High school problems
April 29, 2012 3:36 PM   Subscribe

I am a teenager who needs advice about school and the realities of it from Normal People.

Hi. I'm 16. I have a longish history of depression and anxiety for my age; I've been having panic attacks since I was 11 and have spent the last 3-4 years as a shut-in. The issue grew to the point that I laid in bed and cried all day, every day. I begged my mom to let me be homeschooled (which, if we're being honest, was me laying in bed and crying and occasionally using Khan Academy and iTunes University). A year and a few months ago, I finally found a therapist who I really like and who really gets me and it's great. In October, I was finally put on medication, and it helped tremendously. In January, I dual-enrolled at a community college. All in all, I'm doing a million times better. I have a few friends! I've actually been to a party! I get asked out to lunch! My first day of my first job is tomorrow!

I still feel like I'm missing out, though, so I applied to a magnet high school, to enter as a junior since I lacked the credits or drive to enter as a senior. (I've always been on the track to graduate in 2013. If I do this, I'll graduate from high school in 2014.) It was a super long shot - it's an intensive art school, and I applied to the theatre "major," having never stepped on stage in my life. It's also very academically rigorous; I wasn't really an ideal applicant in that regard, either. But I was accepted. They liked me. I'm still in shock.

I wanted to return to high school because I feel so weird and left behind. In many ways, I think I'm stunted and kind of defective. I loved school. I loved learning. I loved projects. I kind of want to have the option to go to prom, and to have a freaking yearbook, and have that camaraderie with my classmates and teachers. It's a very small, well-regarded school; think <100 kids, one of the best schools in the state. I should be totally thrilled. I think I am totally thrilled, with reservations.

There's the anxiety of being the new kid when these people have been with each other for a while already. There's the weirdness of graduating a year later, of being almost 19 (I'm a July kid) instead of almost 18, and that setting my academic career back. The age issue seems silly, logically, but it hangs in the back of my mind constantly. Logically, I know college happens at different times for people. It is not a regular, rigidly scheduled thing that happens at 18-22. I don't think less of people who don't immediately go to college or don't complete it the first go-round or whatever. But I'll still graduate at almost 23, and it bothers the hell out of me.

Going back to school is scaring me. All I can think is that they'll hate me, I won't be able to hack the AP classes, I'll be the ugliest, least talented person there, I won't make any friends, I'll embarrass myself, etc. It was all I wanted, and I still want it, but now that it's become real, I'm scared shitless. I'll be old. I'll be new. It's making my heart rate rise just typing this out.

Normal People, please bring me back to reality and tell me I'm being stupid. Is the age issue not even really an issue? What is high school even like? Am I being ridiculous? Do you think going back to school is a good idea?

Please feel free to contact me at askmehs16@hotmail.com. Thank you.
posted by anonymous to Education (32 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
So not an issue. I graduated high school when I was 17, and I'll be graduating college when I'm 23. I spent the "normal" period of time in high school, but took community college courses my senior year, graduated, went to college for a year, transferred to a different college, took classes for three years, and then stayed enrolled without classes for a year to finish my thesis (final project). The school I'm graduating from now is a very well-known, well-regarded school (national top 10), so my slightly unusual educational choices didn't hamper me a whit. I did this with total disregard for the typical four-years-at-one-university plan, and no one cared, and I don't care, so it's no big deal. The only people I've ever known to care about this sort of thing are paranoid parents who don't know what they're talking about (or who are paying for it, but that's a different story).

But you're just talking about finishing high school, and it sounds like you know what you want and how to get it and did a great job getting into an amazing school. Go for it! I never knew how old any of my classmates were unless we were friends. And a lot of the people I knew who were a year older/younger than usual were so because they had some kind of non-traditional experience that made them seem cooler (I think homeschooling fits that description if you own it). In fact, that's how you make all of this work for you-- by owning it. You sound like you have very persuasive reasons.
posted by stoneandstar at 3:55 PM on April 29, 2012

Oh, also, I was terrified of transferring to the school I'm at now, but I'm infinitely glad that I did it. Doing things that scare you (and sticking with them) will teach you so much about the world and yourself.
posted by stoneandstar at 3:58 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is the age issue not even really an issue?

Personally, I think I would have done better in college (in terms of deciding what I wanted and aggressively going for it) if I'd been a bit older. I don't think you'll be at a disadvantage at all. Also, one of my dear friends in college was a couple years older than most of the students in his year and, as far as I could tell, he did not suffer at all from graduating at age 23 instead of 21. He was a successful student and is now a successful working adult who has plenty of friends.

You're not being stupid, but I do think that a lot of this is your depression and anxiety talking. You're facing something new. It's scary. Your mental health issues are making it seem even scarier.

See if there's anything you can do--summer school? some other summer program like theater or sports?--to meet some kids from your new school. Build a little social network there, if you can. Having something in common, even something like a boring summer school class, is a quick way to make some friends. That should help de-escalate some of your fears. If that's not possible, talk to your therapist about strategies for dealing with these specific fears and approaching your new school in a healthy way.
posted by Meg_Murry at 4:00 PM on April 29, 2012

Apologies, I know you asked for normal people but I am going to reply anyway. I am addressing your concerns kind of out of order, but...

All I can think is that they'll hate me ... I'll be new.

IMHO, being "new" in HS is way different than being new in elementary school. For one thing in lots of places, half your high school or more is new to you, coming from different jr highs. But even for me -- I went to a teensy tiny high school where everyone had known each other since the age of 5 -- we were always excited about new kids. Not always for the noblest reasons, more often it was like, being sick of your potential dating pool being entirely composed of people you had seen pee in their pants or get spanked by their mom or whatever at the age of 6, and 75% of your friends had already dated at some point along the years. So someone new is really exciting. People will have bonded in some ways but they'll also be sick of their limited social circle in a lot of ways as well.

I won't make any friends

It's very frequently said that theater kids are among the most welcoming kids you can find. But on top of this, though, make sure you join groups. Small groups where you see everyone regularly and you are working together towards a common goal. Don't overdo it and join a ton but also don't put all your eggs in one basket with just one group. (Or committee, or sport, or what have you.) IMO, in high school, groups are the easiest and most effective way to make friends.

I won't be able to hack the AP classes

Meh, I didn't find them to be significantly harder than regular classes. In fact, I found them to be more straightforward to do well in in some ways because they were taught to a test so expectations were clearer, and the subject was kind of narrowed. You skip much of the subject that won't be on the AP test. I see no reason why any intelligent student could not do well in AP classes as long as they have resources for proper support if that turns out to be necessary. Maybe before you start, identify the academic resources that are available to you. Are the AP teachers willing to stay after hours? Are there tutors available in the library at certain times? Would your parents be willing to pay for you to have tutors? Maybe for the first few weeks, if there are tutors, schedule yourself now to go to tutoring at least once a week. That way you will be ahead of the game and you will never find yourself flailing. And if you find it's just way easy for you and the tutoring is unnecessary, then you can stop.

I'll be old.

I don't think it's very unusual at all for people to be nearing 19 at graduation. I seriously doubt you will be the only one, I think quite a few others will be too. It's normal, that's just the way birthdays work with the academic calendar. If you want to graduate college earlier, I also don't think it'll be hard at all. If you take 2 AP classes per academic year, the next two years, then you'll enter college a semester ahead. Take a summer session of of the years you are in college, and that will put you another semester ahead. So you'll graduate a year early.
posted by cairdeas at 4:01 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your birthday really works for you here - you'll be "almost 19" when you graduate, but in reality you'll be 18 like everyone else. You're only really a few months older than your peers (not sure when your cutoff is, I know that they range from August 31 to December 31). So really, nobody even has to know that you're a few months older. People are younger than their peers (like you're probably used to) all the time, and in some respects, that's probably a lot harder. Plus, there are lots of advantages to being slightly older! You get your license restrictions off earlier (if you got it at 16) and can probably drive later at night and drive more people than they can. You can buy cigarettes (but don't!), lottery tickets, porn, whatever earlier than they can.

What's high school even like?
I just finished it. It's weird. Lots of hormones and insecurity and anxieties all bundled together. But also, it's full of awesome moments and memories and some serious self-development. It's totally normal to feel scared. I did some unusual stuff during high school - I switched schools and went to school abroad. Both were terrifying (and neither were without their fair share of difficulties), but both were amazing choices in retrospect.
posted by R a c h e l at 4:03 PM on April 29, 2012

You are not being stupid. Your anxieties are completely valid.

But guess what? They're not reality.

You know what's really cool? You have the chance, in high school, that most people don't get until they go away to college. You get to reinvent yourself. That is awesome.

You've also overcome huge obstacles to get there. Besides seeing that your self-esteem has taken a beating over the past few years, what I see in your question is extreme badass-ness. You don't see it, but you are already primed to be more well-adjusted than your peers because you've battled some huge monsters. The best thing you can do for yourself, between now and starting school, is work on visualizing yourself meeting friends, having fun, enjoying the thrill of being onstage, landing a plum role.

When you put these thoughts out there, when you arrive in a new place ready to have the best time possible, to deal with whatever crap comes along but not to let it sink you, these things will come to pass. If it takes waking up every day and saying to yourself, "I can't wait to make new friends in high school" -- even if you don't believe it -- keep saying it. Eventually you will believe it. And whenever you think, "everyone will hate me" -- kill that thought immediately. You may even want to visualize yourself destroying that thought.

What if, instead of worrying about not knowing about high school, you make that your USP (unique selling point)? If you can stride in there and say, "hey, I'm the older kid who knows bully-all about high school. Can you guys show me how to make it awesome?" -- you will most certainly attract friends. Especially if you approach this with a sense of humor. You're going to be with drama geeks. They will LOVE that (trust a former drama geek).

Also, the folks in charge of your school specially selected you because they want you to be there. In fact, they are confident you will do well in that environment. Trust them.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 4:04 PM on April 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

If your birthday is a few months ahead of your peers, you will also likely be eligible to drive before they are. This will work out very well for you if you play your cards right.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 4:10 PM on April 29, 2012

The age issue -- and also your past -- really works for you. I mean, for starters, you've seen more, so you're a tiny bit wiser and deeper, certainly moreso than you would've been if you'd suffered through without taking care of yourself. You've tried something that other people haven't tried. You know the world doesn't break when you stop holding it up. (I just watched the movie It's Kind of a Funny Story, and yeah, cheesy a bit, but it kinda reflects the reality I saw, where kids who had been through hell and come to know themselves more deeply had an advantage.)

And you have a lot going for you now. People are inviting you places, AND you're motivated to take on something new and brave. Also, you're smart enough to realize that you'll be new and that this will be tricky. It might be great. But, as someone who moved three times, I'd say, expect that there might be a real low at maybe two to three months in, like November, when / if you realize you still feel new and out of place, and expect it to take maybe another six to nine months from there to really feel at home.

On the other hand, it may go better; I made an entirely new set of friends in short order junior year. Junior year is a good time when people are no longer the lemmings locked into the same friend group they had in middle school; they realized they were becoming their own person mid-sophomore year, and they're trying new things now.

On preview, yeah, join a few group or team activities. You don't know who you'll click with yet, so maximize your chances by putting yourself into a few different situations where you can meet different groups of people (your classmates, an extracurricular, a volunteer activity, a sports team).
posted by salvia at 4:12 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was whining to someone the other day about how if I'd gone back to grad school in the area I'm most interested it would have taken 5-6 years to finish, and by the time it was over I would be SO OLD OH MY LORD.

Person listening said "soooo are you going to pick the option where you end up that age anyway without a degree?"

Do not sweat the age thing. Graduating at 18 is graduating at 18 is graduating at 18. In my experience, having a story to tell and being a tiny bit older often give you an edge in the cool factor. Congrats on all the good fortune and hard work!!
posted by skrozidile at 4:12 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do not worry about the age thing. I started college late, and I won't have my Bachelor's until I'm 26. It's not a big deal at all, even though I'm 3 or 4 years older than most of my classmates.

And you're talking about only a year age difference? Nobody will care, and it's totally fine.
posted by jcreigh at 4:14 PM on April 29, 2012

Oh hey, I was halfway to nineteen when I graduated high school, and I went straight through! It's really not all that unusual.

I think high school will be a great experience for you. I know that not everyone has good high school experiences, but I found my lifelong best friend in mine. I know it's scary, but you can do this. You're strong and smart and fully capable and it's really, really awesome and admirable that you're stretching your boundaries and trying.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:15 PM on April 29, 2012

I just want to address the age issue: most kids graduate when they are 18. You will be graduating when you are 18. Lots of summer babies start late rather than early. There is nothing weird about what you're doing, and you weren't going to get a special prize for beating everyone else.

And the age you graduate from college is completely meaningless, even more meaningless than the relatively meaningless age at which you graduated high school. It's almost impossible to finish in four years flat anyway, so you should start practicing now to chill out about that before you make some really dumb, potentially academically devastating decisions just because you have to win at your own competition to graduate at a specific magic age.

You got into this high school, which means they saw a reason for you to be there. Don't sabotage yourself, just go and work hard and find the other people who are working hard and be around them. Ask for help when you need it, find mentors, embrace the opportunity you've been given and do not make the noise in your head the most important facet of your life. All your classmates have noise in their heads too, and it's a private thing so you're not really going to see it, you just have to trust that it is happening to them too. Build some friendships where you can support each other instead of obsessing quietly about yourselves.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:16 PM on April 29, 2012

I can address the worry that you have that the kids in the school you're going to have been together forever and they won't make room for you. In a school that small, I'd bet dollars to donuts they will happily and eagerly make room for you. My son left a large public school district to start high school (as a 9th grader) at a very small private school. I was assured by the administration that he'd be welcomed with open arms, and, to put it bluntly, the kids there love "new meat."

It was absolutely true in my son's case that the school community embraced him. It's been wonderful. I obviously can't speak to your school's environment but my experience (at my son's school and other schools) is that smaller schools often are more accepting of new kids. And it's an art school, you say? Artsy people are, in general, more accepting of people than non-artsy people. They're going to love you and you're going to be fine.

Also, both of my kids will graduate from high school when they're 18. It really doesn't matter that you'll turn 19 a few months later rather than almost a year later. Really and truly.
posted by cooker girl at 4:22 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just some advice, in the theater program, offer to crew whatever shows they do. Learn lighting or sound or set building or whatever they need. Everybody loves the crew, you'll have structured social time with the other kids, you'll make fast friends, and you'll be invited to a fun closing party.
posted by Garm at 4:27 PM on April 29, 2012 [10 favorites]

Your age is so, so completely not an issue.

You know all those doubts you have about yourself? No one who isn't you will know it. You know what else? Lots of other people you see go around feeling the same things. Lots and lots of students in AP classes will be worried about whether they can hack it. The same will be true in college. And graduate school. You look around and see all these people who seem self-assured and totally in control, and half of them will look at you and think shit, how is this new kid so on top of things, I don't know what the hell I'm doing in this class.

It took me years and years to figure this out but it's really true at pretty much every step in life. You belong to be there just as much as the next guy. Fake it til you make it.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 5:03 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Age matters less and less the older people get. For instance, graduating from high school at 19 could be a bit weird, and graduating from high school at 20 could be a big deal. By contrast, graduating from college at 23 or 24 probably wouldn't seem weird to the student or anyone else. However, you're not in these situations. Your plan is to graduate high school at age 18 and graduate college at 22 (which you call "almost 23"). Nothing could be more normal. In fact, there's plenty of room for graduating college later than that without it necessarily being an issue at all.

I graduated from college at age 23, and started law school when I was slightly older (like a year) than the people who had gone straight from high school to college to law school. I perceived no effect from the age difference. To me, it wasn't even an age difference; it was almost as arbitrary as being left-handed vs. right-handed. There were a few people in law school who were several years older than most of the students — in their early 30s instead of mid 20s. Most of them looked about the same as the rest of us; they just seemed more mature, more laid-back, more experienced in life. Things didn't phase them as much. They tended to be better-than-average students.

Youth is overrated. I'm 31, and I love being in my 30s. I can't imagine how people get through their 20s, let alone their teens. The message sent by pop culture that youth is this shimmering ideal is not reality.

I'm probably too far away from that time to be able to give you very good advice about high school. But you'll get through it, as long as you can manage to keep your anxiety in check. Things like AP courses aren't objectively too difficult for you to be able to manage. You don't need to be a genius at every course. In senior year, one of the best students in my high school told me his realization about academics: he said the most important thing you get from most courses is just being able to "handle" a certain area. You don't need to achieve some brilliant level of mastery; you just want to end up being able to say: "Hey, I can handle this." That leaves room for you to make a lot of mistakes along the way. People don't expect perfection from teenagers; they generally don't even expect it from adults. As I said, the objective difficulty of courses is not going to be the insurmountable obstacle it might seem to be. The bigger challenge will be keeping a subjective mental state that's steady and calm and focused enough to be able to muddle through (most of) what comes your way.

You clearly have a great ability to examine yourself and be critical of yourself. That can serve you very well — if you do it sensibly and realistically. It could be detrimental if you psych yourself out and convince yourself that success is inherently outside your grasp. Most people in life, at any age, have lots and lots of huge issues and baggage. Despite that, they make their way through life and usually project a confident exterior. If you imagine yourself being more troubled and less able to do things than anyone else around you, you're making the extremely common error of comparing your inner life with other people's outer surface. That's apples and oranges, so try to avoid thinking like that. You're probably not as different from most other people as you feel.

Life isn't a test that you need to ace in order to get some wonderful prize at the end. Everyone is constantly bumbling around and just barely hanging in there; so, if life is a test, no one aces it. That's fine. One day, it'll be over — and for what? Again, not for any great prize. There isn't one. Don't worry so much about how you're going to manage to get from one thing to the next that you forget to enjoy yourself along the way.
posted by John Cohen at 5:31 PM on April 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Seconding others who said your age is not an issue-- it really won't be. One or two years may feel like a noticeable difference, but no one will be the wiser. Heck, some 22/ 23 year olds look and act like HS sophomores. I think you'll be in a good place because you have thought about and will make HS an experience you want, compared to some students who take it for granted/ don't think twice about how HS is an opportunity.

You're not any more or less normal than other students in HS-- I know that much. It's a weird, fluctuating time for everyone, even if some people seem more well-adjusted than others. You'll be fine.
posted by ichomp at 5:31 PM on April 29, 2012

The average freshman at my university was 19 and one month. Don't sweat it. While I was glad to be done with high school (homeschooled) at 16, it's not at all bad to take your time and do the high school thing. They'll give you a lot more support than you'll get at college, and that's likely to be helpful, with your mental health issues. Just be sure to keep going to therapy, taking your meds, etc.
posted by SMPA at 5:33 PM on April 29, 2012

FYI - it's cool to be older in high school. You'll do fine. Do a bunch of improv in your drama classes, loosen up.
posted by oceanjesse at 5:36 PM on April 29, 2012

I was fully 19 (turned 19 in April, graduated in June) when I graduated and it didn't make any difference to anyone. In fact, now that I'm years and years out of high school, it is kind of nice to be only 18 years from graduation instead of 19, closing on 20!

The good parts were being able to do more, being able to check myself out of school (I was an adult, didn't need my parents signature to leave early) being able to drive, etc. I was graduating late due to dropping out for a year and screwing around. Finishing, even a year late, was worth it.

Most of your HS classmates are not going to care if you're closer to 19, than 18 at graduation, those that do aren't worth your time. Heck, I had a classmate, and friend, who actually shares my birthday, who turned 20 in April, then graduated in June.

I was also a drama kid. Drama kids tend to be much more accepting of new kids than other groups. You'll do fine, enjoy your new school.
posted by SuzySmith at 5:36 PM on April 29, 2012

I kind of want to have the option to go to prom, and to have a freaking yearbook, and have that camaraderie with my classmates and teachers.

I've got the opposite view--you're already graduated. It would be fun to go back and have a jolly group of chums, and go to the Bronze and go to prom and all that stuff that supposedly makes up a "normal" high school experience. But you're not normal and I don't think that going through these rituals is really going to make you happy. You're not missing out on anything. (And I wasn't particularly unhappy in my own high school.)

The other students aren't going to care about your age particularly, but when 90% of them are counting the minutes until they can leave, I'd bet that they're wondering what you're doing there.

Personally, I'd take whatever equivalency exam your state offers and go to community college and move on.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:44 PM on April 29, 2012

Your feelings are normal. The prom is imperfect for most kids. Your are NOT missing life over it.

I second getting the equivalency degree as fast as possible, and moving on and up. Having a "normal" social is not exclusive to high school. The ONLY rational reason to go to high school is to get the degree. Don't go to High School to have a "normal" life.

You cannot go backwards in life trying to find a social life. Go forward. Your goal regarding High School is to get the degree as fast as possible, and move up to the next level.
posted by Flood at 6:20 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had thought about saying you aren't missing much, and that you have really already matured beyond needing all that stuff in your life.

But looking back, as a lonely teenager who found comfort in a drama department, those were powerful formative experiences -- the parties, the plays, the big events -- I really flourished thanks to those bonding experiences, I had never felt that kind of acceptance before (even though, yes, there were all sorts of people who I didn't get along with.

Anyhow, i would never begrudge anyone that kind of experience, no matter how advanced they seem. If you want it, it's yours. Sounds like you've had a lot of time to think and decide about what would be best for you. I can't think of any real reasons why you won't find it at this school, as long as you go into it with an open mind, as your best self.
posted by hermitosis at 6:33 PM on April 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just want to also tell you, when you say you feel weird/stunted/left behind because of the past few years, I identify with that SOO much. I also had panic attacks starting very young (10), was homeschooled beginning that year, and on top of it had very religious parents who were ultracontrolling, sequestered me, and actively tried to prevent me from developing socially for my age, forcing me to be treated the way much younger children are normally treated.

So when I finally went back to school I felt EXACTLY like this: "I have a few friends! I've actually been to a party! I get asked out to lunch!" And I *completely* understand why you want a yearbook and to go to prom and all the normal high school things. I did too and I went out and grabbed as many of those experiences that I possibly could. So if my perspective is at all useful to you I will tell you that I am so, so, so glad that I did. I don't feel at all as if I wasted my time. I feel like I was having the formative experiences that I wanted and needed to have in order to catch up in my development. I absolutely feel as if I underwent some very important social and emotional development by going through high school, that I would not have had if I were to go straight to a community college.

Sometimes when we feel incomplete or lacking in some way we are being neurotic. But sometimes we really are "lacking" (even though that's an imperfect, loaded term) in certain ways. And I think a good way to tell which is which is to do some really serious thinking about what would make us feel complete and go out and get those things done, and see if they help. And it sounds like you have done that really serious thinking.

Some people feel pressured and forced by outside influences to stay in or complete high school so I think it is natural that they would feel it is a waste of time. But many people know deep down that these are experiences that they truly want to have in life. And for those people, the experiences often turn out to be crucial and formative.

High school was completely awesome for me - I started as a miserable, awkward, friendless, unhappy child and left super confident, joyful, feeling like I could handle most social situations well, had a relatively equal amount of life experience to my peers, and had the foundation for successfully becoming a functional adult. It turned my entire life around, and I hope that it just as satisfactory for you too.
posted by cairdeas at 7:39 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Normal People, please bring me back to reality and tell me I'm being stupid.

Kid, one real good reason to get out there and learn in public is to find out that there's no such thing as "normal people".

I was as old as you graduating from high school and going to college, for various reasons I got started late. It's completely unimportant, nobody cares. Seriously seriously seriously nobody cares.

You're going to a tiny arts-intensive magnet high school. Trust me: you are going to be surrounded by freaks. You'll fit right in. (This assurance very much coming from one freak to another).

You're doing the right thing. You're really really doing the right thing. You aren't "stunted and... defective". You were sick. You're treating the sickness and you're getting better. Instead of coasting on that you're challenging yourself to go further. That is really so great. It's brave and you deserve to feel proud.

But the fear, the fear of non-acceptance and of exposure, these are things you are going to have to get through to get the rewards. Every time you strive for a higher level you will have to deal with the imposter syndrome, the feelings of certainty that everyone else belongs there and you're the only one who's faking it. It's tough but you get through it. It's the price of admission. It's scary but it can't hurt you.

There are good people everywhere who will take your side and help you. You're going to meet amazing people and have amazing experiences in the next 2 years and it's just the start for you. Trust the excitement and remember that this fear and anxiety is just another manifestation of what you've been dealing with much of your life, and that you have tools to counter those feelings. Keep seeing your therapist and be honest about your ups and downs. Be religious about your medication schedule: taking it with the most reliability and regularity you can manage helps. If you start feeling truly overwhelmed reach out for help: ups and downs are often a fact of life for those of us who face mental health issues and there are always options. Failing to ask for help is a mistake almost everyone makes at times and its so unnecessary.

For real though what you are doing is truly deserving of respect and I hope you can step back from the natural fears and anxiety and take a moment to feel proud of yourself. Keep your chin up: you are going to be fine.
posted by nanojath at 8:15 PM on April 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've got the opposite view--you're already graduated. It would be fun to go back and have a jolly group of chums, and go to the Bronze and go to prom and all that stuff that supposedly makes up a "normal" high school experience. But you're not normal and I don't think that going through these rituals is really going to make you happy. You're not missing out on anything. (And I wasn't particularly unhappy in my own high school.)

I've seen this attitude on metafilter before, but I just want to say to OP that, you know, even if you're not normal, it's okay to want these normal experiences. They're cultural milestones and whether or not they turn out to be all they're cracked up to be (my prom experience was odd, but still an important memory), you have a right to choose whether you get to experience them for yourself. I think there can be a lot of pressure for unusual kids to opt-out, because you should be above needing these things, or whatever.

But like hermitosis, I found like-minded people in high school. We went to prom and geeked out together. It was really good for me, and healthy--if imperfect. It sounds like you're headed for an environment where you stand a chance to really find your tribe. Sure, it's transient (as all school experiences are), but it'll be so good for you, as a kid who has missed out on so much. And the best part is, I guarantee you'll find other kids who have struggled--with anxiety and with finding their paths. You can do this. Really, I believe in you.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:18 PM on April 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

You'd be one of the youngest people in your class now (not yet 18 by the time you graduate). Instead you'll be one of the oldest people in your class (turning 19 a bit sooner than the others). Doesn't matter. No one cares, it'll just be a funny trivia thing. We still have laughs in my old HS social group about how the short tiny cute one who's into Hello Kitty is a year older than the super-responsible matronly one.

Extra won't matter for college. Heck, we had people in our year who had done military service before coming to college- they were even a few years older yet. But socialization was still driven by what year you were, what classes you were in, etc.
posted by Lady Li at 8:25 PM on April 29, 2012

To add to the age thing... I graduated high school at 17, I'll be graduating college at 28. It happens -- the point is to take the path that's right for you and will give you the social and academic basis you need to succeed in life.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:47 PM on April 29, 2012

You're not being stupid. You're having a completely normal emotional response to completely normal stress. The fact that you are introspective enough to acknowledge all of this speaks to strength in you that you can learn to rely on; instead of just buzzing around unhappily and not knowing why, you will be able to develop healthy patterns of pinpointing your own problems and helping yourself with them. I've had a lifelong battle with depression (started at 11 too! high fives!) and only managed to get to a similar point around the age of 23. Things are better for me now than they've ever been.

The age thing will make you *cool*, actually, if you let it. So will the being the new, unknown kid, because these arty kids will be naturally curious about you and be craving outside culture. I bet there are plenty of things you've experienced, like music and books and maybe even places you've been to, that these kids will never have heard of, that you can share.

I also just want to say that your question was stupendously worded. You have a really fantastic grasp of how to write with a good rhythm and tone. Your ability to write will take you very far if you let it. Maybe you can try writing plays? But really, the MOST difficult thing about being in a new situation with all sorts of different people socially is figuring out how to communicate with them, right? But you can *write*, which is magnificent. You can communicate with complete strangers on the internet without the aid of facial expressions or any other visual clues. That's awesome, and I hope you try to put yourself in a place where you can keep it up.
posted by Mizu at 9:20 PM on April 29, 2012

Just to add a bit to what everybody else is saying, don't just be a drama person. I mean, if that's the only thing that makes you happy then fine. But if you have any athletic skills at all I would really seriously consider trying to get involved in some sport. The physical effort will help keep stress at bay and you'll have a chance to meet friends from a social group that may have very little overlap with drama. Best wishes for a great experience.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 9:32 PM on April 29, 2012

I was 18 my entire senior year of high school and turned 19 the day before my first first college class. This was at a school where the in-coming average age of freshmen was 17. Did I feel out of place or behind? At first, I was jealous of these 16-year-olds who will finish before they are 20 (or that 14 year-old that finished before she was 18 and a PhD by the time she was 22...sheesh), but I realized after a few months, that there really wasn't that much of a difference. I had friends who were both older and younger than me.

And, now in my early 30s, it doesn't matter at all.
posted by chiefthe at 3:37 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's the weirdness of graduating a year later, of being almost 19 (I'm a July kid) instead of almost 18, and that setting my academic career back

I'm a September birthday and I turned 19 a month into my freshman year of college. It was not a big deal at all, and in fact it actually helped in some ways (the bars in town wouldn't let you in at all if you were under 19 for example, so even though I wasn't a big drinker I could at least hang out with older friends at a bar).

But I'll still graduate at almost 23, and it bothers the hell out of me

Heh, more than half the people I know didn't graduate after 8 semesters exactly, so you might be younger than a lot of the people in your graduating class even if they started at a younger age than you. Also, this is something you'll worry about now, but when you're actually graduating you'll look back and think this is a very silly problem because by that time you'll be worrying about much more important things like how you're going to get a job and pay for rent and all those fun things.

All I can think is that they'll hate me, I won't be able to hack the AP classes, I'll be the ugliest, least talented person there, I won't make any friends, I'll embarrass myself, etc. It was all I wanted, and I still want it, but now that it's become real, I'm scared shitless. I'll be old. I'll be new. It's making my heart rate rise just typing this out.

I've had anxiety stuff too in my life, especially when I was your age, and the main thing to remember is that it will mostly work out fine. Some people might not like you, you might do some embarrassing stuff, you'll try and fail at some things. But when the stuff you worry about actually does go wrong it sucks for a while and then you move on have new stuff to worry about. The point is that you're worrying about stuff because it's the unknown, and while the unknown can end up turning into some bad things it can also turn into some very good things. When you have anxiety issues you can tend to want to shy away from the unknown and stick to things you already know, but sometimes you have to be brave and step out there and face the unknown because that's where the excitement and possibilities are. If you do pursue acting, before you step out on stage you'll be a nervous wreck thinking about forgetting your lines or messing up your blocking or otherwise screwing things up, but once you get out there you can leave all your worrying behind and just focus on performing the best you can. Because at the end of the day, worrying is not going to help you and you just have to push it out of your head and start actually doing it.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:33 AM on April 30, 2012

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