‘School refusal’ is a growing psychological issue. Unbeknownst to me, I suffered from it in my high school days, and the effect it had on my life as an adult should not be ignored.
Earlier this week, I was made aware of something. The series of situations that happened to me has a name, and it is a growing issue. According to a raft of recent studies, ‘school refusal’ now effects anywhere up to 200,000 kids. Through the benefit of hindsight, the knock-on effects are obvious, and certainly real.
Throughout my schooling, I heard an oft-repeated line: Mark would be at the top of the class if he applied himself. For I reason I could never understand, I just couldn’t. I slipped from Advanced English to Comprehensive, I’d avoid the faces, not answer the questions aimed by my previous classmates when they asked me what I was doing in the other classroom. I became an average student, completely unremarkable. One morning, I could no longer go. There was no real reason. I wasn’t bullied, I was fairly popular. In the words of my mother, I had no reason to not want to go.
The first signs were small enough to ignore. I thought nothing of it. I was perpetually absent. My Year 8 class photo lists me as ‘not present’, which is a fair definition of that year. Teachers, the year coordinator, the Vice-Headmaster all tried to reach me, but I took it as antagonism. Theirs were the faces of a problem I couldn’t define.
From there, it got worse.
I feared the bus, the possibility of classes, homework, friends, and teachers. All broke me out into a shuddering, stomach-churning mess. My mum reconciled to drive me to school, and the first time we tried it, I broke down in the car. Tears, stuttering, short of breath. She asked me for reasons, who was bullying you, the answer was no-one, there were no reasons, or at least none that I couldn’t understand, I just couldn’t physically go.
So, I didn’t. Weeks prior to the scheduled commencement of my HSC, I left and never went back.
This year, I’m 30. In the interim years, I’ve clung to many things to validate what I did as a kid. I’ve believed that school isn’t everything, and that it’s just a piece of paper. I’ve built my own intelligence, and the fact that my friends hold me as ‘smart’ is both a warm blanket to huddle under and a noose to hang from.
If I’m being honest, I’ve missed out. I never went to University, I was unemployed for a good part of my early twenties. When I worked, I worked a series of entry-level jobs well enough to make me forget that I should be doing something better. I have no degrees to hang, so I dismiss the importance of my friends hanging theirs.
On a psychological level, it might have been one of the original bricks my teetering imbalanced personality was built on. In many ways, I’m still that kid, lying to his friends for no reason, especially when the subject crosses over to school. I never discuss it, as I still feel it’s a thing better left unsaid.
But, I can disclose to you that I do regret it, and I dislike that this is a story I’ve authored. Into my thirties, I’m doing better. Somehow I’ve fallen into a position that pays me to rehash my failures, but that’s more a band-aid than an excuse. I know how perishable the floor is that I stand on. I’m a 30-year-old man with a padded resume and zero qualifications.
I admit I’m not really offering a solution to either those suffering from ‘school refusal’, or the lost parents of those who are refusing to go. It’s an odd thing. I just wish someone would have pushed me harder back then. Either myself, or my mum, or the administrators. But again, I probably would have rebelled against it.
What I do feel is regret. Regret for not speaking to someone objective sooner, as I certainly regret being crushed by the weight of memory. School may or may not be out for some, but a greater education is needed for those at risk.