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Why My Mental Illness Made Me Want to Be a Teacher

As a student majoring in education and psychology, all the professors in each of my education classes have asked the class a simple question. This question is, “Why do you want to go into the field of education?”

Most times, the responses are pretty expected.

“I love ____, this subject and I want to teach students about all its topics.” 

“I love children.” 

“I want to make a difference.”

“I love helping others.”

“Why do you want to go into the field of education, Alizabeth?”

A thousands memories flash through my head. “Why,” you ask? See, from the earliest time I can remember I wanted to be a teacher. It’s a career that crosses lots of children’s minds. A lot of us didn’t really understand what careers meant. So, when I say I’ve always wanted to be a teacher it’s true, but I don’t think it really counted until high school.

I’ve been living with anxiety and depression for as long as I can remember. I wasn’t actually diagnosed until my freshman year of high school. This is when I hit rock bottom. By that time, I wasn’t going to school. I barley made it out of bed. I don’t remember eating very much. I didn’t want to be around anyone, so I isolated myself in my room. I started to let myself go. I couldn’t care less about my appearance. When I did look in the mirror, I didn’t even recognize who was staring back. I didn’t see a future, and I don’t think that even scared me at that time.

After seeing a therapist, and starting to get my life back on track. I didn’t want to go back to the same school. I felt like I would go back into a downward spiral, so lucky I transferred schools. For the first time in a while I started to forget everything that happened the year before, but it eventually started to get bad again, even if I was convinced it wasn’t. See, it was like a continuous headache that I would constantly tell myself over and over would leave.

We have all experienced good and bad teachers — ones that encouraged and truly cared for their students. Others picked who they wanted to help. Some teachers see the signs, but chose to ignore them. 

To the teachers that knew, but never did anything to help me — I was good at faking laughs and putting on a brave act, but you could see right past it, just like I could see the pain in someone’s eyes as their smiles turned into a gasp. I mean, was it really that hard not to tell? I guess to some of you, looking the other way was the easier thing to do. Some said I could do anything I wanted, but at that time I just wanted to make it through the day.

I used to lock the bathroom door and turn the water on, just to bury the silence. I buried the sound so no one could hear. I’d stare in the mirror, and wish the reflection could lie to me — that maybe I would be able to recognize the old me. Feeling so worthless made me skin and bones. These bathroom trips weren’t because I didn’t want to be in your class. Somedays I couldn’t handle sitting in a room full of people. I sometimes felt like all eyes were on me. The talking and laughing got so loud. I felt like everyone was living and enjoying life, but I was just trying so hard to just breathe.

From the cuts and bruises, to the familiar excuses. I could scream, but it wouldn’t make a difference to you. Somedays I would come to school with make up marks down my face. Could you not tell I was crying moments before? There were days that I did scream. I took my anger out on those who I felt deserved it, but I realize they didn’t. I was considered the “bad influence.” I wasn’t. See, I spent most of high school noticing the signs that some teachers turned their heads to. I helped my fellow classmates. Maybe I noticed some of the signs because I was going through the same battles, but others were just so obvious.

To the teachers who encouraged me, thank you. I was fighting with myself. I wasn’t only fighting to prove the other teachers right, but also myself. Most times I didn’t think highly of myself, but you reminded me I was enough, that I could be anyone I wanted to be. I was able to change, and I was smart. I was trying so hard to hide my inner battles; thank you for seeing them and not turning your heads. Teachers like you truly change students. I’m sure not many students have thanked you, but I’m thanking every teacher who has ever encouraged any student.

Thanks to these good and bad experiences, I know that I want to go into the field of education. Teachers aren’t just supposed to teach a subject, they are supposed to be role models for their students, to support and encourage them. It’s a teacher’s job to report any suspicions they have. This includes suspicions of abuse, self-harm, depression, anxiety, eating disorders and more.

Teachers are building students up to become nurses, doctors, business workers, etc. We change lives. We change society. We make change possible. Teachers are important, but some teachers aren’t in the field for the correct reasons. I want to be able to encourage and help my students push through any battle. I know what it’s like to fight with your own mind.

Most importantly, I’m the person I am today because of the faculty members who helped me see their was a future for me. I’m forever grateful, and I want to continue the work they started. Teachers will always be needed because education will always be important.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via TongRo Images Inc