I was so nervous. My stomach was in knots. My legs were shaking uncontrollably. My heart began to beat faster and faster. Then, my name was called, and I stood up and began to walk to the stage. The closer I got, the more nervous I became. I finally got there, climbed up the stairs, and made my way to the podium. I looked up and saw thousands of eyes staring directly at me. I immediately regretted saying “yes” to this but it was too late to back out now. I cleared my throat, took a deep breath, and began. “We all have worked hard, persevered, overcome struggles and challenges, and we are here today, graduating from high school. Our future begins today and will be determined by our dreams, our goals, and our willingness to work hard and act on those dreams.”
Making it to this point wasn’t an easy journey. High school was difficult for me. I experienced a lot of challenges during those four years. I attended three different high schools during my freshman year alone. From sixth grade through November of my freshman year, I attended a small charter school of only a couple hundred students. My mom didn’t feel like my siblings and I were getting the best education at that school, so she decided to transfer us to one of the best large public high schools in our area. I went from knowing everybody at my school and having a few close friends to knowing no one and having no friends. I am really shy and it has always been difficult for me to make new friends. Being around so many new people was very stressful for me. The classes were much harder and they were further along in the curriculum than my previous high school. I was completely lost, and it was almost as if they were speaking a foreign language. The work load was also much greater and I was doing 3-4 hours of homework a night. I wasn’t used to this because my old school didn’t give out any homework. Needless to say, this transition was a bit of a shock to my system and I was completely overwhelmed and stressed out.
After three months, my stress reached an unhealthy level and triggered a nervous breakdown. I was unable to function normally in day-to-day life. I didn’t eat, sleep, or even leave my house. I went days without getting out of bed. All I did was cry. I was terrified of everything. I couldn’t get myself to calm down and I thought I was going to die. I was eventually diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder and depression. Obviously, during this time I wasn’t able to continue going to school. This made me even more stressed out because all I could think about was all the make-up work I was going to have to do for missing weeks of school. Because of this, my mom decided that it would be best for me to take a month off school so that I could focus on getting better. When I felt better, I finished the school year in a homeschooling program offered by the public high school district. I started going to therapy and was put on medication. I slowly got better and returned to my normal self.
I was able to complete my classes for the school year and I decided that I wanted to go back to the public high school in the fall. I did really well for a couple of months but then my health began to deteriorate once again. I soon slipped into another episode of severe anxiety and depression. I was unable to meet the demands of school, so I took some time off. I didn’t want to go back to being homeschooled because I didn’t want to be different. I wanted to go to school like everyone else. I desperately wanted to fit in and be normal. After a few weeks, I was feeling pretty good so I went back to school. I was overwhelmed with trying to get all my makeup work done on top of doing all my regular homework, but I was determined to get it all done. Each night, I stayed up ’til the wee hours of the morning working on my homework. I tried so hard to catch up, spending all of my waking hours on school work. I didn’t have time for anything else. I went on like this for about a month until the stress became too much to handle. Again, I found myself unable to function and meet the demands of daily life.
At this point, I decided it wasn’t worth it to continue attending the public high school since it was negatively impacting my health. I finally came to accept that homeschool was a better option for me. It allowed me to work at my own pace and be in the comfort of my home. This dramatically decreased my stress and my overall health improved. I continued to have a few more episodes of anxiety and depression throughout the rest of my high school years. I missed several weeks of school each year due to my emotional challenges. During these periods of illness, I quickly fell behind. There were many times that I felt unsure whether or not I would finish high school and I thought I would never graduate. My mom encouraged me during these times and reassured me that everything would be fine and it would all work out. I worked really hard and put in long days, worked on the weekends, and worked during the summer so that I could catch up. To my surprise, I not only finished all my high school credits, but also ended up being valedictorian and was asked to speak at my high school graduation.
My high school years were really hard, but as I look back on them, I realize that I learned many valuable lessons from the challenges I faced. I learned that despite difficult challenges and unexpected obstacles, I could still be successful. I learned that if I work hard I can accomplish anything. I learned not to allow challenges to stop me from pursuing the goals and dreams that I have. I learned that I am stronger than I thought I was, and that I am capable of enduring difficult challenges. Lastly, and most importantly, I learned the importance of relying on the Lord to help me get through difficult times.
~ Kaci Jensen ~