Don’t pass by

sad seated girlWhen I was in middle school and early high school, I would see kids in my grade who were struggling emotionally, and I would turn away, pretend I didn’t see their pain, and not give them another thought. I would feel bad, but I didn’t know what to do with that, and I certainly didn’t want my friends to think I cared about the super weird kid in math class who kept to herself. Teenagers can be cruel, and no way was I risking my somewhat okay level in the middle school social economy by showing compassion for someone who was so obviously different, strange, and maybe even dangerous for all I knew. No, I desperately wanted to fit in, and my status with my friends would not be jeopardized by some “emo kid.”

Three years later, I became that “emo kid” who got words like “bi-polar” and “crazy” and “weird” thrown at them as weapons instead of truths. I had my first episode, though it would be 10 years later before the mention of bipolar was brought up in a clinical setting as a feasible diagnosis, and the world as I knew it fell apart. My friends grew more and more distant as the hospitalizations piled up, and I would have given absolutely anything for a visit from my family. Everything I thought I knew about myself suddenly became symptoms of my anxiety, depression, and mania. You mean not everyone is absolutely terrified of social situations but sucks it up anyway? You mean I’m not supposed to consistently want to die at least half of every day? And you’re telling me I’m not supposed to wake up 8 to 10 times every night with bad dreams? And not everyone’s mood goes up and down as quickly as mine?

I found myself sinking deeper and deeper into depression with all this clinical exposure, and when I wasn’t in hospitals, it became harder and harder to pretend to everyone at school that I was doing well. I had appointments during school hours that I played off as doctor appointments, but were really specialists and evaluators to help with my psychiatric treatment. My grades were starting to reflect my absences as well. I was silently suffering, and no one at school bothered to ask how I was.

If I could change anything about my actions in life, it would be how I passed by that girl in middle school and did nothing as people ridiculed and ignored her. Because now I know what it’s like to not have a friend in the world to count on, and I know what it’s like to feel different and strange and unwanted by everyone you know. And how all you want to do is curl up in a ball and die, but you keep going anyway. Now, I don’t see that girl as strange, or weird, or dangerous. I see her bravery and resilience in visibly fighting a fight that none of us understood, but finding the strength to do it anyway.

Everyone who has a mental health condition, is fighting that fight in some capacity every day. Whether it’s hanging on for one more day when all you want to do is disappear forever, or dealing with those awful voices in your head that just won’t stop and are often very scary. Or going through trauma therapy or trying to get over your anxiety. Or even just talking with someone when you need to, or helping someone you think might need it. These are all very hard steps, and if someone, anyone, at school had stopped for me instead of passing me by, my journey might not have needed to take as long as it did.

It wasn’t until I was in the same shoes that I found my compassion, but it doesn’t need to get to that point. After all, we are all fighting something, some of us are just better at hiding it. Be kind. Be compassionate. Be open to embracing differences, not afraid of them. And don’t pass by.

Our guest blogger is a young adult who wishes to write anonymously.

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3 thoughts on “Don’t pass by

  1. Hi Lisa, I’ve been a middle school teacher for 20+ years and I definitely see what you experienced. I think the good news is that we (the middle school staffs) are more aware and therefore more able to teach/guide our youngsters in accepting differences between people. For example, mainstreaming is common place and children with all sorts of physical and cognitive challenges are within the classrooms since they are teeny/tiny. What would have been a stop-and-stare moment is routine.

    What saddens me is the dramatic increase I am seeing in the number of students that struggle with different anxiety and depression issues. I am not a pyschologist, social worker or mental health provider….just a science teacher who loves to teach science. So please excuse my lack of any clinical vocabulary mis-steps. But it is heartbreaking to see my students so paralyzed with anxiety that they cannot leave their homes…that we must have the attend class via Skype or FaceTime. I miss them when they are absent for long periods of time and thrilled to have them back when they are able to return.

    I do think about how they are perceived…and I’m 100% positive there are still cruel and mean-spirited people. But I also think that the 8th graders where I work are more tolerant. A meltdown or huge outburst is noted usually with the comment….”that’s just how they are. They’ll be OK in a little bit.” Followed by one or two that know how to comfort the student who had a moment. We all have moments. They are just different depending on who you are.

    I write this to give hope that schools are changing the culture as much as adults can. I don’t think we’ll ever get 2500 11, 12, 13 and 14 year olds to be kind and understanding 100% of the time. But it is a far, far better place than when I was teased and harassed in my middle school. I hated middle school. Now most of our students won’t leave and they like school (probably the social aspect more than the content)! Some even love school. Hopefully we will continue on this path of loving those around us and celebrating each person exactly as they are and where they are in the life’s journey.

  2. Hi Lisa,
    Thank you for sharing. My 10-year-old daughter, Maya, has some learning disabilities due to trauma and hydrocephaly. She is very young emotionally and socially, and does not process thoughts the way we do (for example, she does not understand teasing versus criticism). She is also overweight. She will be starting middle school in September and I am very worried as, as you said, these years are very difficult when it comes to bullying and “total meanness”. She will get a lot of services, which will contribute to her being labeled. The best I can do is pray, make sure she received those services, and, most importantly, love her.

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