability to share things we might not have otherwise and the chance to find others who have been where we have at some point.

      And we’ve just had our 10 year reunion 😉 (well, I didn’t go, but you know)

  6. I am sure just by sharing your story here you will have helped at least one person in one way. Fairy wishes and butterfly kisses lovely

    • Thank you so much Rhianna!

  7. I had to read this three times. I felt like I was reading a similar story to my experience in highschool. Only my parents made me go to school and I wagged most classes. By the time I graduated (just), my parents regret not letting me change school or homeschool. I have no good memories from highscool, only bad memories that I hope I will never have to relive again. I stay away from contact with girls and guys from my highschool and those who knew me then, so they dont dig up the past for me to relive.

    I understand about wanting to help those in school now, and have often thought about going back to my school and talking about my time, but I would be sure I would just get laughed at.

    Thankyou for writing your post! I hope you are able to help someone who is going through this. If I think of anything I will let you know!! xx

    • I am crushed to read that my words mirrored your story. While it’s nice to know I am not alone, it hurts my heart to know you have also been there. I am the same, no positive memories, wouldn’t go to the reunion and so on.

      I think talking about your experiences sounds like a wonderful idea. Removing the stigma is one of the reasons I write things I sometimes would rather not. It’s a hard line to cross. I doubt I would be able to walk into a school and talk, but I would like to think I might be able to if needed…

  8. Thank you for sharing your story Becky. It can’t have been easy to dredge up those awful memories. But it may help someone who has been through the same… or someone who’s child is going through the same. And it will help them. xo

    • I was surprised by how emotional writing this made me (that’s why I am replying to comments so long after posting). Thank you for your positive comment. I hope it reaches someone.

  9. Wow Becky, that is pretty full on! It must have been so hard, not just for you, but Lso for your parents not having any real ia of what was going on.

    I hope you do find the strength to help others; you definitely have a unique perspective. Xx

    • Oh, Jess, my heart is so heavy for my parents when I think of this, it really is. I hate that I did this to them.

  10. Oh Becky it sounds like you have a very difficult time. It is a worthy story to share.

    • had …ps it is really hard to see the print as I type 🙂

      • Thanks Trish x

        (I’ve had James fix the comment issue before, I will see if I can get him onto it again)

  11. Hello Becky, I agree with all of the commenters above…good for you for facing up to the need you have had to air and share this. Blogging is such a great medium when you feel some safety and security amongrst those who you know care for you.
    It may surprise you to know that I too had a not nice start to High School, with high levels of anxiety And the feeling of not fitting in. I’d gone to a High School with no friends from primary as they’d mostly gone to private schools. It took my dad to have a talk to the year supervisor to find out that I was doing well academically and just needed to find my feet socially. So, with some time, and a growing awareness I could fit in, I began to find friends. In my case it seems that puberty late the year before had set my anxiety levels higher which made for a rougher transition.
    In terms of your own children and wanting to save them from your experiences think about a couple of things.
    1. Yours and James’ children are not you, and have not been raised in exactly the same way as you
    2. The experiences you’ve had do not necessarily make the future predictions of behaviors.
    3. The wish that you want to help others is admirable but you answered that yourself… You wouldn’t have wanted the help then either.
    4. Consider that your kids need to have the experience of school otherwise how would you know you are doing the best by them and for them.

    Becky, I don’t say any of this as a criticism but you know by now I am someone you can always email privately and seek advice about schooling…….much love Denyse xx

    • Thank you Denyse. I deeply appreciate your comment and what you’ve shared. I do, on some level, know my children are unique and that their stories will be just as different as mine has been from that of my parents, but there’s also that part of me that is ridiculously fearful that my anxiety will be a predisposition in them.
      As for helping others, I hope my words might help a parent understand or ease a child’s feeling of isolation.
      I would love to do more and am exploring some ‘outside the box’ ideas which might be of use in a parent’s tool box, but I know I probably cannot be a direct help to anyone in particular.
      Thank you again x

  12. School and that stage of life is challenging enough without additional stresses and unnamed demons plaguing you. I’m sure your story will help other’s simply by raising awareness that such a thing as school phobia exists. Thanks for being brave and sharing x

    • Thank you Nee. All these positive comments help me feel stronger and more resolute about having shared this.

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