There’s this thing called a “Wellness Room” that some high schools offer. (We do, here in Belfast, Maine.) It’s for students and staff, run by volunteer professionals in a variety of modalities, to help reduce anxiety, stress, pain, illness, and provide a little education about somatics and self-care.
Do teens really need something like this? How stressed out are they, really?
Yes. And: quite. And: should you think otherwise, I invite you to take a trip down memory lane…way back…for some of you, way WAY back…to when you were a juvenile, and just: recall. I am gonna do that, too, right now, so we feel our old hearts soften like roasting potatoes.
1988: I was a pretty good student, with fine intentions, well-behaved mostly. At a certain point, though, my guileless interest in life got overrun by irritation with my parents, angst over the condition of the world, constant crushes and heartbreaks, and nothing but hot distaste for authority. Jaded, at the ripe old age of 17. OUT, I just wanted out.
My best friend told me the school nurse would let you rest on her cot, if you needed it. I tried my luck during study hall. Sure enough: when the nurse asked me, “Why are you here?” and I said, “Oh, I, um, well. You know.” – putting on my best distressed yet glum look – she sighed and said, “Well, do you want to just lie down for a while and see if you feel better?”
Wherever this school nurse is now – she worked at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School in Lansdale PA in the 1980s – I wish I could find her, kiss her hands (if she’d let me), and thank her as profusely as I could without making her feel weird. Because she saved me. Nine times out of ten, if I was going to see her, I really felt like I was coming apart at the seams.
I turned out okay, but it was her and other key adults in my life who made the difference for me: who had the courage to look beyond my posturing or sassiness and encouraged the struggling spirit within.
Our Belfast Area High School Wellness Room is a haven, a safety zone for the distressed, be they student or staff. In the British sci-fi classic, “Dr. Who,” the Doctor only endures his 5th regeneration in the TARDIS’s Zero Room: a place cut off from the rest of the universe, meant for recuperation. That’s what our wellness room is like.
We have professional practitioners – massage therapy, Reiki, chiropractic, etc – who volunteer their time and expertise to the aid of headache, pain, sports injury, total exhaustion, anxiety. With signed parental permission, kids can drop in for 15-20 minute sessions during free time.
(Staff can come in any time they want, if they can get away. “Ten minutes is better than no minutes!” I call after them, after they arise from the table, smiling and blissful, grab a quick drink of water and scurry down the hall. “See you in a few weeks!”)
I want every teenager to have a chance to catch their breath, starting with the ones where I live. I needed it when I was their age, and Lord knows they need and deserve it now. I don’t have kids of my own (out of choice: not into babies) so maybe that’s one reason it’s easier for me to see them as people, not problems.
The kids are alright because they are going to be fine soon enough. “Just make it through the next four years,” I encourage them, if they drop in all hung-about in the face or in a frenzied lather. “It gets better. I promise you.”
They give me the hairy eyeball. “No really,” I insist. “Hang in there. If you can get through this, you can get through anything.”
The kids are alright because we have cultural amnesia. Go ahead and lament today’s teens all you like: that’s a loathsome, boring, favorite American past-time, and has been ever since girls first bobbed their hair and boys put on plus-fours; probably before that. Kids have been rotten for centuries, and have produced moderately successful generations regardless.
You remember? That horrible half-world between being an old child and a young adult? Everyone wants you to act responsibly and behave yourself, but no one feels ready to give you any power over your life. It would bring out the worst in anyone, especially one with turbulent hormones and a curfew. (If you don’t remember this, I don’t know that you really got to be a teenager, but congratulations anyway.)
The kids are alright because they are you: they are me. They are small versions of whoever will be running the world in fifteen, twenty years. I don’t have much faith in institutions, creeds, manifestos or trends, but I do have faith in people, and I have faith that these kids are going to do the best they can. They certainly are trying their best, right now.
I can’t help it: I am a massage therapist. I’m trained to love, and treasure the glowing heart, bright spirit, and incredible wonder of every human I touch. Regular massage therapy makes a difference for?…just about everybody. And even in 15-minute increments, for kids in between Science and Spanish class, it can mean the difference between recidivism and resilience, acting out or growing up.
To find out more about the Belfast Area H.S. Wellness Room, and the one that started it all – Camden Hills Regional H.S. Wellness Room – please check out the article that was written about both schools in the Bangor Metro magazine, March 2013 “School Serenity: Wellness Rooms at two area high schools are empowering students to speak up for their wellbeing.”