What may really be going on with your high school senior

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He got in to ________.    She was deferred from ___________.    He was rejected from ________.   Two more applications to submit.    Anyone know how to fill out the FAFSA?

This is what I have been hearing from seniors in high school and their parents for the past couple of weeks.  The SATs/ACTs/ABCs, the essays, the waiting and that email (in my day it was a thin or thick letter) that elicits exaltation or deep sadness within one click of the mouse.  And, these are just the ones that applied early or rolling admission – this will continue over  the next few months until the big push in April when all colleges will have admitted their incoming freshman class.

I have worked with many seniors in high school.  It is such a pivotal time. In some ways it is a ticket out, a ticket to freedom and a move towards independence.  In many ways it is a very scary time.  As much as the  seniors are flexing their muscles to be on their own, there is something to be said for home cooking, clean clothes and mom and dad lurking around to ensure that life tasks have been checked off, paid for and handled.

Early in my career I worked in high schools and observed the precarious nature of that status of “senior”.  The seniors were the leaders of the school, captains of the teams  and enjoyed privileges of the upper-most upperclassmen (definitely the best parking spots and lunch tables). And yet, in my office they presented as anxious and vulnerable. Would they get in to a college? Would they be able to handle the work load, the transition and the independence?

It is normal to feel apprehensive.  I continually reassure my senior clients that they are not alone in these fears.  They have been under so much pressure since junior year jumping  through all of the “get into college” hoops that they have barely had a moment to ponder what it all means.

Enter second semester senior year, also known as “senioritis” or “senior slump”.   The applications have been submitted; some have heard from schools and some are still waiting.  Grades matter, but not as much as  before.  There is time again to pause, reflect and realize “HOLY COW – I AM GOING TO GRADUATE”.

Seniors may experience this as a sudden shock, a slow building of anxiety or depression or  via other symptoms like withdrawal from friends or a drop in grades.   Some of my clients have suddenly brought home D’s and F’s after a high school career of A’s and B’s.  I talk to them frankly about self-sabatoge; if they have anxiety about graduation and leaving home, a handful of F’s could easily upend that plan without having to admit “I’m nervous about the next step”. It can be easier to crash and burn through that last English credit than have to face the reality that this graduation thing is actually going to happen.

We adults often forget how emotional and challenging this time can be.  Teachers, parents and other adults act as  cheerleaders raving about graduation and the exciting changes that are coming. But the awareness of these trepidatious months can be really helpful;  attend to your seniors, acknowledge that this is a big time of transition and it is okay to feel uneasy or anxious.  They may just appreciate it enough to stick around for dinner one night this week.


Bucket List Part 1

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I’ve had  a little bucket list floating in my head for the past several years. It wasn’t planned or formal (I rarely operate in such an organized fashion), just adventures that I want to  experience or accomplish during this midlife crisis phase of life.  A few were athletic endeavors that I mentioned here, and the Avon  Walk was something I had always thought about and am SO GLAD it is now in my bucket (times three).  Last fall, my daughter mentioned that she would like to learn to knit.  Knitting has long been a bucket item.  The YouTube lady became our friend  and we arduously toiled and foiled  until we figured out this cool and very relaxing knitting thing.

Although I have had three children and was DEFINITELY  present at their births (and subsequent raising, although Child #1 would argue that point), I have always wanted to be on the other end of the birthing experience.  I wanted to see a baby be born when it wasn’t coming out of my body.  Thanks to my dear friend, I can now check that off my bucket list.  I was graciously invited in to the Labor and Delivery Room to join her husband and her sister witness the birth of her son. And  yes, it met all of my expectations.

My phone rang at 7:30 in the morning.  Auntie was calling to tell me that they had arrived at the hospital,  she said that I had time to take a shower and to meet them there when I was ready.  I frenzied around, left my sleeping children and grabbed some lattes for audience participants, arriving at the hospital less than an hour later.

Mom was having  back labor at the time and waiting eagerly for the glories of the epidural.  Within the first five minutes of my arrival, she had a contraction.  This was the first time I have ever seen anyone have a contraction (other than my own).  It was hard to watch;  I readily witnessed her pain without feeling it and just wanted to do something to ease it for her.  Pre-epidural, we were strongly instructed to NOT TOUCH the mommy, no one was to go near her during the contraction.

About an hour later, with miracle drugs flowing into her system, my friend was a comfortable woman in labor.  She tried to rest while we chatted, watched hours of 80’s sitcoms and waited.  We were all enthralled by the monitors.  There were graphs tracking both the baby’s heart rate and the strength of the contractions. The screen also showed all of the monitors of the other women in labor on the floor. We could tell when the woman down the hall was having a “big one” and that one woman was having twins due to two fetal heart beats. I spent hours gazing at the monitors.

At some point mid-day, Auntie and I went down to grab some lunch.  We had a few bites of our  not-so-bad hospital food  only to receive a text from dad mid-chew, “9.5 cm”.   Faster than a contraction, we tossed the contents of our trays (well, Auntie did, I don’t easily discard food, so my salad joined me in the elevator) and headed up for the main event.

To be continued…


Our own game of Life

Game-of-Life

One day a few weeks ago I was finishing up a 3 mile “wog”.  Wogging consists of some walking and some jogging (my son who ran cross country and track says I “bunny hop”; I guess a long legged teenager might see that in me).  As I was wogging down the home stretch, my neighbor called out “hello”.  She is a tall, long legged, athletic young thing (not to be confused with the bunny hopper hopping down the street).   We have had many a bus stop conversation about my various attempts at athleticism; there have been 5k’s, sprint triathlons, a half marathon and, of course, the Avon Walks. (This bunny hopper is SLOW and steady, no awards even in the advanced aged category, but it has been fun interesting to plod along throughout the  years).

My lovely  neighbor asked me if I am “training for anything?”  I thoughtfully answered “no, just LIFE”.  The truth is, I have paid for an event in July, and that is probably what is motivating me to get out there and move, but I am not sure I am  going to participate, both due to scheduling and my hesitancy about my readiness for this event.  So, I thought my answer was more accurate because, I am training for LIFE; we all are every.single.day.

On a daily basis we are trying to do our best as humans:  parenting, nutrition, kindness, healthy bodies, school, work, volunteering, community, environment.  Goodness, I am tired from just reading that list.  And, yet every morning, we get up and begin the training again.

There are those mornings when just getting out of bed is considered success.  I have worked with  many who are depressed or grieving and putting those two feet on the floor can feel like a marathon at times. Some days are harder than others, and I truly empathize with their struggles. I’ve had people say that if they are able to just keep breathing, they are doing okay.

Depression and grief can be very heavy.  I’ve spoken to many whose friends and family don’t understand the heaviness, “my dad says if I just go out and get some fresh air I will be fine”.  When you live with someone that has never experienced the  “downs” it can be complicated.  A stranger to depression really can not appreciate the weight of the grief/depression, they can not put themselves in your shoes and realize how hard it is to accomplish the simplest things.

In family meetings, I do my  best to help both parties begin to understand how the other is feeling.  Mom/husband/anyone is pushing  you to exercise, work or even shower and you just can’t summon the energy to move forward.  There is an education piece for the non-depressed person where they need to learn what depression looks like, why their loved one is so dormant and how they can be helpful rather than an additional pressure.

I see these therapy sessions as part of the training for LIFE.  It is in the sessions when we build our muscles via repetition.  “I can’t tell my parents ___________” .  What are you most afraid of? What is the worst that could happen? Can you tell them a  piece of the story?  Week after week we break down the issues (depression, anxiety or anger) and do the training necessary to move forward;  sometimes it is a 5k, maybe even a full marathon, but often the training is just helping to put one foot in front of the other and show up for that game of LIFE.

Be it healthy physical choices, emotional goals or concrete work challenges, each of  us is participating in our own training program.  What we bring to the table will impact the outcome; I know the harder I wog, the better I feel in my muscles and in my mind.  Please, keep in mind, that sometimes we all struggle to tie up our running shoes, sometimes getting to the training is just that difficult.  Have patience with yourself and those around you, tomorrow is a new opportunity to train for LIFE.