Thanks to the world of Twitter, I read yet another amazing article speaking about one’s journey in life with mental illness as a piece of their overall being. Marty Keltz is certainly a voice for creativity and an advocate of Jena Ball’s Not So Perfect Hat Club. Marty wrote a touching article acknowledging a different facet of depression that may not be familiar to many and how being diagnosed with such an illness is not a death sentence of any sort.
Marty’s heartfelt post was the final push I needed to at least acknowledge how mental illness has been a part of my life and why it has pushed me to be an advocate for student voice.
The long and the short of it goes as such: My father was diagnosed with depression when I was in elementary school. He did not share his battle with me until I was in high school where he told me that he was near taking his life on several occasions were it not for the love of my mother and myself. In this same conversation, he let me know that his memories of my childhood were shattered as a consequence of his medication and illness but he was committed to making new ones as I grew older. It was this point in my life the anxiety that lived within me would fully come to fruition and I myself would wind up with mental health issues that would cause me to distance myself from family and friends and seek professional help.
Fast forward to the age of 20 where my father, still seeking professional help and medication to ease his increasing symptoms of depression and bio-polar like symptoms, was driving me to university. Not more than 5 hours into the journey to Wolfville, NS from just outside of Ottawa, we would meet a cement truck wherein I was lucky to walk away, my father was not. All I could think about, for the first year or so, was my need to work like crazy to erase the memory of the accident and let go of the fact that I would no longer be able to create new memories with my father. I was fortunate to not downward spiral into an abyss self loathing thanks to the support of my family and friends and their willingness to listen and support me however they could. Thanks to them, I am a stronger person with a passion to ensure those around me feel comfortable with who they are and share their story.
The accident sparked a shift in me that I am grateful for but am left saddened that it did not come sooner. What this accident brought to light was a need to check in with those I love, those I respect, those I cross paths with on occasion. I wanted to become more aware of their signs for help and leave myself ready to listen. As a child, I was not fully aware of my father’s need to be heard or supported.
What Marty’s post reminded me of was my passion to hopefully instill empathy and compassion amongst those I teach no matter what their age. As educators, we need to be open to listen and create space for students to be comfortable with who they are and not the diagnoses they have received. My anxiety does not define me, it is a small piece of the puzzle that supports who I am and how I will support others. It provides me perhaps with a better understanding of how to approach my daily teaching practice given the many personalities of my students.
Student voice is more than engagement in the learning process, more than identity; its about discovering who you are and how knowing yourself will help you become the success you wish to be.
I recognize who I am, can you say the same?