I wrote this a while ago but didn't post it. With me leaving on saturday, I guess I've finally decided it's time.....
Let's talk about mental health. I find that many people will go one of two ways on this, either brush it under the carpet or become a spokesperson for all those suffering from mental health issues. I don't think I fit either of these, though perhaps by staying quiet I'm brushing it under the carpet without knowing.
The problem is if you suffer from depression or at least for me, it is seen as a bad thing by those you work for or with. Things are changing, but slowly. Quite simply I'm embarrassed to admit, at work at least, that I suffer from depression. I think as a teacher you have to constantly project this strength and for me depression makes me feel weak. I know now looking back that I should feel the opposite, I'm a survivor, I'm strong. But, still, I'm rarely able to discuss such a critical part of myself with my colleagues, or, God forbid, the students.
On the rare occasion that I have slipped it into conversation, the reaction is usually 'I would have never have thought that of you'. One even said ' I would never have associated you with the D word', to which I replied ' it's OK you can say depression! ' But, is it OK?
We live in an equal opportunities world, and on an intellectual level I know that I cannot be discriminated against for having depression. However, schools are like a melting pot for gossip. The staff are just as bad as the students, if not worse. I guess my biggest fear was being treated different and people just not understanding. But then again if people understood it wouldn't be a problem talking about it. For me, the worst part was people asking why? What have you got to be depressed about? At the time I could have listed a hundred things but now, I can honestly say none. But that's not the point. You're not depressed because you lost a loved one, that's grief. I was depressed because I was depressed. There was and is a chemical imbalance in my brain. I spent many nights hating myself for being depressed over nothing and it probably contributed to me getting as low as I did. I can't help but think if people had understood that one key thing, I could have got help a lot sooner.
I've heard depression described as a black cloud hanging over everything, which is kind of true. I could be laughing on the outside but inside I just wanted to cry. for months I only left the house to work and I rarely left my room while at home, I barely ate and I didn't talk to anyone. When I did start going out I begun to have panic attacks, which only made me feel like a burden. Anyone who tried to be my friend I decided only did so because they pittied me. I isolated myself from my family, screaming at them because they left a light on. I don't know how I made it through a day teaching, but school was always my safe place.
As it was I did eventually seek medical help, after a particularly awful placement in my teacher training year. I got a councilor and begun to talk to my friends again. Most of whom were genuinely trying to help in any way possible. My councillor encouraged me to tell my parents what was going on, my Mum did not understand, I still don't think she 'believes' in depression, but at the time I didn't have the energy to convince her and now I don't really bring it up. Luckily my Dad was super supportive and understanding. I learnt a lot of things from the councilor, not only that what I was feeling was OK and that I could be helped, but also that I didn't just wake up one morning with depression, there were a lot of things that I thought were normal that were actually caused by my anxiety and depression. For example
- Apparently it's not normal to always assume no one is coming to your party. Or to turn up to an event half expecting that some one is playing a joke and there is no event.
- I have an inner voice that is a bit of a bully.
- not everyone has a thousand things they hate about themselves.
Once I realised these thoughts were all caused by my depression it was a whole lot easier to start to get better. Over the course of a year I sorted a lot of issues out, gave a lot less thought to the things that hurt and focused on the positives. Meditation helped a lot but not nearly as much as having friends that I could call after a bad day, who would be there for me or just give me a hug. I'm proud to say now that I am happy with who I am.
I wanted to tell you I'm happy now so that it would be OK to say this next part. There are 2 points in my life, during the time where I was really suffering, that I can look back and know I never want to be that bad again.
1. The one and only time I seriously contemplated ending it.
2. The day I decided I needed to run away from everything. The day I decided to go travelling.
Both were made while seriously depressed but in different stages of dealing with it. The first is what led me to see a councilor, so in a way it needed to happen. The second, whilst the decision was made to do it, I ended up being talked into finishing my NQT year first. So what was an idea to run away became, if I stay for one more year, this will be my reward. And I can honestly say this has been one of the best years of my life, I'm happier, healthier and I know far better now who I actually am and what I want to do with my life (just maybe not where I want to do it).
So to anyone out there that suffers from a mental health problem.....we have to talk about it, because only we know what it's actually like.
"No author has stuck with me throughout the years as much as Dr Seuss. He's the one author I will always go back to and still love the silly rhyming and even sillier names. As a child I loved the stories and there were always lessons to be learnt no matter how abstract at the time. When I read them again now, and yes I definitely do, I can see how many things Dr Seuss taught me! The stories and lessons still valid today as an adult if not more so than when I was younger.
I think you can all guess the story that I most relate to now.. ' oh the places you will go '. It is literally a guide to travelling. It encourages exploration and discovering new things, not staying with the same people all the time, going off the beaten path and forging your own. It expresses everything I feel about my plans next year. If you've never read it, do it now. stop reading this and find it! It's that good. Though you may end up doing what I did and quitting your job to go travelling!
But that's not the only one that has taught me something, with the Christmas season upon us how could I not mention 'the Grinch' so famous that grinch is now an actual word. Not the usual cartoon santa but an unappreciated, misunderstood main character. One who started off so nice and sweet but got chewed up by the world and turned into something else. With the love of one little girl he is saved. There are a lot of parallels here for me. I could name kids for days who are stereotyped naughty, a word I hate, but if you see where they come from and what they've dealt with in life, it's a miracle they're in school at all. Some of these kids are my favourite, if you can get through to them you can do so much good! Maybe not grow their hearts three sizes, but at least give them a chance to help themselves.
I think by far the most fun and well known book is ' green eggs and ham '. The amount of kids I've taught who have bulked at even trying something new! As one kid said today ' what's the point if I'm probably not going to get it right '. Because by definition probably means you still could! But this is tenuous at best, green eggs is the classic story of a kid not wanting to try new food. But it turns out that food is actually really nice. I could give you hundreds of metaphors here: don't judge a book by its cover, you'll never know if you don't try it.....but at the end of the day to me this book is about always taking the risk to try something, because out of a hundred things if one is amazing it's worth it.
A lesser known but still fantastically brilliant book is ' Horton ', a loveable giant, who spends a year sitting on an egg. He is the definition of perseverance. If we all had half a much perseverance as Horton we could accomplish anything. I wish I could take some of him at put it in every child I teach. If you don't give up, you can do anything. Even turn a bird egg into an elephant / bird hybrid!
A strange post I think we can all agree but rereading these books recently gave me a boost in these last few weeks of term and cheered me up endlessly. I may take one in to school just to read after a bad lesson.
I'll leave you with some of my favorite quotes from various books ( because you know how much I love a quote). Begrudgingly I've limited myself to my top ten, feel free to comment your favourite or any particularly relevant ones to us teachers.
1. “Kid, you’ll move mountains!”
2. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
3. “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
4. “So, open your mouth, lad! For every voice counts!”
5. “Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.”
6. “You’re off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So get on your way!”
7. "You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go..."
8. "why fit in when you were born to stand out"
9. "I have heard there are troubles of more than one kind. Some come from ahead and some come from behind. But I've bought a big bat. I'm all ready you see. Now my troubles are going to have troubles with me!"
10. "be who you are and say what you mean. Because the mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind"