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What It Feels Like to be Upside Down

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By Rachel Fillipek // As told to Diana Anghel

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What It Feels Like to be Upside Down

At first I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I didn’t know why I was the way I was, why I did the things I did or why I acted the way I did. If you were anyone else but me, then everything seemed normal. I was doing well in school and I was involved in sports; I was the typical freshman. If you were me, then everything was upside down. My nights were days and my days were nights. I was on an irreversible schedule that only I traveled.

It all started with me feeling anxious at school. I couldn’t stay focused in class for longer than a few minutes, and the hallways made me feel like I was walking on an endless path to nowhere. I was scared of seeing some faces, hearing some noises. I would find myself desperately seeking the opinions of others and basing my own thoughts on things they’d tell me. It wouldn’t always be to my face; actually, most of the time it wasn’t. I would hear things about myself and be confused. How do people know more about me than I do? Where do people get the hatred to talk about me this way?

I was lost. I was not sleeping. I would wonder nights away. I found myself up at 4 a.m. on school nights, dreading the hours ahead of me because I knew they would pull me closer to when school started. I cringed at the thought of having to sit in another classroom, feeling trapped with the same people from whom I wanted to be the farthest away. This was all part of the high school social ranking system. Somewhere along the line, students completely forgot that we’re here to get educated. I was there to learn. I was not there to partake in social rankings; I was not there to share my life with others, and I was not there as someone for others to ridicule. I was simply there to learn, and I found myself losing focus on my own goal: staying in school.

My tiredness grew and took over my life. I was barely able to function at school because I was running on no sleep and trying to learn, all while being anxious all the time. I would fall asleep in my classes. I felt as if my body clock was completely opposite of what it’s supposed to be. I felt exhausted.

I started skipping school — a day here and a day there. A habit quickly developed and I missed weeks in a row. My peace of mind came from the lonely nights I would have. The quiet of the house relaxed me and I felt safe. My home was the safest place, away from everyone with whom I was trapped with at school. Sleeping through the day and staying up at night isolated me from everyone; I’m not sure why, but I loved the solitude. I could be myself without anyone there to judge.

I recently found out I have a sleep disorder called delayed circadian rhythm. It genetically turns my body clock upside down, making me sleep during the day and stay up during the night. It all made sense now; I figured out what was wrong with me, and it wasn’t anything I could help. Finding this out made my anxiety grow immensely. The days missed from school turned to weeks and the weeks turned to months. I was terrified of what people were saying at school. I basically just disappeared and didn’t give an explanation. Of course, it got to me that people started saying I was crazy, that I had gone to the psych ward. I heard many alleged explanations from people who didn’t know me as to why I wasn’t in school. My anxiety skyrocketed once again.

I seeked professional help to get me back on my feet. My backbone was my mother, who was always supporting me and trying her best to make sure I was as okay as I could be. I started slowly being pushed back into school. I was told that taking it step by step was the best option; every step back in the school meant progress and I knew that. The steps turned into half days and eventually, full days. I was back in school after missing five whole months. Things were looking better. I worked every day to make up the work I had missed and finished the year with all As and one B. I had help not only from my mom, but also from the school staff; they were extremely understanding and supportive.

Summer was a much needed break after the chaos of my freshman year. I found true friends that never fell in the lies of rumors and loved me for who I was. We spent summer together, but, before I knew it, my sophomore year started. I was back to the same dreaded hallways and classrooms, stuck with the same people. It all came back, everything: all the restless nights, all the anxiety, and the rumors. I was upside down once again.

Now, I am on my way back up. It’s my sophomore year and I’m trying my absolute best to get past my old self and my old habits. I’ve been struggling to keep up with too many things, and having an upside down schedule worsened everything.

Some things you can’t help. Whether it be genetics, what other people say about you behind your back, or how your mind reacts to certain situations, you don’t have control. I didn’t choose to be the way I am, and I didn’t choose to be talked about in the way that I did. What you can choose is how you recover, how you recover from the things life throws at you. I chose to get help; I chose to rely on my family and in the end, rely on myself. And even though I am upside down, I know that I’ll soon manage to get myself out of this vicious cycle.

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What It Feels Like to be Upside Down