Senior Column: Ian Madden


Anna Schaeffer

Ian Madden, copy editor

As I walked into Journalism 1 on my first day at KHS, I knew I looked awkward.

Transitions like this were hard for me. In middle school, as my parents were getting divorced, I started to get nervous in crowds and social situations. It got progressively worse until I was diagnosed with social anxiety, or a phobia of social settings.

Earlier that morning, my sister dropped me off early so I could hide in a bathroom until class.  If she hadn’t, experiencing the “senior welcome party” would have launched me into hysterics. Too much excitement. Too much to handle.
My mammoth of a backpack pulled me back as I shuffled through the creaky door. Mr. Eden smiled that warm, genuine smile of his and welcomed me, gesturing to a seat. I grimaced back-braces gleaming, swept some of my horrifically long, unbrushed hair back from my face and took a seat alone.

The classroom began to fill, and I started to get nervous. All the symptoms you’d expect: sweaty palms, quickened breath, rigid posture. As I tried to hide my anxiety, it got worse. There were so many strangers. They all had to be watching me. They all had to be judging me. A panic attack was coming on.

My panic grew during the day. Noise everywhere. Insanity everywhere. Judgment everywhere. It was crippling. It was continuous. It was exhausting. Freshman year didn’t get better. In fact, it got worse. Horribly, devastatingly worse.

My social anxiety wore me down to the core. My confidence was nonexistent. I can’t count the number of times I escaped to the bathroom in tears to catch my breath and calm myself down. There are two responses to this kind of intense discomfort: fight or flight. I chose flight.

By January, I was laying in bed every morning, sheets over my head, letting my mom yell herself hoarse as she tried to get me to school. I wouldn’t go back because in my mind, I couldn’t go back. When I was at home, I was calm. I was relaxed. I was safe. School was dangerous. School was terrifying. School was hell.

I got moved to Vista to finish my classes online after I missed nearly a month of school. It was pure bliss. But when I had the option to stay at Vista my sophomore year, I refused.

I knew what I wanted my high school experience to be, and it wasn’t sitting in a room on a computer. I wanted to go to dances. I wanted to go out with my friends, to get involved, to go to football games, to experience high school. I’d already missed so much at Vista that I would never get back. Now that I knew what I wanted, I was ready to fight my social anxiety. I wouldn’t let it take high school away from me.

That summer, I worked hard. Every week, I met with one of the most wonderful people I have ever known: Dr. Anna Lindwedel, my counselor. I transformed that summer in ways I never thought were possible.

The first day of my sophomore year, seniors waited in hordes at both entrances. As I got out of my mom’s car on Essex, they mobbed me, thinking I was a freshman. I wasn’t even uncomfortable. I just laughed and embraced the insanity.

I threw myself into high school that year. My grades shot up, I got new clothes, chopped off my hair and joined every activity at the activity fair. I went to dances, football games and for the first time, I didn’t just go to events my friends planned; I started planning events myself.

That initial surge wasn’t the end of my struggle though. As the year wore on, the social anxiety came back and I started avoiding school again. My junior year was a mess of absences. The social anxiety would hit and recede in a vicious pattern. But this time I fought. Nothing could keep me from my high school experience. I made it through the year. My grades were terrible, but I made it and that’s something.

I’m still battling anxiety today, but I’m winning the fight. Sure, sometimes I’m shy or awkward or uncomfortable. And there are still days where I need to go to the bathroom because I’m having a panic attack. But I’m in school and I’m doing things I never dreamt I could do freshman year. This year alone I came out in an article, spoke on KMOX about the KSDK reporter incident and performed in “Spamalot” for a theater of people. I even won Prom King.

My story is unique, but the themes are not. I don’t know a single person in my grade who hasn’t changed in high school. I don’t know a single person who hasn’t had to face their own demons, their own social anxiety. High school is a journey of growth and development. It is a struggle of discovery, a weird, crazy process of finding the “best you.”

I’m still figuring out who my “best me” is and to be honest, I don’t think I ever will. High school set me on a journey of personal growth, a beautiful life-long fight for self-actualization. It forced me out of my comfort zone and helped me adapt for the better. Never again when faced with fight or flight will I choose flight.
So here I come, world. Throw all the challenges and judgment at me you’ve got. I may still look a little awkward, but to be honest, I really don’t give a damn.