by Anna Kennedy
I gained the tools to deal with tough situations. I had the same core Anna-ness, but my whole outlook was different. I [started] looking on the bright side of things and I became a much better communicator. It really changed the whole way I move through the world. Like, interacting with people I just became so much more receptive. It was as if [Dr. Z] pulled me out of my head and was like "This is the world, just go. Go do stuff out in the world and get out of your head."
Chapter 1: Growing Up
I had not the most remarkable childhood. My parents have always been together. They’re still together. They never really fought, so again, nothing out of the ordinary there. My dad is a police officer and my mom stopped teaching for a while right after I was born and my brother was born, but then she taught pre-school and then she was a school librarian and she’s a reading specialist, so she’s always been some form of a teacher.
I started reading pretty early and all that kind of brain stuff that was developed later really appeared pretty soon. Pretty much from the beginning, my book smarts were faster than everything else. So, I don’t want to say it like this, but I was too smart for my own good. I still couldn’t really understand my emotions or how I was feeling, and that divide, that issue, was right from the start. I was very angry, yell-y, tantrum-y. I was confrontational as hell, fought with everybody, fought with my brother. My brother and I hit each other all the time. I was very stubborn but overly so. I would get mad at my mom and follow her around the house and scream and scream and scream. I couldn’t help it, but thinking back I do kind of feel bad. But I was also very passionate about things when I was younger. I take after my dad in terms of being opinionated and passionate about things. I just have always been loud and obvious... I guess that’s a better word. I’ve always been just obvious about everything.
Hitting 3rd grade was when I was part of the gifted program for the first time. It was mostly like everyone telling me I was smart. And 4th grade was the year where I learned a lot about myself. I remember I kept having to get taken out of class because I would cry. But I look at pictures from 5th grade and like... I loved it. It was so fun.
Then there was Girl Scouts. I was in girl scouts up until high school, but I don’t remember a lot of specifics. I have this specific memory of us at a Children’s Museum or something. We had a mystery game where people had the names that were like Robin Ewe or Jay L. Byrde. That’s a lot of me thinking about the early parts of my life, is just me remembering very specific things. I feel like everyone’s childhood influences how you are as an adult, it just does. Like, as you grow up, the experiences you have when you’re younger affect you later, but I think a lot of things that happened when I was young happened later, like friend issues and emotion issues, and feeling not good enough at things. It all came back; it’s been very circular.
Chapter 2: The Most Beautiful, Awkward Era
The most beautiful, awkward era... middle school. The part of middle school that has ended up being the biggest part of my life now is joining band. I had decided when we were all trying out instruments, “I think all the brass instruments are too hard. I don’t think I can do it.” Then, I ended up picking out the French horn. I was like, “I don’t wanna play brass instruments,” and then I pick the hardest brass instrument.
We had a 1-week camp before 6th grade started where we were learning our instruments, and I hated it. All the woodwind people can play songs already, and even some of the other brass instruments can play, but when you’re a horn player, you have to suck for the first year. I remember sitting under the desk in my kitchen crying because I wanted to quit French horn, but my mom’s main thing was you have to at least do it for the year. I am very glad that my mom told me that I had to keep with it because I stayed with horn. By the time, maybe halfway through 7th grade, I was probably the best horn player at the middle school. I got a private lesson teacher, and that was like my big horn glow-up. I got really good really fast.
Another big part of middle school was my introduction to theater. Sixth grade, in my English class, we did a performance of Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was Mustardseed the fairy, a true icon that we all remember from the story of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Then when I was in Midsummer in high school, I was a nameless fairy in that! I literally downgraded; I was so bummed. Then I was like, “I’m gonna audition for Mulan. I’m gonna audition for the musical.” I don’t sing. That's the first time I ever sang in front of everyone, at the audition. I was cast first as the main elder. Then, the Mushu role opened up because the girl who was cast as Mushu had to drop out, and I was like “well, I’m gonna go for it. Just. I’m gonna go for it.” Then I got cast as Mushu - this was like the peak of Anna in theater. The costume was awful, but I had never done something like this before and it was so fun. Then after that I got to do Apostrophes, which was an acid trip of a show. I got to be one of the narrators with one of my best friends, and there was a whole scene that we improvised about how I had telekinesis and I was going to turn the lights on and all this stuff, and we ended up keeping it in the show because everyone thought it was funny. I had a lot of confidence during that time.
In middle school, I had the option to be in the high cohort, where I would be with the same people in all my classes all day. All my classes were supposed to be accelerated, but it had unforeseen complications. Like being with your friends all day in the same class is great at first. We had our fun times all the way up until the end, but it’s like the cohort is a bubble and you cannot escape. I was already very socially stunted, and you don’t meet other people, so it’s so hard to make friends outside of that. Then you had the teachers who didn’t know how cohort was supposed to work, so some of our classes were super easy, because they just gave us normal curriculum. The thing that’s affected me the most after. “The Cohort Syndrome.” You feel like you have to be better than everyone at all times to prove that you’re smart enough to be in the cohort. You just felt like you had to be better. They’re like “We expect more of you,” and thinking back, it wasn’t fair. We are also in middle school, along with all these other middle schoolers. It was frustrating because our emotional and social ages did not match our academic age.
I have a complicated relationship with it, because I don’t like the way the cohort syndrome has made me feel about things that I don’t start out being good at, but it has also fueled me to work hard in school. Maybe it’s not the best reason to, but it did do good things for me too. There were a lot of things that were bad about it, but looking back, it was the best choice. I would have been miserable in school if it was any easier than it already was. I would’ve hated school, and I love school. Plus our friend group was like the best friend group ever. It was so much fun. We were all obnoxious and stupid. I was fully allowed to be weird. I feel like only now, later, I’m allowing myself to be weird again and to love being weird. Now, I’m trying to allow myself to be, because I am truly weird inside, and I would like to revisit that.
Chapter 3: The Biggest Turning Point
Part A: Part A of this chapter is like, so far in my life, the rock bottom of the story. My transition into high school was not bad. It was pretty fine, but it had a lot of underlying bad that was happening the whole time. I had just gotten out of having a very solid group of friends. I was insecure, and I think that I was missing a bit of a support system. I had a boyfriend who was a junior at the time, and I really liked him. Then, I think it was in February or March, I got dumped over text on a snow day. There are a lot of reasons that lead into me being very depressed, but that was like the spark. I remember a lot from stuff my mom has told me, because when you’re in that kind of state, you’re not thinking right. I’ll be frank, I was suicidal during this period of my life, which is very scary.
I feel like I can talk about it now because I feel more separated from it, but even just saying it is hard. People don’t want to talk about it because it’s scary and it’s bad, but it’s like, I don’t know, you’ve got to talk about it sometime. It became this thing where even when I wasn’t super sad at a time, it would just be an instinctive thought. Like, something mildly bad would happen, and I’m like, “What if I just killed myself,” even when I wasn’t very serious about it.
There was one good thing that happened in the middle. I came out as [bisexual] like the summer before sophomore year, and that was a really good thing for me. I kind of thought about previous interactions I’d had with certain girls and I’m like, ok, I think I’m discovering some information about myself. So, I came out on Instagram with this amazing post. I posted a picture of myself on a swing and it said, “I swing both ways” and I was so happy. Everyone was so nice and excited for me and proud of me, but it wasn’t enough.
I had plans to go to a Supernatural convention with my friend, and she didn’t know this at the time, but basically, I was gonna kill myself after the Supernatural convention. I was like, I need to make it until then, I need to be in that, I need to go to that, and then I can just be done. So, shout-out to the Supernatural convention for being a literal lifesaver at the time. It was kind of a weird dynamic leading up to that point because how do you act when you have decided that you’re gonna die? You block a lot of it out because you just don’t care. Like, when you decide that you have one thing that you’re gonna live for and then you’re gonna be done, why care about anything else? Thankfully, once I got to the Supernatural convention, there were other things that were like, “I need to make it to this point and then to this point,” and eventually I got past the very touch and go part of things.
Part B: Now we’re gonna move into Part B, which is very exciting, very fun times. I went to a new psychiatrist, who was like, “I think you should go get mental testing.” A lot of times I feel like you only know about the “Let’s talk about your feelings” therapist and that those are the only things that exist in mental health treatment. I went to this place with this psychologist, and I basically just played a bunch of brain games. After that, we met with the psychologist and she was telling me my brain has trouble making connections from the left to the right side, and like, it just doesn’t have as many neuron pathways going through. I was diagnosed with nonverbal learning disorder. Basically, I’m bad at reading body language and tone of voice. So, my mom was like, “How is she going to fit in in the real world?” And the psychologist - she has a very hard to pronounce last name, so we just call her Dr. Z - said, “Well, why does she have to change for everybody else?” And that was like a weight lifted off my shoulders. I was floored. For her to just say that and take my side instead of taking my mom’s side was like, oh my God.
I went to therapy with Dr. Z for like a year, maybe a year and a half, but it changed my whole life outlook completely. I made a lot more friends after that than I had before. I talked to way more people, and I gained the tools to deal with tough situations. I had the same core Anna-ness, but my whole outlook was different. I [started] looking on the bright side of things and I became a much better communicator. It really changed the whole way I move through the world. Like, interacting with people I just became so much more receptive. It was as if [Dr. Z] pulled me out of my head and was like “This is the world, just go. Go do stuff out in the world and get out of your head.”
Music was the thing that was, like, really keeping me moving. Sophomore year is when I actually started to practice. I saw Morgan and Ella, and they were a year older than me and they were first and second chair, and I’m like, “I wanna play like them. I will never play as well as them, but I want to try, I want to work hard.” Then I got really good really fast. Marching band was good too. That was probably the year I had the most fun, because we had no freshmen, and we were a squad. The [mellophones] were killing it that year. Then junior year I was in pit for Les Mis, and that was so good.
Going from Part A to Part B in that chapter was the biggest turning point in my life so far. It’s like yeah, I’m only 18 - well I’ll be 19 very soon - but that, I think, has the possibility to be one of the biggest things to happen to me. I feel like I’ve gained the tools to deal with tough situations. The big thing that happened junior year was I shaved my head, and that was kind of like a physical thing that I think reflected everything I had learned and everything that had changed about me.
Chapter 4: The Music Year
The end of the previous chapter is all about me kind of figuring things out, and then this chapter is all about using that both in good times and the bad. It helped me accomplish a lot, but and it also kind of helped me work through some of the tougher parts of this chapter. I kind of neglected a lot of my school stuff. The combination of Physics and Multivariable Calc was more difficult than any other class had been before, and I was taking more shortcuts than normal my senior year. You had to put in the work for physics, and there were times when I got so behind on my homework so fast, like I would get frustrated and I would give up and I would not want to do it, and so I just got so behind. But then that second semester, I was doing better, and I really ended up liking the magnetism and electricity part more because I was making myself work for it. Once I understand something, I enjoy it more. I’m the kind of person where if I’m not good at something, I extra hate it. That’s “The Cohort Syndrome” again.
The biggest thing that happened to me that year was going to All-State. We went as a full band to perform at the Illinois Music Education Conference, and then I went as an individual. I had district auditions first, and I was very nervous. The previous year, I had gotten really sick before auditions and had a 101° fever or something when I auditioned, so my goal was just to make it into District band and not make a fool of myself. I practiced a ton that summer before senior year, and just played this piece over and over and over and over and over and over again. I found out that I made it, which was super exciting, then I found out I was playing on first part, and then I found out I was first-chair principal-horn in the district band. That meant that I had an automatic bid to go to state. We drove to Peoria, and I was very nervous because I had to re-audition for placement. My thought was, “I just have to make the honor band to not look like a chump.” Then we go to the audition, I go in and play, and I’m like... YES. I did exactly what I could have done. That’s the best-case scenario, I played as well as I could have.
Flash forward to standing outside, waiting for audition results to come back. I’m refreshing the page, and then I look at my name, and I scroll over. The number was all the way at the end, so you had to keep scrolling over, and then I keep scrolling, and it says 1. I was freaking out. I’m like “I’m technically the best high school horn player in Illinois at this moment.” That was the peak good experience. Like, playing was amazing, but that moment of knowing it all kind of led up to that point, that was the peak of that. The problem was, the peak of that year lead into the not as fun part of that year. I get back home and I’m like, “What now?” What do I work on?” And I kind of settled into being very unmotivated, and I was pretty unhappy. I convinced myself, “This is Senioritis, it’s Senioritis,” and then I was talking to my mom, and I’m like, “I’m literally the biggest idiot, it’s straight up depression, I should know this. I know what this is, I’ve gone through it before, I’m just dumb.” It took me so long to figure out what was going on.
My other big music thing from that year was being in the Honors Woodwind Quintet in the community youth orchestra. I became so close with people. To be really, intimately close with people you’re making music with makes it more rewarding. These are people that I will love and appreciate forever. I feel like making decisions about music is an intimate thing between you and music, and it really has to do with how you feel about stuff. To do that with other people, it strengthens your bonds with the people, but it also makes you a more conscious, emotional musician.
Senior year was the year of big accomplishments, the anticipation feeling of you know that a new chapter is coming soon, and saying a lot of goodbyes. You're saying goodbye to people, but you’re also saying goodbye to a dynamic, because you know it’s gonna change when you’re at school, and then when you come back from school, you’re a different person. Even if it’s just a little bit, even if you’re just a little bit different, you have new experience. I’ve lived in the same house my entire life, and all of a sudden I was gonna go live somewhere else for 4 or 5 years, and then even after that, and so it was like, this is... a lot of stuff is gonna change and I have to be ready, but I have to be open to what the hell is gonna happen, because I can’t really predict what’s gonna happen.
Chapter 5: A Kind of Culture Shock
I really feel like going off to college was the start of a new thing. I think that’s how it is for a lot of people, because it’s a complete change of environment. It’s all new people. It’s a complete kind of culture shock. I changed my path of what I wanted to do with my life. Like, before that I kind of wanted to be a therapist, I kind of wanted to do stuff like that, and then once I hit college, I committed to the idea of “I wanna be a psychiatrist, I wanna go to med school.” Something else I’ve noticed being in college is time makes way less sense now than it used to. Some weeks felt like they were a month long, but then months went by in seconds.
Joining the French horn studio is another important piece of that chapter because it introduced me to people I know I’m gonna be interacting with for the rest of my college career. Becoming a music major is also part of that. My horn professor has me doing a research project on performance anxiety. He wants me to eventually develop a kind of method for performers to use, specifically musicians, but something they can do to kind of silence all the craziness in their head and their body that makes them perform more efficiently. I’m looking at meditation apps and reading lots of books and different articles, and that’s kind of like my ongoing thing. Like, it will be a big part of this chapter when the whole book is done. It’ll be “The Kennedy Method,” and that would be the coolest thing ever.
Obvious: Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Growing Up
In which Anna recounts various stories from her childhood and how those stories affected herself and her life.
Chapter 2: The Most Beautiful, Awkward Era
In which Anna joins band and theater for the first time, belongs to her school’s “gifted program”, and discovers the ups and downs of middle school friends.
Chapter 3: The Biggest Turning Point
Part A: In which Anna hits rock-bottom, living with self-doubt and depression, but also comes out as bisexual.
Part B: In which Anna reaches the biggest turning point in her life so far. She begins focusing more on music, visits a new psychiatrist, and gained the tools to become a happier, healthier person.
Chapter 4: The Music Year
In which Anna makes strides in her musical accomplishments and prepares herself for going to college and saying goodbye to her friends, family, and way of life.
Chapter 5: A Kind of Culture Shock
In which Anna went away for school, felt the culture shock of living on a large campus, and found out more about herself and the future she wants.
About Anna Kennedy (in the future)
Anna Kennedy is a part-time psychiatrist and a part-time musician. She lives in Seattle with her partner and their two dogs. She is also an accomplished researcher, having published multiple academic papers on the psychology of music.