School systems today have one way or the highway:
Go to school
Take the classes required of you
Follow the rules
Get good grades
If you break even one of these “laws of school” you’re out; either on your own to an early adulthood, or to a different type of school system (homeschooling, special needs, behavioral, night school, alternative schools).
Where I grew up we love our kids so much that we can’t imagine a world where they’re not succeeding, so if you’re not fitting the system as a kid in my neighborhood, instead of getting immediately kicked out, you’re labeled as “special needs” and are put on a path for people who are “different.”
As a child I was hyper, I didn’t listen to anyone, I only wanted to do the things I wanted to do, my mother said they called it “oppositionally defiant.” Needless to say I worried the hell out of my parents. How was this weird, independent little girl going to fit in when she came to schooling age?
My parents couldn’t bear the thought, so they did what everyone who wants what’s best for their child does: they asked an expert. Well experts, plural, to be exact. I never seemed to be “normal” enough: I didn’t understand social cues, I didn’t care about what they were teaching us in school, I had boundless energy, and I couldn’t sit still in class.
Fourth grade was the turning point, it’s when school became less play and more academic. It was time for my parents to get serious about me fitting in, they didn’t just have my friendships and behavior to worry about, now we would start getting grades and that would be hard for me.
So my parents took me to a psychologist. I was diagnosed with “special needs,” ADHD to be specific, and given Ritalin and Paxil. That’s right, at 9 years old I was put on not one but TWO chemical drugs to help me fit in. This completely altered my brain chemistry, except instead of fitting in, it had the opposite effect…I became violent.
I was always a very sweet child. I was hyper and I didn’t listen, but I had a heart of gold. I had fights with my sister, I could be very physical with friends, and I had the occasional anger outburst, but I’ve never been as violent as I was the year I was on Ritalin and Paxil.
To recount the worst year of my life: I pretended to be a dog, I bit people, I threw a kid into a cabinet, I chased another boy with a shovel, I’m sure there was much more but those are just the bits I remember.
What ignited my violence? Teasing. That’s it, simple, normal kid teasing. I didn’t know how to use my words, so I used my hands.
I felt lost in a world I didn’t understand. Like I was the only one that hadn’t been given this introductory orientation on life, everyone understood these social rules but I couldn’t seem to find them explained anywhere.
It seemed like everyone needed me to be something that I couldn’t be, like there was only one right way and I could never fit it. My goodness, my parents put me on drugs to get me to fit in and it only made me worse! So at 9 years old, overwhelmed with helplessness, I attempted suicide. I tried to kill myself four times that year.
The crazy thing is that I didn’t want to die; I just wanted to get away from the pressures everyone was putting on me to be something I’m not.
And that reason is why I’m writing this article.
American school systems are rigid. You’re either playing by their rules or you’re out. In affluent areas, their version of “out” is also known as mental illness or special needs. At the heart of this matter, parents are labeling their children as special needs out of love, to help them fit into this cruel world. But the thing that parents and experts aren’t realizing, that I am here to scream from the rooftops:
WHEN YOU PUT A CHILD ON MEDICATION YOU ARE TELLING THEM THEIR NATURAL SELF IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH
Because what is medication for? Fixing problems.
Ear infection? Antibiotics. Chicken Pox? Medicated cream. Headache? Advil.
See a problem, fix it with medication.
So when it comes to children, no matter what your intention, when give your child a pill you are telling them that they need to be fixed.
This is fine if it’s a physical illness that will be over quickly, but when you tell a child that their behavior, their way of being is the problem, you are telling the child that their soul is broken.
I have the most amazing, loving, kind, supportive parents in the world, they just wanted what was best for me. I am not here to blame anyone, I am simply trying to bring some perspective from the child who can’t speak for herself.
When I was diagnosed and given chemicals, it wasn’t because I wanted to change, I was pretty content with my life. It was only once the world told me something was wrong with me that I started to believe it too. I was put on drugs in order to fit the school’s needs, not mine. I was too young to understand, I just did as i was told.
My whole life I have struggled with self-confidence, with believing in myself, because since childhood I’ve been told that I’m broken, not good enough, because I’m different and couldn’t fit the school mold.
Well guess what, I’m not broken. I’m an incredible human being who still has a heart of gold. I’ve found my place in this world, and the school system had nothing to do with it. In fact, it is my uniqueness itself that people have come to respect and admire in my adulthood.
Because that’s what we forget, we’re so worried about our children fitting into the system, that when they don’t fit, we’re searching for a reason why. Instead of valuing the uniqueness that makes them stand out, we are labeling them as “special needs” or “mentally ill” and drugging them until they fit the mold.
6.4 million children were diagnosed with ADHD in America in 2011. 6.4 million children aren’t fitting the mold, being told they’re “mentally ill.” 6.4 million children are struggling to survive in an outdated school system that no longer reflects their individual interests for the real world.
So let’s stop “fixing” our kids to fit the system, and start fixing the system to fit our kids! That’s what school was made for wasn’t it? For the betterment of our children. Well when 6.4 million children aren’t fitting the system, is the system really working? Because let’s face it, if we didn’t place such high importance on the way our schools are currently structured, ADHD wouldn’t exist in the first place.
Everyone out there who has been labeled as broken or different or wrong, I’m here to tell you that the real world is not like school. In the real world there are endless options, endless places to go, endless opportunities to try, it doesn’t follow the same rigid rules of school. In school if you fail history you have to take the same class again and again and again until you pass. In life, if you decide to be a historian and one job doesn’t work out, you can go to a different company or you can go into business for yourself or you can change careers and go into writing, teaching, telemarketing, travel, practically anything. There may be many incredibly difficult challenges along the way, but the point is that you have options in life!
Instead of putting a child on drugs because they can’t sit still in class, why don’t we try providing them with more activity time to get that energy out so they can focus more later. Or, better yet, why don’t we provide them with classes where they can study what they’re interested in or structure classes to be more interactive and less book and test driven.
The real world is a miraculous place where your natural talents can actually shine, you don’t have to fit a mold, you can embrace your individuality. Start learning and loving your natural talents in childhood so that they can thrive in adulthood! The world is built of individuals with different talents who come together to create miraculous things. If we were all the same, we’d be creating the same products over and over again, life would come to a stand-still.
And yet, we are all given the same requirements for school, given the same “life training” with a one size fits all mentality. Our schools are not reflecting the real world, they are teaching our children that don’t fit in, that they will never fit in, that if they don’t succeed in school they won’t succeed in life. But this is a lie.
I don’t want parents to feel guilty, I want parents to feel inspired! Your children aren’t doomed if they don’t fit the system! They have their own unique talents that will take them far. In fact, no matter what your schooling or career path, what you’re passionate about always remains in your life.
Take me for example, research papers, hell, essays in general, gave me literal panic attacks when I was in school. But at home I was writing narratives for fun. Look what I’m doing now as an adult.
My point is, your success in school is not the ultimate decider of your adult fate. Passion is the real driving motivation. And in following your passion, I promise you, every year of your life will get better and better and you WILL feel like a success.
I leave you today with the quote that stopped my suicide attempts forever. One of my mom’s best friends, who I consider to be like a second father to me, told me,
“Life changes, it gets better, it gets worse, it’s never worth taking your life.”
Never forget, life changes, you are never stuck forever.