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4 Words From My Teacher Saved My Life When My Chronic Illness Felt Like Too Much

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Chronic illness can take a toll on anyone who is affected — especially if you don’t have doctors on your side when things get rough. When new symptoms come up out of the blue and there’s no one to run to, you may eventually get tired of “being brave” or “pushing through the pain.” For some, the harsh reality of chronic illness might become too much, and they may begin to believe there is only one way out — suicide.

a teacher with her student dressed up in a poodle skirt for spirit week
Johna and her teacher during Spirit Week.

I was in the school bathroom one day after an administrator led me there because I had temporarily gone blind due to an eye condition called septo-optic dysplasia. For weeks prior, I had heard other kids whispering about me in the halls as I was walked to class. They said things like, “She only wants attention” and “She’s such a faker.” As I sat in the stall, I heard two girls talking, and I recognized one of the voices as a friend I’d known for years. She whispered, “You know she’s pretending, right? She just likes when the teachers pay attention to her. She should kill herself.”

I cried for a few minutes, then I decided she was right. There’s no reason for me to be here if all I am is a burden. No one wants to have to walk me to class or read all my math tests out loud to me. I knew what I had to do. A few days later, I came home from school and went to the kitchen. I grabbed the first pill bottles I could find and screamed to God that I’m sorry — but then I froze. I couldn’t do it. Something told me that I was going to get help soon, even though I didn’t understand how.

I hid the pain and dragged myself to school. I had to stay after school that day to finish a calculus test, so my teacher got out her book and sat next to me so she could read it to me, as usual. She knew something was wrong, so she gently encouraged me, thinking I was frustrated with the math. She looked at me with such sincerity as I sat there trying not to cry. She whispered, “You can do this,” and I realized that, finally, there was someone who cared. I apologized over and over for being “such a hassle,” and she reassured me that I was “not a burden” and to never think that I was any trouble. She said she’d “do anything for me.” For the first time in months, I felt happy.

a teacher helping a student take a test in the classroom
Johna and her teacher working on a test together with Johna’s video magnifier.

After that day, I looked forward to going to school, and I actually enjoyed learning calculus. My teacher helped me realize that I am strong and I do have a purpose, whether other people see that or not. I realized that my life was turning around, for the better. She instilled in me a passion to succeed and to live happily, despite my challenges and the bullying that I have faced. She is my role model, and I hope to be as great of a teacher as she is when I’m older. She has continued to help me through my senior year, and we’ve spent many hours working on calculus tests out loud together, even though we do get distracted quite often to tell a funny story or watch a video on Facebook.

Without my wonderful teacher, I might not be here today, and I also may not have pursued my dream of becoming a teacher to the visually impaired and blind. I am so blessed to have met who I believe is one of the greatest teachers. It’s amazing how someone can save your life with one simple phrase.

“You can do this.”

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

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Originally published: April 10, 2016
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