Monday, January 19, 2015

Hope in a Broken World

I wanted to write something to mark and celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. day.  I was born a little over a year after he was assassinated, but he still had a major impact on my life.  When I was in my late teens and early 20's I was dealing with depression and anxiety but didn't know it at the time.  I felt painfully isolated and disconnected from what I perceived to be a cruel world.  Reading his writings and learning about his courage in standing up to injustice inspired me. Despite the fact that I was completely unhappy I knew I wanted this in my life.  I wanted to make a difference.  I still do.

Here I am 25 years later, having healed so much from the scars of living with depression and anxiety, and I still look around and see a cruel world much of the time.  As a teacher I see decisions being made that are not in the best interest of students.  I look on Facebook and see my fellow teachers calling each other names and putting each other down simply because they disagree. I see an educational system that is being driven by people who don't understand a thing about teaching or have the least bit of concern for the children we are supposed to be serving.  I see students at my school who live in homes filled with violence, addiction, and abuse.  And then I look at statistics and see that every year nearly a million people attempt to take their own lives.  In sum, I see a broken world filled with suffering.

All of this hurts my heart, it makes me lose hope, and it just simply gets me down. It challenges my mental health on a daily basis. What it all has in common is that we seem so quick to dehumanize each other and there is a complete lack of compassion.  We forget that everyone has value.  We forget that we are more alike than we are different.  I desperately long for a world filled with more acceptance and kindness.  A world like the one Dr. King envisioned.

In addition to this, I also see many positive things in the world.  I have amazing friends and family who love me for who I am.  I am part of a church community that works to serve those in need and where  everyone is truly welcome.  I work with a principal and a group of teachers who put children first and set their egos aside to help students feel connected and make progress.  All students!  In the last six months I have met so many people in the mental health community who are doing amazing things to bring hope and love to people suffering with mental illness.  This discovery has been like finding a home I never knew existed.  I rarely feel alone these days.  There are multiple people in real life and online who I can reach out to when times are difficult.  This gives me hope, makes me feel strong and connected, and empowers me to keep working.

I struggle to reconcile these two worlds.  How do I stay positive and maintain my mental health without living in complete denial of the problems around me?  My most recent attempt has been to avoid all of the negativity that I can.  On Facebook I have hidden my school district's union page from my feed for my own sanity.  There is just too much bickering, negativity, and disrespect.  I can still check it if need be to stay updated on things happening, but it is not forced upon me.  I have done the same with several of my "friends" that post things that I find to be toxic.  I even removed several of them completely.  In real life I have a good bullshit radar and tend to naturally gravitate towards healthy and supportive people.  However, there are angry and bitter people I come into contact with just naturally.  People who I find to be passive-aggressive, who don't communicate directly, and who are generally negative.  I have been working to not personalize the behavior of these people. It's still very hard.

In my life, in addition to my family, I have two basic passions.  Teaching and mental health.  As a teacher I am passionate about children having a safe environment where they feel empowered and valued.  I am passionate in my belief that students are more than test scores, and that their social and emotional growth is every bit as important as their academic success.  My other, and more recently developed, passion is that as a mental health advocate.  I want mental illness to be seen just the same way as any other illness.  I want there to be no shame associated with having a mental illness.  I want people to be able to reach out without fear of judgment when they feel hopeless, alone, and suicidal.  We have a long way to go, but this is my work in life.  .

Teaching is my profession and I love it, but mental health advocacy is where I've found home.  Living with depression and anxiety has shaped and continues to shape every aspect of my life, and finding a community of people who share my passion and experiences has been the most life changing experience of my life.  In the last six months I have found my voice for the first time.  I never believed it would be possible to live openly with my mental illness.  I never dreamed that I would be able to use my suffering to help others.  And yet, here I am doing just that.

Dr. King stood up for what he believed in and constantly preached peace, love, and non-violence.  While I'm no Dr. King, I also have my own dream about how I can change the world. In searching around this morning I found a quote from him, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter".  It seems rare that people really speak about things that truly matter these days.  We are a country divided and our leaders are not working together to make the world a better place for it's citizens.  It's up to us.  We all have our passions, we all have the capacity to use them to make our worlds kinder and more full of love.  And the world can never have too much love and compassion.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Coming back out of my Shell

I haven't posted anything for a while, probably about a month.  I feel like I've lost my voice and confidence in writing.  I could say it's been about being busy, and while I have been, I've also been avoiding my blog.  As a matter of fact, I've been questioning whether I would just quit doing my blog altogether.  I'm not going to.  Something happened in the last week that has reminded me a bit about why I write. So here I am, writing again. 

I was having a conversation with a friend and they brought up the topic of my blog.  They thanked me for writing and told me they had some mental health struggles of their own that they are starting to get help with, but they are not ready to be open about it.   They also told me that when they read what I write it's like I am inside their head writing their thoughts.  I really needed to hear that.  I know it's important to feel good about myself without the affirmation of others, but sometimes I just really need to hear that what I'm doing is helpful.  It's hard to write things and not get any feedback, not know if anyone is reading it or getting anything out of it. 

This helped me remember one of the main reasons I write, and that is to let others know they are not alone.  Being out in the open now it's easy to forget how isolating it can be to suffer alone.  Heck, it's unbearably painful at times living openly.  And I guess that is my point.  In this conversation I had with my friend they mentioned several times that they didn't want to tell people because of the judgment they would face.  Battling any mental health issues is hard work, and adding the need to keep it from people can be so isolating and painful.  So even if people don't come out in the open, just knowing someone can relate and understands can make a big difference.  I know it does for me, and if my blog can do that for others than it is worth it.

But I don't only write for others, I also write for myself.  Living with depression and anxiety means that it's easy for me to want to crawl back in my shell when things get difficult.  It's easy to lose my confidence and not want to keep putting myself out there.  That's where I've been for a bit. Putting things out to the world helps take the shame away from me, and helps me feel more connected.

In the spirit of putting things out there, I will share two things with you.  I'll start with a challenge and finish with some exciting news.  Today I'm feeling horrible.  Tomorrow the family goes back to work and school, and the dread is weighing on me today.  This has been a challenging year for both of my kids, and the weekly routine and homework battles have been much more stressful than normal.  While I love my job and have an amazing class of 4th graders this year, there is increased stress there as well with massive changes and a lack of leadership and support from the district I work for.  I know I'll be fine once I get going on the routine, but for today it's dread and a complete lack of energy to do anything.

Despite my current mood, I also have good news as well.  I submitted an application yesterday to be part of a speakers bureau for Stop Stigma Sacramento.  I am not familiar with how it all works exactly, but I know that members of the speakers bureau share their stories at schools, businesses and other places in order to erase the stigma surrounding mental illness.  I'm terrified of this, but I know my fear will not decrease until I just do it.  So I will.  I'm not sure how quickly it will come together, but I'm excited to have taken that first step of submitting my application.  In the meantime, I'll continue to remember and trust that I can do this.  Not only that, but I know it will open new doors for me and help me grow and heal.