When I Told the School I Taught at the Real Reason I Was Hospitalized
I entered the hospital with only one thought in my mind: I wanted to kill myself. My thoughts weren’t focused on the high school students I taught English. Even though they were normally the focus of my thoughts. Because when you’re at that point, the things that are important to you become smaller and smaller until they’re tiny blips on the radar — if they’re even on the radar at all.
During my stay, I became confident about returning to work. I had received letters and notes of encouragement from my principals as well as my students, even though they had no idea why I was actually in the hospital. My first semester so far had gone smoothly. My administrators liked me and I was coaching cheerleading. I couldn’t wait to be back at school with my students. The vice principal had even wrote in her note to me to take as long as I needed to get well.
After my release from the hospital I wanted to tell them the truth. I wanted to know what was “wrong” with me and where I had been. I didn’t have to — but I wanted to. This become a major regret. Things changed after that. And they continued to get worse.
The morning of my return back to school after spending a month in an outpatient program, I had a panic attack. Based on the treatment I received after my fateful email — standoffish phone calls if they were returned, a substitute who told my students why I was absent (meaning that an administrator had to have informed him), being stripped of my title as cheerleading coach and the fear that my job wasn’t as secure as I once believed — I was terrified. I was allowed back in my classroom for one day. And then the substitute would be back to take my place for the rest of the semester. I was to spend the remainder of the semester in the library. I wasn’t allowed in my classroom or the use of my laptop or tablet because he needed it to “teach.” My second day in the library he cleared out all my personal belongings from my desk and had a student bring them to me. He told people that he would be taking my place. He told my students I was no longer their teacher.
One day I was sent home twice for dress-code violations while other coworkers walked the halls in jeans and t-shirts. I was devastated. And this sort of treatment continued. I became suicidal again, spending my days crying and sleeping as soon as I returned home after school. My saving grace was that I was protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This didn’t stop them from watching me under a microscope — looking for any mistake so that they could add it to their list of reasons I was incapable of being a teacher.
There were days I wanted to give up. Give up completely. Then I’d see my students, and I was reminded of why I needed to keep going. Why I needed to stay strong against the hostile treatment from my administration. I needed to stay strong for them. There was no way I could abandon them just because there were people who wanted nothing more than for me to quit. To be run out. They wanted to be proven right — that because of my illness I wasn’t fit to be a teacher. I became obsessed with work. Coming in at 6:30 a.m. every morning and not leaving until 6:30 or later every night. Never missing a day. Turning in detailed lesson plans. Making sure every item was crossed off. I received positive scores from my evaluations and things began to look up. Relations became friendlier between administration and myself. I became confident my contract would be renewed and I would return to the high school and the students I had formed strong bonds with.
The Friday before Spring Break proved my confidence was ill-fated. I was informed I would not be returning next year. They provided a list of reasons as to why they didn’t think I should be — most were untrue. But how could I prove that? It would be my word against theirs. Theirs being people who should have been supporting me and helping me through my first year of teaching. People who, in accordance with ADA, should have been working with me to complete a plan to accommodate me at work. People in a position of leadership who did not use their position to create a positive environment. People who should have the students’ best interests in mind. People who abused the power they were given for their own advances. People who should have encouraged teachers to work together instead of creating divides between them.
I was devastated. I returned to my room where a few students were hanging out with tears in my eyes. They hugged me as I cried. And then I became angry. I was angry at the administration for their ignorance and foul treatment. I was angry they had won. I was angry I had lost a battle I was fighting for everyone struggling like me in jobs that they loved.
I began applying for other teaching jobs in neighboring districts after being told no school in my district would hire me after they saw my personnel file. I made contact with principals who told me they would love for me to work at their school. My administrator told me she would write me a letter of recommendation. I requested one from her. She told me that she would have it to me by the end of the day. I received no such letter. Emails regarding it were met with silence. And then I was informed she refused to write one. Ruining my chances of being hired at another school.
One afternoon before the semester was over, I sat in my classroom with a few of my students. We were discussing what I would do next year and one of them brought up that I should be a guidance counselor. All of a sudden things clicked in my brain. They say that everything happens for a reason. Cliché but it actually rang truer to me in that moment than it ever has.
I began putting together an application for graduate school. They wanted a letter of intent. So I wrote them one. I spoke about my illness. My struggles with it. And how it would add to my success as a guidance counselor. A few weeks later I received a letter telling me I was accepted.
I was accepted into the program even though they knew about my illness. They still believed I would one day make an effective guidance counselor, regardless of my illness. And I regain faith that there were people in authority whose intentions were focused on the right things. That there were people out there who understood, and understood that just because I’m sick doesn’t mean I can’t be a successful professional.
This fall I will begin graduate school full-time, working towards my goal of being a high school guidance counselor. And I would like to thank the administration that tried to tear me down. You tried to make me feel as though I was less. You tried to keep me down. But you didn’t. Instead, you gave me the strength to get up. To know I am capable. I am capable even though I might struggle with an invisible illness — you are wrong about me.
I no longer regret telling the administration about my illness. And I shouldn’t. I shouldn’t have to be ashamed of who I am. The more shame I carry, the less of a chance we have of erasing this stigma.
We’re more than they think we are. We are together in this. And we must fight together in this. We can’t let other people’s ignorance or lack of understanding keep us from succeeding. We are stronger than they realize because while we might have trouble getting out of bed many days — we eventually do.
Follow this journey on Twenties in Ruin.