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How Major Depression Affects My Ability to Be a Teacher

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

I was 17 when I was diagnosed with depression. School was my safe place, and I turned to my schoolcounselorss and my teachers in my time of need. This was one of the many factors that led me to choosing education as a career path.

Becoming a teacher was a long journey, but it was one of the most exciting days of my life when I got my first job.

I have an amazing job with extremely supportive colleagues. However, it doesn’t seem to ease the fact I self-stigmatize… a lot. I am often concerned about anyone noticing I’m struggling. I feel extreme guilt when I take a sick day, even though I have protection in my teaching contract to take them as needed.

My students need me to be there for them not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. I need to be able to make decisions, take action and support them. When you feel numb inside, it seems nearly impossible to be a good teacher.

Depression also tells you lies about yourself. I regularly hear in my mind that I am a terrible teacher, that I don’t deserve to live or that I’m not cut out for this career because of my mental illness. When I’m in a depressive episode, my mood swings up and down rapidly. One moment I have patience, but the patience soon slips away and I am left frustrated. I sit down more often and I have less energy to help and support my students. I still give everything I have, but that everything is far less than it usually is.

I get overwhelmed like everyone else, but usually being overwhelmed results in the depression telling me to self-harm, or to attempt suicide. I cry, I lie in bed, I fight the thoughts and then, in the morning, I get up and do it all again.

Some days are better than others, and by no means do I blame my career for my depression. However, I realized my life as a teacher will not be like that of other teachers. I won’t have smiles all the time like I want to have. Days I have to take off for medical appointments will include psychiatry and psychologist appointments rather than the yearly checkup. I might assign more worksheets when I am extremely depressed rather than coming up with fancy and creative lessons.

Being a teacher with mental illness can feel isolating. Society has a tendency to put a lot of pressure on teachers to be perfect role models who don’t falter. I don’t share my struggles with my most of my colleagues, but the one or two who do know are my lifelines.

If you’re a teacher who struggles with depression like me, be compassionate to yourself. How would you treat a student who came to you feeling the same way you are feeling? What would you say? Would you be kind and compassionate toward them?

Likely the answer is yes, so please be kind to yourself. You are doing the best you can, and that is more than enough.

Getty Images photo via AndreaObzerova

Originally published: January 24, 2019
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