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Learn Your Lessons Well
As I sit in my house looking at the picture of me with my high school diploma, I think of all of the things I learned in those four long and seemingly endless years. In my experience, I went to a local public high school for my freshman, sophomore and half of my junior year in high school. The other half of that year was spent in a therapeutic school, and my senior year was spent in a different therapeutic school closer to home. In that time frame I was also admitted into 8 inpatient hospitals and 12 therapy based programs.
When I look back on my high school years, I remember more hospitals than history classes and more treatment friends than high school cliques. I guess in my case, there could be some noticeable pros and cons in my teenage years. Although I wasn’t learning about the Industrial Revolution, I learned all of the in’s and out’s of all kinds of therapeutic approaches. To this day I can’t tell you much about Algebra 2 and I never wore the stereotypical goggles that kids wear in a chemistry class. Instead, I was learning that being honest with yourself and others really is the way to go. I was learning DBT acronyms and how to talk others out of hurting themselves. I was learning how to be a better version of myself, I was learning the importance of friends.
Flashcards and note taking only goes so far, especially because in a year from now chances are that you won’t remember the laws of physics or the structure of an animal cell. I wasn’t even in a classroom when the kids in my grade learned these things. But I was in locked hospitals and residential treatment centers and group homes, and I can tell you way more about the lessons I learned in those places and in more depth than many teenagers my age could. They weren’t academic skills, they were life skills.
And outside of the classroom, I learned that it would be more beneficial to keep on top of my mental health status than my popularity status. Just take a minute and think, which one will get you farther in life? Will a school full of people or social media followers worshiping your edited pictures count for too much when you are in the middle of your life, deciding where to go next? Will I go farther in life with high scores on my standardized tests or with the important skills of independent living and the ability to manage stressful tasks that life throws at us, whether we were mental hospital patients or not? And most importantly, would the thoughts and opinions of our classmates from high school help us nail a job interview or keeping lifelong friendships? After all, you may never see half of these people again after the day of your graduation.
It’s not even so much about what I learned at such different places, but more of how I learned in these different environments. It’s more than just the different lesson material that you learn in each place. How you learn in a high school is much different than how you learn in a mental hospital. In a high school, you can almost be guaranteed to be stuck with the textbooks and the white board approach, taught by teachers of all sorts. In the hospitals that I was admitted to, there were worksheets and white boards to learn from in addition to caring individuals to explain what was happening to me and why, as well as amazing friends surrounding me every day with a story to tell and a hug when it’s needed the most.
Besides the obvious factors, something was different in hospitals and programs than my time at a public high school. Along with the worksheets and photocopies from books written by a psychological genius, I had a lot of time to reflect on what the groups were about, I got to share our ideas with each other and I figured myself out. Being in a locked facility like that gives you a lot of time to think. You don’t obtain knowledge and concepts in hospitals by studying your brains out at strange times of the night and cramming for that math test the next day. You get to talk about and live out what you learn.
At the end of the day, I would much rather know about how to interact with other people effectively and how to sustain a positive mindset than chemical reactions and organic molecules in biology. I would prefer to be informed on how the words we say impact others and based on that impact, how to choose and arrange words accordingly. Please say your words with a purpose, ideally with the intent to build and grow instead of destroy and crumble.
After reading this, you’re probably confused as to the underlying meaning of what this post was actually about. I started off talking about what I learned in my high school years, then how I learned it, then about popularity contests and ending with the difference between hospitals and high schools. The ulterior motive in writing this would be a surprising one at that; you don’t have to be in a school setting to learn and experience new things. I didn’t spend too much time sitting in a classroom which was beyond my control, however I learned a lot and know so much more than I would have expected to at this age. That 14 year old Andrea would not have expected the 18 year old Andrea to be where she was today or especially would have foreseen how she got here, but I’d like to think that at the end of every day I made my 9th grade self proud of my 18 year old self. And reader, I hope you do the same.