I’m not sure how it came up or why we were on the subject, but my 10th grade students starting talking about depression in class today. I have a rule about what subjects are taboo in my classroom. It isn’t because these topics are too controversial, it is because these kids tend to believe what I say. In my classroom, my words have weight. I have a captive audience that I could brainwash, so I make sure that I keep my opinions about certain things to myself. Those things are religion and politics. Each kid deserves the opportunity to have their own existential crisis about these things. I’m not about to let them off easy by handing them my opinions wrapped up in a bow. But what about crazy?? What about mental health? Students: “I told my mom I was depressed. She told me I was just lazy and makes me go to therapy every week. I have to go today.”
Me: “Well, that actually is a good step. Therapy is a very important part of managing depression.”
Student: “My mom stays in the room when I talk to my therapist.”
Me: “Ouch! You must not really be able to be open and honest when your mom is in the room.”
Student: “They just keep asking me about cutting. I don’t cut myself! Cutting myself would be idiotic. I think they would be happier if I was a cutter. There must be a manual on how to fix cutters. I’m not sad. I’m not lazy. I just can’t deal with it all on some days. I just want to stay in bed. Actually, that’s not true. I just want to be able to get out of bed some days.”
I want to scream, “I hear you! I know exactly how you feel. Your mom is wrong about you being lazy. Your mom is wrong about you choosing to be this way. You need help!”
Instead I pause and I think. I am not this girl’s mother. Her mental health is not my responsibility. There is a new line here and I’m not sure what the rules are about crossing it. Then I think to myself, “fuck it”. I have been clothing, feeding, buying supplies, giving emotional support, and helping these kids navigate high school for ten years. Teachers today are not just teachers. For some kids we are the only one that is watching out for them. Sometimes, we are the only one that gives a kid structure. We are the only ones trying to beat it into their heads that they are important. I can’t actually beat them. It is frowned upon.
Teacher: “I know exactly how you feel. I’ve been managing severe depression, anxiety, and ADHD since I was your age. It is a chemical and medical glitch that needs to be treated by a doctor. If you had a broken arm, your mom would not call you lazy. If you needed stitches, your mom wouldn’t tell you to get over it.”
So I carried on. I told them personal information. I told these 16-year-old kids incredibly personal information about my mental health. I ended the story by telling them about my 4 day stay in the psych ward last month because of a medication mix up. I also told them that the food was really good, the chairs weighed 100 pounds so that they couldn’t be thrown, and I have decided that the coolest people in the world are crazy people who are on their meds.
Here is what happened after I stopped talking. “Quiet Girl” in the back corner of the classroom, who hides her face with her hair, brushed aside her bangs and let me see her face. She was crying. She was also smiling. “Cool Boy” told me the story of when his mom had to be admitted to the psych ward. She is better now. “Low Self Esteem” girl asked if she could come by when I wasn’t busy and talk to me about something. “Therapy Girl” said she was going to try to really have a talk with her mom and maybe the therapist could help them communicate.
Other things happened in class today. I taught some vocabulary and we discussed the main theme of the book we are reading. I also told my class I was crazy today. I also told my class a couple of epic stories from the psych ward. Then I realized that I have a lot more epic stories about my depression, ADHD, and anxiety. If you combine that with the stories I have from going to high school every day and educating the masses, it has some blog potential. Let’s find out.