Tom Bendelow

I want you all to imagine a balloon - a color of your choosing. Now I want you to imagine that balloon in whatever you think of as your “safe space.” That might be on a beach, in an empty room, wherever. Now I want you to imagine the balloon inflating and deflating as you breathe. This was the exercise that my therapist taught me to do whenever I was feeling anxious or worried about something.

You know that feeling of your gut and your entire body sinking deeper and deeper within itself? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t - but that’s how I felt, and still sometimes do. I find my anxiety often comes out physically, my joints get stiff and sometimes my leg twitches, or my teeth begin to chatter. It’s strange how our bodies try to release certain feelings - or how they try to tell us when something is wrong.

I used to suffer from severe separation anxiety from my parents, in particular my mum (sorry dad). It’s why I started to wear a watch. My mum gave one to me so I knew exactly when she was going to be there to pick me up. Then it simply became a habit for me to wear one every day.

It wasn’t until recently that I really figured out what causes my anxiety… it isn’t necessarily separation or just stressful situations… It's the anticipation of something. The anticipation of change, in particular. Change is a huge part of everyone’s life, and mine is no exception. As I’m sure many of you know - my family and I moved to California from England when I was just a few months shy of the strapping age of two. I was obviously too young to really remember the move itself, and especially what our lives were like back in England; so for me, this change didn’t have much of an effect at the time. Throughout my childhood, however, it was the little things; like only getting to see my grandparents every other year, rather than every other week. Or let me tell you, being the English kid in an American history class… that’s a conflicting experience!

I came to RHP in 2015, and of course the time has flown by! The middle school musical, Honk Jr, rolled around and I was cast as Greylag, the goose! I know… don’t ask. But this was a huge turning point for me. In elementary I was the kid who actually wanted to sing in music class and who volunteered to sing at any of the all school events. But I never really considered myself an artist until I came to RHP. I remember when I was in sixth grade and on the other side of this podium being the person who filmed every senior speech. I found new ways to express myself and my messages; ways that I never before knew were possible. Becoming the president of Media Club and making short videos revolving around aspects of our RHP community and then sharing them at morning meetings. It was my first real exposure to what art truly is and how powerful it can be.

Fast forward three years to high school and I faced a very challenging decision… do I take Photo, or Theatre as my art for freshman year. At the time - I thought that I wanted to become a filmmaker, and that theatre and acting to me was more of a passion. Of course, my dreams have since grown and evolved. Now, I hope to sail the world; scuba diving and photographing our oceans to share their beauties with everyone. As soon as I walked out of our first Photo class of the year - I knew I’d made the right decision. I haven’t looked back since. Art has become my escape, it’s been my safe space… it’s been something I can always rely on and turn to whenever I need it. It’s been a friend. I often went in after school to have time alone with my art. Seeing the world through my viewfinder underwater, dipping my prints into chemicals and watching them come alive from a blank piece of paper, it simply never gets old. I often find myself starting to work at night, then looking over to see the clock read some crazy hour in the early morning. Photography is a time warp for me--similar to how you have no perception of time when you are asleep, photography can have the same effect.

Fast forward another four years and here we are. College… the next big change, a new chapter in my life. And when I say that my anxiety has been in full swing… It’s scary! The idea of leaving everything that you have known your life to be behind… Your family, friends, the bed you sleep in every night. We begin to settle into the middle lane of life, pootling along at our own pace and when these huge moments of change come we have a tendency to veer off course and maybe even lose control. Only recently have I learned that that’s ok. It’s ok and totally normal to be scared of these massive times of change in our lives. I think for me it was through talking with my best friend and my family that while obviously a lot would be changing… the things that really matter won’t. We will all still be there for one another, and we will always love each other.

Now, in no way have I overcome my anxiety. That’s simply part of how my brain works and how I go through life. But by finding coping techniques, and activities I can turn to, and having the most amazing and loving friends and family a person could ever ask for - I’ve learned how to manage it. So my advice to all of you; learn how to embrace change, and find the things and people that you love and enjoy. Find your coping mechanisms and find your safe space. As I’ve personally been wrapping my head around the next year of my life, and taking time to reflect on the skills I have learned and built through the past 18 years - I know it’s going to be ok, I will find my new safe spaces. So while it’s going to be sad and hard to have to leave the things and the people I love… I’ve learned to tell myself that this isn’t a goodbye, but rather a see ya later.