April 10th, 2020

Educational Trauma: Not Living in the Bad Days

It’s the year 2020. I graduated with my master’s degree in September 2019, and I’m now studying for my social work licensing exam. I’m almost done actively reading and highlighting each chapter of my exam prep book and making “smart cards,” which is a study strategy I learned when I was a student at Landmark College. 

Fifteen years ago, this scenario would have looked the same, but it couldn’t have been more different. Tests were a struggle for me — one of the early signs that I had a learning disability. I tried every study method under the sun. I slept with index cards under my pillow. I read my notes on the bus instead of listening to my iPod. Nothing seemed to work, and I would either fail or barely pass.

Whenever teachers would say that they had tests to hand back, my heart would pound, and I would start breathing heavily. I still vividly remember those feelings and experiences. I remember peeking at the number at the top of the test page — a number that was somehow supposed to reflect my intellect and how hard I worked — and bursting into tears. That score didn’t reflect my intellect or my effort.

I became a social worker so that students with learning disabilities won’t have to endure the kind of educational trauma that I did. I know the definition of “trauma” and how symptoms can manifest. Trauma is psychological distress from an event or series of events, and it impacts emotional and physical health. Trauma from educational experiences is real, and it’s all too familiar to so many of us who have learning disabilities. Here are just a few things I think others can learn from my educational trauma:

  • I am a big proponent of limited homework so that students can enjoy downtime at night. I advocate for the learning and studying strategies that I learned at Landmark College through my work as a member of NCLD’s Young Adult Leadership Council. Congress should increase funding for LD research and programs that help educators understand more about learning disabilities.
  • Self-care and healing should always be a priority. For me, self-care fundamentally means taking a break from working. I know what my interests, hobbies, and strengths are. I take walks while listening to music. I run. I play the guitar. I explore coffee shops. Students and children should always be encouraged — and have opportunities — to do what they enjoy. 
  • Therapy has helped me tremendously throughout the years. And part of advocating the importance of therapy is addressing the stigma surrounding mental health and therapy. Mental health and physical health go hand in hand, and they are equally important.

Through years of clinical therapy and various forms of self-care, I’m able to actively remind myself that I’m not in that bad place anymore. Studying is still a struggle, but it isn’t the enemy it once was to me. I have my bad days, but I don’t live there. I live in a better, kinder place now. 

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