Back to school

Me around age four or five.

Well it’s the first day of school for us and we’re all nerves. Our youngest is starting school this year and I’m a bit in shock that she’s school age. When people say that time flies when your children are young it’s true. I always loved going to back to school. It was my favourite time of year. I have the best memories of getting back to school supplies and clothes. I felt really special and full of possibility.

School was always my safe place, the place I went I went to feel the best about myself. That’s the problem with needing external validation, I put all of my self worth into getting the best grades. If I didn’t get the best grades I beat myself up about it and then lashed myself to try harder. It was a very self destructive cycle that culminated in a lot of burnout.

I was lucky, I had great teachers (except for one, I see you grade 4) and lived in neighbourhoods that had amazing schools. I had the opportunity to go to a private high school. I think we’ve covered how the social aspects of that high school weren’t great for me. But the academic life of that school was my life line, it kept me sane when everything else around me was crumbling. I used school and achievement as an emotional salve and intellectual buoy, keeping me afloat emotionally.

I think a lot of kids do this, use achievement to stave off anxiety or depression. The problem with this is that it ends up creating more anxiety, more fear. The hamster wheel gets going, achieve, work harder, achieve more, worker harder. The problem with this is that once that formula doesn’t work anymore and if the achievement isn’t possible anymore, the bottom falls out. When you have no sense of self outside of achievement, you have no sense of self. No identity. No compass. No direction. Without achievement, I had no idea who I was or what I was worth. It took me almost twenty years to disentangle my sense of self and worth from “getting ahead”. It was the most painful lesson I had to learn. I had to completely unlearn everything I thought I knew about myself and rebuild my sense of self worth from nothing. It was excruciating. This I hope is something I can share with parents as we send our kids back to school today. Striving to work hard is great, to apply oneself, to do well. But not at the expense of your kid’s sense of self, please. xo Janet

Published by Janet Gwilliam-Wright

Feminist and queer. Professional teller of truths. Slayer of personal demons.

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