“Did you know that 13 of every 100 children and teens between the ages of 9 to 17 years old experience some type of anxiety disorder?”
This was the opening of my speech that I made about anxiety disorders in general and my own experience with being diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder at the age of nine. Mind you, I wrote this speech back in 2012 when I was only eleven years old.
So in my elementary school, from grades four to eight, we had annual speech competitions. With these speech competitions, we have to first present in front of the class, then we choose the top three in each class in every grade. Once the top three are chosen, one kid per class, per grade would be voted to be chosen to speak in front of the entire school in our gymnasium. If you are chosen by the judges from presenting in the gymnasium, you would then go up against other schools in your own district school board. Now onto my story.
In the fifth grade, I was finally in a somewhat good mental state. After a year and half of being diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and seeking both individual and group therapy, I was feeling happy. However, I never really spoke about my anxiety disorder to anyone really at the time. Then time came to do the annual speeches.
I remember sitting at my kitchen table not really knowing what topic to do, until my mom gave me the idea to write a speech on anxiety disorders and add my own experience in there as well. I was very nervous because I didn’t know what the reaction might be from my class. However, my mom believed that it would be a good idea to begin educating a bunch of ten and eleven year olds on the topic back in 2012, so I did it.
I remember practicing that speech over and over again before I had to present, and just standing in front of my class while my cue cards were trembling in my hands. I took a deep breath and just started to speak. I barely looked at my cue cards and said what I remembered from what was written on the cue cards, to even saying things that I felt in my heart. I looked out at my class once I finished my speech and hearing the applause made my heart burst. People actually liked it and maybe tried to understand where I was coming from? That’s a first!
Then came the class vote and who they wanted to represent their class when they read out their speech to the entire gymnasium and if they won from the gymnasium, they would’ve gone to this regional speech competition thing and compete with their entire school district. Finally, the votes were in after lunch recess ended and my teacher stood in front of the class, “alright! Now we know that we are supposed to only have one winner in each class, but I put the top three contenders! And here they are!” I sat there not thinking anything of it, “in second place, Anna-Lisa Barrett!” My eyes widened, I was in the top three? I smiled as my entire class began clapping, but a few people had confused looks on their faces.
During last recess, I was pulled to the side by a classmate, “I’m surprised you didn’t win Anna-Lisa, it was so good! A lot of people in class said they were voting for your speech, and apparently they swear they saw your name beside first place on the teacher’s paper.” I raised my eyebrow, “wait really? My name was in the first place spot?” She nodded at me, “oh well, I guess she changed her mind.”
I remember after class I stopped in front of my teacher because not only was I so confused, but if it was true, I was genuinely upset, “Mrs., I have a question about what some kids have been saying with the top three..” She looked at me and raised her eyebrow, “what about it?” I shrugged my shoulders and shifted my feet back and forth on the floor, “well… they are saying my name was on the first place spot on your paper, and you might’ve changed it…” She sighed, “oh Anna-Lisa, please do not take this the wrong way.. Everyone loved your speech, even I did, you are so brave, but yes, I had to change it because well, I didn’t want your anxiety to be triggered on the stage in the gymnasium that’s all, I’m just looking out for you.”
Ouch! Basically, even after I tried to have my voice heard, I was completely shut down and after that day, for a long time, I tried to keep my anxiety disorder to myself or anytime I had an anxiety attack, because after my teacher said that to me, all I thought of was, “no one truly cares about how I feel anyways, I’m not wasting my breath anymore.”
After that, I remember staying so silent about my anxiety disorder, and I have only told my entire story to a few close friends that I can trust. I just felt like, at the time after just being rejected just because my teacher was afraid that I would have an anxiety attack on stage. Then I just thought “what’s the point”.
I never was able to speak about what I wrote about in my speech ever again until now, but I still have this speech beside me right now as I’m typing. This is the only speech I’ve ever kept, and I leave it in a ziplock bag. I look at it on occasion just having a “what if” moment. I admire my eleven year old self for having so much pride at the time to even speak about her experience, I love her so much for doing that despite being shut down after. I read the speech sometimes still to this day and my heart is full, I just wish it was a different time and my teacher actually gave me a chance, imagine what I could’ve been able to do!
The happy ending about this is, I am no longer hiding my disorder like I did after my speech in elementary school, as I didn’t really talk about my disorder to anyone in high school unless they knew me back in elementary school, and in twelfth grade I was finally able to talk about it in front of my English class for my assignment. I am so proud of myself, and I know that nine year old me will be able to look at herself now with tears in her eyes and say “finally… I am free and I can say I’m truly happy.” Simply being at a point in my life where I can proudly talk about my lifelong experience with anxiety for Cam’s Kids makes me feel proud of myself that I'm actually doing something like this. For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to try to give back, and also to show my nine year old self that you are able to do so much, if not more, even with an anxiety disorder.