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A Letter to Teachers, From an A+ Student With a Mental Illness

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Dear high school teacher,

I admire your knowledge and all you have to offer your students. But I would like to bring something to your attention. I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and can be overwhelmed with panic attacks and episodes of severe anxiety as a result. I would like you to know something else. At the end of last year, I completed the school year with a 95 percent average while attending as a performing arts honors student. I am a musician, speaker and performer. I grew up being honest and raw on stage. I travel the world and go on service trips as often as possible I have a lead in this year’s musical. Earlier this year I was awarded with a provincial and federal award from the governor general. I have a wonderful family, beautiful, loving friends and a roof over my head. I have major depressive disorder. I have a mental illness. It may not make sense to you. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to me. But it is real, it exists, and denying it will only make it worse. I have major depressive disorder. And I would like you to know a few things.

When I come and ask for an extension on my lab report, I’m not being irresponsible or making an excuse. I may have to go to the doctor’s office or hospital for appointments to address the fog that blurs my mind of any sense of hope for the future and numbs me from any remote sense of emotion. Upon coming home, I try to sleep. For the last three days, I was able to rally up a total of three hours of sleep due to my illnesses, and this was the first time my exhaustion allowed me to close my eyes for longer than the slim hour a night that left me hanging on by a thread. I had no energy and physically could not get out of bed. That night, my friends were going to dinner and I stayed home because I was too tired and overwhelmed to take the blanket off me or turn on the lights. I promise you I would much rather write a lab report than spend my days driving back and forth from hospital appointments and the darkness of my room.

When I tell you I have to go home, I’m not de-prioritizing your class. I’m on antidepressants. I’ve forgotten my meds in the morning and needed to take them immediately. It’s not a pleasant feeling. Trust me. I’d much rather be copying notes and doing practice math questions. You may think my medications are “happy pills,” a short cut, useless, weak or unnecessary… I’ve heard it all. But I can assure you those statements are anything but the truth. There is no immediate cure for my mental illness like a “happy pill.” I take antidepressants to help me tolerate and live life to the best of my abilities despite the circumstances. It’s not a crutch. It’s not taking the easy way out. It is brave and the farthest thing from weak.

If you call me out in class, I can easily have a panic attack. When I need an extension on a test, I need to be taken as seriously as you would a student with a fever. Just because you cannot see what is wrong with me from the outside does not mean I am faking it. Just because I get high marks on tests does not mean I’m lying when I say I need a personal space to take them in or more time on them. Do not let my smile confuse you.

I am not writing this letter to tell you that you are a bad teacher. Because you are a great teacher. And a human being. There are just some things I wanted you to know the story behind the high grades. I am writing this because I want to help you understand that my illness is not a character flaw. I am writing this to help you understand there is so much more to me. And most importantly, I am writing this to help you understand I am a human before I am a student. Therefore, I will put my wellbeing first at all costs.

Your student with a story.

Originally published: January 31, 2017
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