As Canadians, we like to take pride in a country that champions for the rights of the mentally and physically disabled. Unfortunately, much of that pride is based on false assumptions that our systems are working optimally. For people with disabilities, we are often on the battlefield – testing these policies and their limitations. We are also faced with institutions that are supposed to uphold these values — unfortunately, they do not always hold. I have been working on my Bachelor’s degree since 2012. Unfortunately, I have yet to finish. Since I have several disorders I have been fighting vehemently for my education since High School. I have often had to shred red tape during the process.
My High School years were wrought with problems. I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and a Generalized Anxiety disorder at 15. While the problems were not new, they continued to manifest and grow during these years. Some teachers and administrators were supportive. Others were met with confusion and dismay.
I remember my science teacher telling me that I needed to, “try harder” and “come to class more often”. As though my illnesses were mere excuses to miss the lectures that I already did not understand. As though being sick for 6 months because of Paxil was not a valid excuse. In grade 10, shortly after my 16th birthday, I became so violently ill from the medications that I could not eat or sleep. I was constantly in pain, had muscle spasms (in my head!), hot flashes, and spouts of delirium. My teachers did not understand.
I was expected to be a regular student. Somehow. I was expected to try and attend classes with my peers. I couldn’t.
A math teacher told me I could not leave class while having a panic attack. He told me to stay — that I was not going to leave. I packed my books and left anyways. Luckily for me, I was willing to stand up for myself. If I had not been, this person of “authority” could have prolonged my suffering, and for what? His own personal idea of what the ‘ideal student’ is? Now, I don’t want to say that teachers don’t have a hard job – but they should have the wellbeing of their students in mind. He did not. My disorder was well documented with the school, and yet he believed that it was his right to override my accommodations, my rights, and my comfort.
I have been advocating for myself for 8 years and I am tired. I am tired of begging, scraping, and demanding that my illnesses be considered more than weaknesses.
Mental health care in schools should be a conversation. Unfortunately, it is often a steam-rolled affair. If we want students with disorders to succeed in their education, we must be vigilant in understanding their needs.
Parents and students are often the best advocates for disorders, and must be willing to speak above the noise and help carve a path that is right for the student. Unfortunately, administration and even professionals do not always have the interests of students involved. Each student needs accommodations for their own needs, and this is sometimes not met when administrations see children as one disorder or another.
In order for the school system to serve the needs of disabled students, there’s going to need to be a paradigm shift. Education is not about forcing students into complacency, it is about fostering an environment in which students can flourish. While some educators do their best, they are working within a system that is over-stretched, and often unable to comply with the needs of students.
About Shaylynn Hayes
Shaylynn Hayes is a 23 year old writer, advocate, graphic/webdesigner, and student. She is the Editor-In-Chief of Misophonia International and Author of Full of Sound and Fury: Suffering With Misophonia. I am also the founder of www.lovenotstigma.com an advocacy project that aims to share mental health stories, lift up advocates, and create a world that promotes love instead of stigma. Misophonia has created trials and tribulations, but it’s also changed her life in good ways. It is due to Misophonia that she ended up switching schools, but it is also the reason she has been able to focus her voice and try to help others that struggle with the disorder. Alongside Dr. Jennifer Brout, Shaylynn runs the Newssite and adovacy site, www.MisophoniaInternational.com. Most recently, Shaylynn founded www.thoughtful-gaming.com, a resource for disabled gamers to find groups for their favourite video games. The site focuses on Research, Coping, and Awareness for the disorder. Shaylynn has also been actively involved in the International Misophonia Research Network, founded by Dr. Jennifer Brout. What used to be a life-ruining disorder has become an interesting and defining adventure that has proven that the things that are “ruining our life” may very well be creating a new, interesting life in the place of the old.