COLUMN: Being Judged

by John Williams

It was the sixth year of my school career, my second year of middle school, it was probably the worst time to develop an anxiety disorder. 

Not that there is a good time to develop anxiety, but I had also recently been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD. Now, added to that mix, anxious thoughts of failure swirled in my mind. 

It was a difficult combination. Often, if I didn’t get 100 percent on a test, the anxiety would judge me as a failure. And the ADHD was determined to make me do anything other than what I needed to do. 

The two were at war in my mind. 

With ADHD at the helm, the Anxiety pointed out every mistake and told me that it was all my fault. The internal war was torture enough. The last thing I needed was ridicule from an outside source. 

Of course, it still came.

The harassment and cruelty didn’t come from my classmates. It came from a teacher. 

I was always taught that you should treat others as superior to you, especially those in authority. So, I had a deep respect for this teacher and was inclined to believe that what she said was true.

If ADHD and Anxiety were the enemies in my internal war, this teacher was providing ammunition in the battles.

I was a distracted teen, sometimes troubled by anxiety and did not fit the mold of an ideal student for this teacher. Some teachers look at each student as an individual and work with them to help them achieve their goals. However, this one had an ideal student mold in mind and saw only one path to success.

One incident stands out as a defining battle in the war. The lesson was on careers.

My teacher went around the room and told each student whether she would hire them or not for a local business. The majority of us, including me, were told that we were “unhireable.” 

Unhireable. It was one word, but my 13-year-old brain told me it meant I had no redeemable qualities to be a productive member of society.

I wasn’t told I could improve or that I might have something else to offer in another field. In my mind the war was over. Anxiety won. I lost.

But the war wasn’t over.

I just needed reinforcements. My mom joined the frontline and tried to explain the diagnoses I had to deal with, ADHD and anxiety. The teacher told my mom that she didn’t believe it and I was being manipulative as a way to avoid work. 

Mom knew better.

The teacher went on to retire after decades of teaching.

I went on to leave that school district and enroll in Epic Charter School, but that one word was still there. Unhireable. Always in the background of the battle in my mind.

It took some time for me to realize that the old wound was still there.

Thankfully, now I’m properly medicated and know how wrong she was. Sometimes I still struggle with feelings of self-doubt, and the dogs of the internal war start howling. When the self-hate sirens sound, I am now able to pick myself back up and remember that I’m not the bad person that my teacher had convinced that I was.

I just need a little extra help sometimes. 

I now realize that everyone has their limitations and circumstances and that being quick to judge them will only make the problem worse. I’ve also learned to ignore those who make opinions about things they know nothing about and to be patient with those who struggle with things that come easily to me.

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