I have been on this planet for 49 years. I have been teaching for 24. I have been a mom for 21. Sometimes I feel like I really know what I am doing and have this whole life/teaching/mom thing figured out. Sometimes not. I think I maybe I will never have it all figured out, but I keep trying and I think that is ok.
I have taught many subjects over the years in Social Studies, Spanish and Home Economics – including Living Skills and Positive Psychology. I try to be a teacher who students can talk to. I don’t think I am always successful. Some students seem to be comfortable talking to me about their lives and others don’t. I think some just click with me and for others there will be a different adult they can trust. I have not figured out what the magic formula is, but being a good listener and available to talk is part of it.
There have been several times that a student has stayed after class or stopped by another time to talk to me about something heavy going on in their lives. I have connected many, many students with counseling services. But to be brutally honest, since I have been here for a while and working here through all of the suicides, it scares me on a daily basis that there might be a student who is struggling, whom I could help and I won’t know it. I am scared that I won’t figure it out in time and I won’t get them the help they need. I know on an intellectual level that I can’t possibly help every student who walks into my room with every problem they might be having. But in my heart, I live in fear that I will miss something. Our school and our district have created lots of ways to support students and teachers. But even with all of that support sometimes I can’t keep the fear at bay. The one thing that seems to help me when I am really stuck in that fear is to talk about it to my colleagues. Many of them live in that same fear and we do a pretty good job of helping each other through it.
As a mom, I try to be a good emotional support to my own children. It is hard to know if I am doing everything I can on this front as well. Sometimes they want to talk to me. Sometimes they do the stereotypical teenage thing and when I ask how they are doing – they say everything is “fine.” When I have been most successful in getting my kids to talk to me, it has been when I wait until they are ready and don’t keep pushing just because I want them to open up. Yet that is so, so very hard to be patient when you are worried about your own kid.
My older son is currently a senior in college. He took Positive Psychology at Gunn (from a different teacher, not me – that would be awkward). Having a mom who is open to the point of embarrassment about all things social emotional and taking Positive Psych meant that when in his freshman year of college he was having trouble keeping it all together he knew what he needed to do – ask for help. He called me, I went to see him at school, we went to the beach and talked and talked then we found a therapist in his town. He has been seeing her for a few years and is managing school and life quite well even though there are good days, bad days, and somewhere in the middle days.
There is a history of depression in my family. I had a pretty intense bout of postpartum depression after my second son was born fifteen years ago. I never saw a doctor about it, just struggled through and finally figured it out months later. Looking back, I really wish I had talked to my doctor about it. A few years ago I was suddenly having trouble getting work done, felt tired a lot and couldn’t quite figure out what was going on with me. I have seen a therapist at three different times in my life. Once for several months my freshman year in college, again for a few years when I was going through a divorce, and later for a few months after the suicides in 2014. None of those therapy sessions were about depression – they were about managing specific difficulties I was having at that time. I teach about the signs of depression in my Living Skills classes – yet I still didn’t clue in what was going on with me this time. I thought I just needed to sleep more and work harder. Then my boyfriend convinced me to go to my doctor who did diagnose me with depression and prescribed medication. I know some people are anti-medication. But this felt like something different than anything I had experienced before. It felt like although I did need to talk about it and get more exercise and all of the things I know to be good for battling depression – those weren’t enough for me at this time. So, I went on the medication while I continued to do all of the other things and within 3 weeks I began to come out of the fog I felt stuck in. The medication makes the serotonin levels in my brain more normal. I have continued to focus on exercise, nutrition, yoga, meditation and lots and lots of talking while continuing the medication. This summer I even hiked 234 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail! There is no way I would have been able to do that if I had not been dealing with the depression head on and fighting it with every weapon I could think of.
I think it is almost impossible to be a human being living and working with other humans and not need the services of a therapist at some point in your life. Just like at some point in your life you are going to need to see a doctor for an ear infection or a broken leg. I think we, as a society, are getting better at viewing mental health challenges as no different than physical health challenges – but we still have work to do in this area. I was very nervous when writing this as I’m not sure if I want everyone to know about my own or my family’s mental health struggles – I really worry that some people will judge me or my child. I hope that if I talk about it maybe that will make it easier for someone else.
I don’t know all of the answers – but I do know that it helps to show up, pay attention, be present and available to talk, mostly just listen and sometimes – if you are lucky – you will be let into another person’s world and maybe even be allowed to offer some assistance.
Thanks for listening.