Middle school was a dark period in my life. I always felt melancholy. As we commenced our Under A Tree unit touching on mental health, I was forced to revisit not only that chapter of my life but also my perceptions of anxiety and depression entirely and reexamine every detail. There were many things I was afraid of- I didn’t want to feel that pain bubble back to the surface, face the scars that never quite healed too well. I didn’t want to feel unjustified in my emotions. Too many people have told me, “Get over it” or “You should be grateful.” The words seemed to echo inside of me, even if I knew how empty they were.
Despite my trepidation, the unit surpassed my expectations infinitely. My views on anxiety and depression were overhauled. It was one thing to know your own story but to hear that so many other people-- friends and acquaintances alike--shared those experiences…it made me feel human. It gives me relief to know that I am not the only one who has had panic attacks, has struggled with uncertainty and doubt, or has faced and overcome difficult times.
Especially now, during my final year of high school, I haven’t had much time to breathe, let alone feel anything but stress and anxiety. I’ve always been excited to go off to college and pursue my higher education. However, now that the chance is so close and so within grasp, it feels like everything is falling apart. Everything I have cared for, everything I never thought I would have to explain now feels like it is evaporating.
I didn’t think I would need to explain why education is important to me and should not be ridiculed. I didn’t think I would have to explain why people deserve financial aid or affirmative action programs. I didn’t think I would have to explain that global warming exists let alone why it deserves our profound attention. I didn’t think I would have to explain that Planned Parenthood provides so much more to our citizenry than just abortions. I didn’t think I would have to explain why I deserve equal pay. I didn’t think I would have to explain why my body is mine and no one else’s. I didn’t think I would have to explain why we all deserve equal rights regardless of color or creed.
I didn’t think I would have to explain why I, too, am human enough to matter.
But explaining has consumed me. I can’t help but feel it’s time to protest and stand up not just for myself, but for so many others. Yet, there’s an anxiety that bubbles underneath the surface, a fear I cannot escape. I prepped my whole life to go to college. But Betsy DeVos--someone with no experience handling million-dollar budgets or public schools, someone who suggested that guns should be in schools solely to protect kids from grizzly bears—is now the person that will handle all the funding for public school education. Now, we are returning to coal energy and banning groups of some of the most desperate people based on stereotypes and crude generalizations. It feels like recent events have illustrated everything I was meant to fight against.
But I don’t feel ready, I am not ready. I’m just a kid who wants to go to college. I want to be, at least for a little bit more, just a kid. But the current political climate is so volatile that I cannot ignore what’s happening, feign ignorance, or stand by without doing anything. I may not be ready, but this world is not going to wait for me to catch up.
Admittedly, there is some bitterness that lies beneath the surface as well. With my turn to finally develop my skills and achieve my personal aspirations at college merely months away, I feel like it’s all being stripped away from me, just seconds before. The culmination of all my hard work, the celebration of my accomplishment, and the payoff of years of academic dedication should lead to joy and relief. Instead, I feel a heavier burden than ever…a drearier view of what awaits me and the world I will inherit.
It’s terrifying to think of what happens next. Knowing I have no answers, I seek solace in the camaraderie and alliances of my Under A Tree peers. I seek comfort in knowing that in this battle, I do not stand alone. I am not alone in my restlessness. I am not the only person who has felt hopelessness. Despite our differences, we are linked together in our humanity, and we are linked together in our common commitments to fight for love, understanding, peace, and justice.
And whenever I feel that the world becomes too much to handle, that it is futile, when the anxiety and pressure become nearly unbearable, I reflect on this unit and the most important lesson it provided me:
I am not alone, I remind myself.
No matter how much I may try to convince myself otherwise. We can go at it alone or we can go at it together, but either way, we have work to do.
Erin Luna (pictured with her loving mom) is currently a senior at Somerset Academy and a member of the House of Blanchard. She is also the current President of her school's chapter of the National Art Honor Society. In her free time, she loves to dance, read, and write short stories. Her aspirations include pursuing a career as a filmmaker and as a politician. By working with her fellows at Under A Tree, she wishes to continue raising awareness about civil rights and social injustice.