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When a formerly confident student stops putting her hand up in class, finding out what she has to say can become more important than ever
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Do you remember, in Year 7, when I was the one who always put her hand up first? I think it annoyed you a bit, the way my hand would wave in the air, often before you’d even finished the question.
Sometimes I could tell you wished I’d give the other kids a chance, although on parents’ evening you told my mum it was great that I was so confident, and eager to take part.
It’s different now. You and the other teachers talk about me sometimes, comparing notes. I don’t pay attention in class, I don’t engage. I’m always yawning, I fidget, don’t concentrate, or contribute.
I’m moody, and I snap. Sometimes I’m aggressive, or rude. That just makes it more confusing when I volunteer to stay behind at break and lunchtime to tidy up.
It always takes me a long time to do it, almost always until the bell rings – I always find something that needs organising, but I don’t seem to mind. The only time I mind is when you ask someone else to do it, or when you don’t want me to. Then I get angry, or quiet again.
“She used to be such an easy student,” you complain in the staffroom.
“Teenagers,” you’re told in reply. “They’re all moody at that age. It’s hormones. She’ll grow out of it.”
But you’re not sure. “This doesn’t seem like her.”
And you’re right. It’s because it’s not me. I’ve been invaded. There’s a monster living inside me, these days. You can’t see it, and I can’t tell you it’s there. Not out loud, at least. Sometimes I don’t know where it came from, sometimes I do. What I do know is that it’s here now, feeding on me.
It sits on my chest at night, keeping me awake. The faster my heart beats, the more I feel like I’m going to die, the happier the monster is.
It whispers in my ear all the stupid things I did that day, all the stupid things I’ve ever done. It keeps a list of them and it reads it to me every night. It tells me I’m worthless, and a waste of time. It tells me I’ll never be anything, or anyone, and that no one likes me. It tells me my ideas and thoughts are terrible. It tells me to shut up, because everything I say is wrong.
It follows me to school, reminding me how everyone is better than I am. Prettier, cleverer, faster, cooler. It tells me not to meet my friends, it tells me they don’t really like me anyway. It makes it hard to be around them, my pulse too fast, my mouth dry, until it’s easier to sit alone. It tells me that’s for the best, because nothing I have to say is important anyway. It tells me not care about anything, because no one cares about me.
I don’t know why the monster came to me, but it’s almost always there, sitting beside me, whispering. Sometimes it tells me I shouldn’t be here. That I don’t deserve to be here. The worst times of all are when it’s not there and I’m waiting for it to come back. Because it always comes back. My monster is called Anxiety, and all it wants to do is consume me.
Sometimes I think if I could just tell someone about the monster it would all be ok. They’d help me defeat it. But the monster knows when I think that, and it tells me no one would listen. It puts its arms around me and squeezes, until I can’t breathe. It bends me into the wrong shape, so I can’t fit into my life anymore. It tells me to stay quiet.
So I do.
But you should know I’m putting my hand up inside.
Melinda Salisbury is a best-selling author whose latest title for young adults, State of Sorrow, is published by Scholastic.
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