From therapy against anorexia to taking a Selectivity exam in the worst year of your life

On a day like today, Sonia is in front of some pages. It is her great challenge of her year. She knows that she attends the Selectivity exam in inferior conditions. That’s why her hands are sweaty and her legs are shaking. She has had a bad year, the worst year of her life: hospitalized for two months, one of them at home, a quarter on medication, unable to concentrate. Behind her was a brilliant academic record, although she has managed to pass the course by a miracle. But she doesn’t want to leave. She wants to pass the selectivity. She will seem that she is one more among the 38,000 students in Madrid who take these tests between Monday and Thursday. But, no, Sonia is not one more.

Because on March 4 her parents took her to the emergency room and she did not appear at school for the rest of the course. She suffered from severe anorexia and corresponding depression. Sonia did not enter the anti-suicide protocols of schools and institutes because she did not give time. She was admitted earlier, when she passed out and lost consciousness of herself. These protocols have exploded in Madrid. In May they opened more than 600 in secondary schools, very far from the 200 of the previous year, according to the data provided by the association of directors of Madrid (Adimad). That has been the most evident symptom of the most extreme emotional situation that the centers have experienced. A course full of fears in the teaching staff and anguish among the students. Eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, those related to trauma and stress, personality disorders, depression, anxiety…

This is the story of Sonia, to whom everything came together. The pandemic, the studies that she wanted to be perfect, the obsession with getting a scandalous body and, of course, age and wanting to be successful with the boys. She now she thinks she already had it, but she didn’t realize it. She had always been a sociable, cheerful, talkative girl. And very intelligent. She had a record full of A’s. She has become an introverted, quiet and subdued teenager. She no longer flirts. And she suffers from the stigma of mental health. “My friends have understood when I told them about it, but they prefer not to talk about it. They act as if nothing had happened, ”she laments. Instagram. TikTok. Youtube. That’s where she got her obsession with getting the number 10 body almost a year ago: slender, thin, athletic. Everything she thought she wasn’t.

She is 17 years old, tall, 1.75, brown hair, brunette and pretty. And she has always had a normal body, on the skinny side. Although the truth is that what she saw in her mirror gave her a completely distorted image: fat, horrible, with elephant thighs and legs. She weighed 44 kilos. And she still looked fat. “In quarantine we had a lot of time to think, to see each other…”, she thinks aloud after leaving the therapy that she attends weekly at the Niño Jesús hospital in the capital.

One of the corridors in the Faculty of Dentistry of the Complutense University of Madrid, during a day of Selectivity this year.
One of the corridors in the Faculty of Dentistry of the Complutense University of Madrid, during a day of Selectivity this year.

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The clinical psychologist who treats her, Cristina García, treat 40 other girls like Sonia. The disease she suffers from is so variable that her treatment will last between four and five years. “Recovery is possible, but the process is long and the first phase, the one she is in, is the most complicated.” The specialist says that Sonia meets the profile of adolescents who end up falling into that black hole. “They tend to be very perfectionist, intelligent, self-demanding.” And that also becomes a bigger problem when she emerges in a sophomore year of high school, the one that they have had so long on the horizon to decide what her path in her life was going to be. On that horizon was always the selectivity test.

And there are the pages on the table. It was examined on Monday, this Wednesday and this Thursday. Those around him do not know if Sonia attends the test on equal terms. Before entering college, she will have taken a menu measured by the hospital and she will not be able to play sports during the treatment. Also, she should rest after every meal. She has a hard time doing this, but she knows it’s what she has to do. “This ruins your life.”

They have tried to work with her and with girls like her “the feeling of guilt, to manage anxiety” and have explained to them that there are “more options” than the Evaluation for Access to University (Evau), explains her psychologist. Sonia is one of those who has a very accentuated feeling of guilt. She was doing so well until a few months ago that she beats herself up for getting sick during this course. That is why she tried to take the exams for the third trimester, although her lack of nutrition and her anxiety caused something that she had never experienced before and that the doctor explains is very common among these patients: she could not concentrate. The hospital proposed to her school that they do the exams there, with the supervision of a professional, the center accepted and managed to get her course out of her. Her new horizon, this week with three days of exams, has now become the great workhorse.

“When I was admitted it made me angry to think that my friends could advance and I couldn’t. This annoys me a lot because if it hadn’t happened to me I could have studied”, admits Sonia. She wants to enroll in Teaching. It is her dream. But she doesn’t know if she’s going to get it.

All those feelings, all those reflections are in your head. She will try to avoid them while she writes in the exam.

A young woman reviews her notes for Selectivity in the Faculty of Dentistry.
A young woman reviews her notes for Selectivity in the Faculty of Dentistry.

DAVID EXPOSITO

During these days, Sonia has to surround herself with her classmates, control her anxiety, sitting at a desk, and concentrate on the exams that evaluate an atypical course. There is nothing designed to control these guys. They deal with their illness however they can. “Both in those who prepare the Evau and the final exams of the fourth year of ESO, the most frequent thing is not cognitive incapacity, but the insecurity of facing an unknown test”, points out Victoria Muñoz, director of the school enabled inside from the Gregorio Marañón hospital.

For this reason, the most important thing is to give them love, as teachers do in primary school. “Although the word love is obsolete, it is what works best, approaching them and gaining their trust, that is the key to success.” At the Gregorio Marañón Hospital, which has a juvenile psychiatry unit with 20 beds for kids between the ages of 12 and 17, there is a physical classroom where classes are given. The “school” is located there, where teachers care for patients with mental health disorders and other ailments. It also happens at Niño Jesús, where students like Sonia have been able to stay connected to their studies.

Others like her tried before, in other years, and they didn’t succeed. This is what García, Sonia’s psychologist, wants to avoid in therapy. Make him understand that these tests are important, but that they must be relativized.

The COUNTRY has attended a therapy with two people who failed to pass the tests and have the feeling of having failed. “They come very obsessed by the titulitis, and that feeling that without a university degree they are nobody,” says Daniel Jiménez, psychologist of the AMAFE foundation association. “Society and generalized competitiveness lead them to see themselves as failures if they do not reach the objectives that they, other times the family and others, even the teachers, expect them to achieve”.

The talk is attended by Alejandra, 27, and Ana, 21. Both dreamed of passing the Evau, but neither has managed to be a university student. It does not mean, far from it, that having a mental health illness prevents these children from achieving their goals, according to the specialists. But if they suffer from one of these diseases at a key academic moment and they don’t know how to manage what has happened to them, they end up abandoning their studies or the studies end up abandoning them.

During the conversation, the two patients reflect on the stigma that this entails and how each has had to suddenly remake their life expectations due to their mental health problems. “A large part of the therapies we do with adolescents with mental health problems consists of helping them to grieve these expectations and then update and reformulate life goals,” says psychologist David Jiménez.

Ana, with an unblemished record, suffered a psychotic break in the first year of high school, a course she repeated. For two and a half years she went to the hospital, where she went through three different psychiatrists and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. So neither she nor she showed up to the Evau. She didn’t know how to do it. At the moment she works as an administrative while she considers the next step. The same thing happens to Alejandra, who works as a concierge in a block of flats: “When you fill out the resume and you can’t put anything in despite all the sacrifice, it gives the feeling that you haven’t done anything and it’s not like that,” she laments. Alexandra.

Sonia is in front of the paper. Her greatest wish is to get into college and become a teacher. “I have no other plan. I don’t want to think what will happen if I don’t get it. I prefer to focus on this and cross my fingers…”

For so many powerful reasons, Sonia is not today a student like the others. She, too, is not the only one in that situation. More than 600 anti-suicide protocols have been opened and many students are not even accounted for. Mental health has fully entered the classroom. The triumph will be double if they succeed.

If you need help:

  • Telephone of Hope: 717 003 717
  • Prevention, dissemination and training program of the Spanish Foundation for Suicide Prevention: www.prevensuic.org
  • Website for mental health problems in young people. mind-u.cat
  • Association for the prevention of suicide The yellow girl.
  • Anar Foundation: www.anar.org. Free helpline for minors: 900 20 20 10

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