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.