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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

A Portrait of the High School Burn Out as a Misunderstood Teen
June 6, 2012 - 8:58pm

I guess the first thing I should do is disillusion any preconceptions that my Long Distance mom (Elizabeth Coffman) has built up in her probably much needed blog venting. Contrary to the popular belief of my parents, I actually ended up graduating with honors. Most people were surprised, in fact almost everyone except me. Don't get me wrong, I don't blame them.  From an outside perspective, my progression through high school probably looked like a dangerous tight rope act--me running haphazardly with scissors in my hands. However, and I don't mean to sound cocky, I knew the entire time that I would come back and scrape by in the nick of time.  Not that that's a good thing, but that's a different story all together. There are several things that I've discovered about myself, and how my relationships with my friends and family have influenced me, that fit into the equation explaining what makes a high school kid burn out.

My particular burn out, as burn outs tend to do, snowballed year by year, growing more intense and all encompassing as time went by. I'd say the initial cause of the burn out phenomenon, at least for me, was/is (I’m not sure how to put it now considering I'm in the limbo state between high school and college) depression. Not the “woe is me” or emotionally dramatic connotations usually attributed to the word. I'm not particularly sad, nor upset, I'm thinking more of a textbook definition of depression.  With the magical powers of the Internet and Oxford dictionary online, I can provide you with one: “A condition of mental disturbance, typically with lack of energy and difficulty in maintaining concentration or interest in life.” I'm not sad, just cripplingly apathetic.

I'd say my apathy probably started developing around the age of twelve, in the 6th grade, around when I had to deal with a problematical cocktail of awkward puberty, growing self-consciousness, and the development of social structures.  At first my reaction to the challenges of adolescence were more obvious and extroverted.  I went through a Goth/Emo phase, donning all black and becoming a die-hard My Chemical Romance fan. I was depressed, not sad, but certainly unhappy with my life. The things that became important to me were the things that ultimately made me content and gave me purpose. This, perhaps a little ironically, led to my repulsion of academia. My fall from academic grace was not self-destructive, nor was it rebellious in nature (as my mom tried to rationalize it), but rather it was the product of my efforts to find purpose and to be happy.

During this pursuit of happiness, I developed several habits, some of which were positive and many of which were negative. The fickle whims of puberty eventually turned in my favor (a bit late, if you ask me) and I shed my ultra self-conscious shell and gained a considerable amount of confidence. Making friends and making out became pretty high priorities, although I'd say that's a pretty universal teenage, even human, experience. The more deep-seated issues revolved around escapism habits. I feel like a member of Alcoholics Anonymous writing this, but I became addicted to escaping. I think at the core of all addiction, escapism is almost always the core and catalyst, the only differences are the substances being abused. For me, I usually use some form of media interaction to distract me from responsibility. Video games, television shows, even things as stupid as the infinite trail of meaningless videos Youtube has to offer. I spent the majority of my time fully engaged in these things because they simulated a feeling of happiness. It was a cheap high, and a materialistic short-cut that was easily accessible and moderately affective. It just simply wasn't real, and it's unfortunate that I was too wrapped up in escaping reality to understand that. My saving grace was my avid love for literature; it was my only truly productive outlet and gave me real purpose.

I did eventually grow out of media escapism more towards the last few years of high school; my tastes (in terms of what made me happy) became a bit more sophisticated as I took a more Epicurean approach towards life. I took pleasure out of acts of kindness towards my friends, one of the main sources of happiness in my life. I spent my time doing the things that made me happy--playing French horn in my high school symphony band, playing bass guitar in several short lived projects I formed with my friends — all fulfilling none the less.

These more productive hobbies still distracted from my schoolwork. The more my responsibilities pulled and threatened my happiness and stress level, the more I pushed back. A discovery was made near the end of my senior year when I tried out Vyvanse, an ADD medication similar to Adderall. I'm not sure whether I actually have ADD or not, but it worked exceptionally well.  A day late and a dollar short, perhaps, but that’s beside the point.

I'm not sure what you -- the reader -- are expecting from my post; in fact, I wasn't even sure what to write about. I hope all of the unfortunate series of events and deep analysis of my relatively average life serve as a pretty decent example of the thousands and thousands of burnt out teens who most likely went through similar experiences with the same results. 

If I'm to give any sort of passing wisdom, I would say (assuming you have children), to not jump to conclusions about your son or daughter. Always give them the benefit of a doubt, sit them down and really talk to them if they have any of the same problems that I did. The sooner they realize what they're doing, the sooner they can work on making more productive choices. We're a generation bombarded by distractions, even more so than most generations, and the more we get distracted by unimportant things, the harder it is to discover our potential. The most important thing is to watch us closely as we traverse our tight ropes and to catch us if and when we fall.

 

 

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