Popular, Yet Alone Anthony, 17

100 Misfits - Highlighting stories of depression and anxiety in students

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”Anthony’s” story was one of the first to be shared with me and, to this day, one of the most eye-opening. Mostly because of its simplicity. It’s almost too familiar that it goes under the radar. Or, at least, most people don’t think about it often, or maybe cannot muster any compassion for it.  Yet, it almost took Anthony’s life. 

Anthony is the stereotypical high school jock: Quarterback of the winning football team for the last two years, dating a cheerleader, decent grades, tall, muscular, and good-looking. Watch any CW television series or teen coming-of-age movie and you’ve seen Anthony over and over again; The guy other guys want to be like and that all the girls want to date. 

Except, behind the bravado, weekend parties, and popularity lies an insecure young man who is constantly fighting depression and questioning his place in the world. 

Here’s his story.

Student: Anthony*

Age: 17

“Everyone thinks I have my shit together. Everyone expects that I’ve got everything easy and that my life is already paved with gold. The truth is I’m not that at all, but I’m not allowed to be anything else.

I don’t even want to be a football player! Because of how I’m built, my parents and gym coach talked me into playing (my Dad’s a huge NFL fan), so I did what was expected of me. I wanted to keep my Dad happy and fit in with the popular crowd. 

Now, four years later, I’ve become a sort of legend in the school; I guess I’m good at being a quarterback since we keep winning games. Everyone expects me to live the part, to be the local God. Yet, I don’t feel the confidence I pretend to have; I don’t like to be in the crowds that I’m constantly surrounded by, and I have no clue what I want to do with my life. 

I’m alone. I’m always in large groups, always in group chats, never without a date or a party to go to, yet I’m alone. 

I hate my life. I hate not knowing who I am. I hate not feeling as strong as everyone thinks I am or expects me to be. I hate not feeling as confident as everyone has made me out to be. I’m a fake and scared to death that someone will figure it out one day, and my life will come crashing down around me – even though that would make me happy. 

The disconnect between who people think I am and want me to be and who I am is so big – a gap I don’t think I can ever overcome – that I’ve wanted just to call it quits. Over the last two years, I’ve often considered how to end my life. I came close twice with drugs, but my folks think it was just a case of me taking too much and not knowing what I was doing. But, I knew exactly what I was doing. 

I want to live but can’t imagine living a life where I’m constantly being held up to some standard of being, thinking, or acting that I just don’t have in my heart.

I have no clue who I am or who I want to be. 

I’m simply living for everyone else right now. Is that a life?” 

Anthony shared his pain with me after a Friendship Bench unveiling ceremony at his high school. I shared that my son secretly suffered from depression until he eventually succumbed to it and ended his life. He saw similarities in his experience and thought I would understand his plight. 

This is one of the many stories that fall into the “Great Expectations” category. Students take on the pressure of expectations – from their parents, peers, or society – and are rarely given the confidence to share their delight or displeasure on having to bear those expectations. 

As a parent, I can’t count the number of times I’ve said to my kids, “you can talk to me about anything!” I’m sure it’s no different for you parents out there;  however, our kids do not hear it. Or, at a minimum, don’t believe us or don’t have the confidence to share. 

If it’s any consolation, they’re not often talking to their peers either, and not being able to talk about these feelings, desires, or passions can feel like a prison sentence. At this age, without the wisdom of years or experience, it can seem like there will never be a change or relief from this situation. 

UPDATE: Thankfully, Anthony was encouraged enough by our conversation to speak to a school counsellor about his experience. He regularly speaks to a therapist now and has opened up to his parents about his suicide attempt. 

TAKEAWAYS: 

  • If you relate to Anthony’s story, take note of the resolution… speaking to someone about your true feelings is a pressure release valve that will alleviate much of the stress and anxiety that’s building up. And that’s step one! There is always someone who will listen. If it’s not your friends or parents, a school counsellor will surely listen without judgement. The fear of people not understanding is almost always just a perception, not a reality.  
  • Do you have a child that you may have innocently or otherwise pressured into participating in a sport or activity that YOU believe is the best thing for them? Or a child that’s participating in an activity that’s driven by peer pressure?  Create as many opportunities as possible for conversations where your child can feel safe to share their thoughts. They need to know you’ll not judge them and accept – and support – whatever their passions are, instead of living yours.


YOU ARE NOT ALONE 

Anthony’s story is one in hundreds of similar stories shared with me over the years. You’re not alone. 

If it’s an emergency and you or someone you know is planning on hurting themselves, please call 911.  If you’re struggling, you can find other resources here: Canada  | USA

*To protect the student, the names and locations listed in this story have been changed. 

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