“How was your day?” my mom asks as I enter through the door just coming home from school.
“Good.” I reply automatically as I set my books down in my room.
This one-way conversation is played out every day in thousands of homes across the United States. Parents try to open up a conversation about how their kids are doing at school but the students never want to talk about it.
I will be the first to admit that I was guilty of these mundane, one-word responses to my parents. Shutting down their attempts at a discussion before it even began. Thinking back, I kick myself everyday for not wanting to start that conversation, because it wasn’t “good” by any stretch of the imagination.
I’ve been described by my family and peers as a bit of a perfectionist. I always strive for the highest possible standards of whatever I work on, regardless of whether it’s even obtainable. To me, getting an excellent grade on a paper, a test, or in a class at the end of the semester is not an achievement, it’s an expectation. Throughout my entire academic career, whether it be middle school, high school, or college, excellence has been my goal, my standard. However, as we all know, classes become more rigorous and demanding as you get older, and maintaining the perfect academic record became more difficult.
I worked harder. I dug deep and studied for the majority of my waking hours. I did whatever I could and justified my actions in order to meet my almost unreasonable expectations of myself. As I continued to go down this path, my mental health started to suffer.
Mind you, I was a teenager at this time. I still wanted to have a social life, be involved in other activities and groups that didn’t have to do with school, or at the very least have some free time to myself. But in order to do that, I would have to put the books down every once in awhile and be content with the fact that I don’t have to be perfect. These conflicting interests drove me crazy. I couldn’t sleep at night, and if by some miracle I was able to nod off, I would wake up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat. During the day, it wasn’t much better. I started to have panic attacks every time a large project was announced, since I would be worried about how I was going to fit this assignment into my already packed schedule while still trying to have a little free time and a social life.
Even though my mental state was worsening by the day, I still didn’t want to talk to my parents when they asked how my day went. I felt talking about it would only make my stress worse, and that was the last thing I needed. This vicious cycle continued until my junior year of high school, when I snapped. I had a mental breakdown, panicking so much that I couldn’t think straight or even manage to speak a full sentence. My stress literally paralyzed me.
For the first time, my parents could see how serious my condition had become.
I was diagnosed with severe anxiety and encouraged to seek treatment before my condition deteriorated even more. From that point forward, the severity of my condition varied. I was able to gain control of my anxiety for most of my senior year of high school, but it came back with a vengeance when the unknown variable of college came into play. Visits to the campus counselor and frequent trips to the doctor’s office plagued my freshman year and made me wonder whether or not I would be able to regain control of my life again.
Today, as a college sophomore heading into my junior year, I continue to challenge myself inside and outside the classroom and I have not had a panic attack in more than a year. The medication I was prescribed helped control my anxiety, but that was only a fraction of my recovery.
I finally decided to sit down and talk to my parents.
As a Communications major, I began to fully understand how much a conversation can change the outcome of a situation. Whenever my parents asked me the question of “how was your day”, I actually sat down with them and told them everything: what was going on in my classes, what my worries were, what difficulties I might be having in or out of the classroom. Those talks allowed me to process the information that was given to me, and my parents were right there by my side to help me find a solution.
Think of this as a message to all those students who just keep walking when their parents ask them how their day went, a grunted “Good” tossed over their shoulders. I know it seems annoying, but at the end of the day your parents are asking you that because they want to help you. They want you to succeed and help you deal with any problems you might be having, but they can’t do that until you actually sit down and tell them what’s going on. I was too late in figuring that out. I bottled up all my stress and frustration until my mind couldn’t take it anymore. I thought I needed to figure out everything on my own, and that my parents wouldn’t understand what I was going through. The truth is, you’ll never know if they’ll understand until you actually open up.