Moving to a new city, and a new school
When I was 15 years old, I was a straight A student. I didn’t try particularly hard, I just went to all my classes and paid attention. Being smart, it meant I got good grades with minimal effort. I had a great group of friends too: kids I grew up with, that I had known nearly all my life. We would hang out every weekend, have pool parties and go for food. We thought we were way cooler than we actually were. It was great!
Then I moved to a new place just before high school, and everything changed. Overnight, I had no friends, was in a new country where everyone was different and was living in a cramped apartment with my mother, my sister and two cousins. I remember feeling really messed up inside: I think I was too much in shock to be upset about it at first.
While trying to adapt to my new surroundings, I also started tenth grade. Turns out that going to public school in a big city was way harder than the tiny classroom I was used to. Teachers barely knew my name, and all the other kids thought I was the quiet foreigner who listened to weird music.
I started underperforming across the board: if I wasn’t failing, I was barely passing. I tried so hard, but it just wasn’t working. I studied a lot, but then I’d go to the exam, and would get so nervous, I felt like my mind would go blank. All that effort, and I failed anyway. So what was the point? I’m ashamed to admit I gave up, and turned to the only thing I knew hadn’t changed: my video games.
All I did, every day after school, was play games. And man am I glad I had that. My 3DS was my only real companion, and you know what? It never let me down.
Going through a tough time
Sometime around four months into school, I realized something: everything and everyone sucked. I was angry all the time, and when I wasn’t angry, I was sad. Later on, as an adult, I would recognize my symptoms as depression. But at the time, I didn’t know any better. I thought everyone else was either rude or stupid, and I wanted no part of them.
One day at school, some of the other kids saw me with a 3DS. We got to talking, and two of them asked me if they could borrow some games. Me being the nice guy I was, and desperate to make friends, I obliged them.
A few weeks later, I asked them for the games back, and they said, “Sure!” But they never ended up returning them, and dodged me at school after that. They eventually got kicked out for something else, and that sucked, because I knew for sure I’d never get my games back.
I remember going home, locking my room, turning off the lights, playing some loud music and yelling in the dark at no one, just to get the anger and frustration out. “Why does everyone suck so much?!” I yelled. Meanwhile, I was still failing at school, and my mother was starting to freak out. “What’s happening to you?” she would ask. “Aren’t you studying?” “I am,” I would say. “But it’s hard. I don’t have any friends. I can’t concentrate. And the teachers don’t care.”
Having a friend really helped
At school, an English teacher noticed I was struggling. He told me I’d have to go to the after-school classes twice a week, for the kids who needed help. Desperate to get a passing grade, I went. And that’s where I met Oliver. He was a funny guy who didn’t say much and like me, was an outsider. When he saw me playing on my 3DS, he came over to hang. I reflexively pulled it away, but he just smiled, pulled out his own and asked me what I was playing.
Slowly but surely, he became my best friend. We would hang all the time, and play games together. He didn’t say much, but who cares: I wasn’t alone anymore. And all of a sudden, my grades improved too. Turns out not being angry at everyone and not hating everything makes it easier to care in class. Caring means I concentrated, and tried a bit harder too. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t suddenly become a straight A student again. I was getting Ds but hey, that’s way better than Fs.
As the year progressed, I remember feeling less angry. Having a friend really helped, even more than games. Looking back, I see that my depression slowly faded, although a bit of sadness remained.
Keep up the good work
The final turning point came when my mom took me to see a counsellor, who gave me some relaxation exercises to do so I wouldn’t get so nervous before exams. I remember passing one exam with a B, and a teacher coming up to me after class and saying “I want you to know that you’ve really improved over the past few months. Keep up the good work.” He smiled at me then, and I was beaming. Funny how a few kind words stick in my mind years later.
High school was hard as nails all the way through. But I had a friend, and I had my 3DS, and the occasional teacher who cared. What more do you need than that?