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Updated: Jan 18, 2023

I don’t remember much about my first day of first grade. I have no idea, what I wore, what I said or any new friends I made. But I do remember being scared. Up until then, I had never really been away from home. My mom ran a daycare from our house, so I was there every day with her and the 5 or 6 younger kiddos that were like siblings to me.

I remember being on the bus, not really knowing anyone. There were a few kids I had gone to kindergarten with, but no one I was especially close with.

The further the bus got from my house, the more panicked I felt.

By the time the bell rang to signal the end of morning recess, I was in full blown meltdown mode. I found a teacher, and begged her to take me to the nurse. Something was very wrong and I needed to be sent home immediately. I must’ve eventually calmed down, but that became my morning routine for the next week or two.

Eventually I settled in, but the next school year started with the same pattern.

That year, the school guidance counselor sat me down and told me that if I could pull myself together for a week (I’m sure she used different wording, but that was the gist) I would earn a book of my choosing.

So I pulled myself together. I sat on the bus, willing myself not to cry. I packed away my anxiety for morning recess, and pushed down the panic as I marched to Mrs. Leisure’s classroom. A week later I was reading my brand new copy of Clifford the Big Red Dog.

For a long time, I didn’t realize how harmful that little bribe was. I thought I was learning to “be good” but really, I was learning to hide my uncomfortable emotions.

When I was dealing with anxiety and depression as an adult, I was so trained at hiding my emotion, no one around me knew what was going on. I had my first panic attack during a job interview and when I started having trouble breathing, I told the interviewer that my asthma was acting up. (I don’t have asthma) I got the job, which further proved to me that hiding emotion is effective.

I have practiced feeling my feelings and letting others into my inner world A LOT over the last few years, but I still hide plenty. Most of the time it’s not intentional and I’m not even aware I’m doing it. I’ve done it my whole life, so it’s second nature.

Opening up is hard and scary and vulnerable. I get frustrated and defensive easily if my effort isn’t immediately recognized. “Hey, I’m feeling this thing.” Can come out more like “I’m feeling this thing and now that I’ve told you, you better not challenge it or use it against me!!”

I am angry at the system that taught me (and so many of my peers) that my feelings were a problem. The system that thought it was more important for me to learn basic math and spelling than learn how to adjust to new surroundings.

I don’t want to be held back by it though. I am trying not to use it as an excuse, but instead as an opportunity to grow and inspiration to do something different.

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