Mandy Froehlich · Mental Health Issues · PLN · reflections · relationships

Destigmatizing the Depressed Educator

I have used my blog as a professional outlet, as a way to work through issues and thoughts in a way that has allowed me to grow and change as an educator. While the nature of educational blogs requires a certain level of filtering, I have been as honest as I can knowing that the best way we can all grow is if we address all the elephants in the room. But, I’ve had a personal elephant as well that I try to keep in the corner, and I’ve recently realized that ignoring the issue allows others to feel alone and perpetuates the social stigma and allows it to win, and I’m not a girl who likes to lose. Ever.

Education has gotten better at recognizing mindfulness and mental health. We take brain breaks, practice yoga in classrooms and we teach deep breathing exercises to kids. We have started to recognize teachers and their mental health as well, and have begun to teach them mindfulness as well as tips for dealing with secondary trauma and stress. But, in order for our mental health to be optimal, we need to also recognize mental illness, and nobody wants to talk about that. We want to work on getting people mentally healthy without recognizing that some people need additional help and support beyond Downward Dog. It’s a challenge for some to recognize these issues because the parts that are broken you can’t see from the outside. They are not physically obvious like a broken bone or sprained ankle. There are no casts or braces. Because of the nature of our profession, many of us are fantastic at hiding the issues with smiles and fake cheerfulness which seems genuine because we have had a ridiculous amount of practice at making it that way.

We are often told that we need to leave our personal issues in the car when we come to work, and I totally, 100% agree with this. Depression is not an excuse for dumping our problems on our students or the people around us. Our students have enough on their plates. They do not need the personal issues of adults added to them. That is incredibly unfair to do to them. That means, however, for people who are dealing with a true mental illness like depression or anxiety, our ability to hide our feelings is of the utmost importance. It is not optional. It is absolutely imperative that our students only get the best versions of us, even if it is temporarily not the real one.

Depression is not about choosing to feel happy or sad. It is not about choosing to smile or be serious. Nobody would choose to have these kinds of feelings if they could help it. It’s like having a disconnect between the logical and the emotional side of your brain. I have depression and anxiety. My emotional brain is my biggest, most effective and dangerous bully. It tells me every morning that I’m fat and worthless, that I’ve done nothing with my life and I matter to no one. It tells me that the world would be a better place without me and that although other people tell me it would be selfish, I would actually be doing a service to the people so they didn’t have to “put up” with me. My logical brain tells me that part of my brain is defective and I should ignore it, and I hold onto logic like a liferaft to get me through tough moments. Minute by minute I work through my day. I focus on breathing in and breathing out because I find sometimes that I’m  holding my breath. If I can get through one minute, I can get through the next. I have a difficult time compartmentalizing simple things because I work so hard to keep this part of myself under lock and key. I sometimes sit at my desk and cry when everyone else has left the office because I am exhausted from all the effort of being “normal”. In my darkest times, I feel like I have more than a broken heart, I have a broken soul. Yet, I get up every day, go to work, put on a smile, and work with and for our kids. I use humor as a defense mechanism. Sometimes, the happier I seem, the more depressed I actually am, which really just perpetuates the perception that I’m ok. The fact that not many people would know this about me is always a personal win.

I get through these times with a strong support system. I have people around me who believe for me when I don’t believe in myself. Some know me so well they can sense it, which is so important because it’s difficult to talk about. It’s seen as a weakness, and people say, “How can you not be happy? You’ve been successful, you have great kids, you smile and laugh…I saw you do it! You’ll be fine! Just think happy thoughts.” And that’s what my logical brain would tell me, but my emotional brain fights it, and I need my people to keep me afloat until I’m able to do it again myself.

For me, depression is also not a one-time occurrence. I have lived with it every day for at least 25 years. Sometimes I am on an upswing and I have it under control. Sometimes, there is a trigger that sets it off, sometimes it happens for no apparent reason. The idea that depression goes away or is just about being sad is a misnomer. I often think of my upswing times as just being in remission.

So many educators I’ve spoken with who have these same issues have felt a connection with people like Robin Williams. Other depressed individuals who have put everyone else’s happiness before their own, and lost their battle because they had nothing left for themselves and to deal with their own demons. Think of any great educator you know, and they would fit the mold of someone who gives everything they can to everyone around them, and you may never know the internal battle that’s raging. We have people around us every day who need additional support and we may never know it because they are doing the best they can for the people around them.

So, why would I write this post? I wholeheartedly realize that I’m going out on a limb. But, I don’t want people who are suffering from these ailments to feel like they suffer in a dark corner alone like I have. It makes me angry that I’ve thought about posting this before, but when I’ve spoken to people in person about it, I’ve watched their facial expressions turn from one of caring to one of either pity or concern that I might be “unstable”. I want others to know that they are not weird or crazy (a super irritating word for someone with true mental illness), even though they may feel like people are looking at them that way when they speak about it. I want people to recognize that mental health is more than just showing people how to reduce stress, but it is also about recognizing mental illness and supporting people when and where they need it most. I want the lucky ones who haven’t felt this way to empathize and to understand that there is nothing on Earth I’d love more than to not feel sad, so stop telling me to smile because I’m trying. So. Hard.

Most of all, I want to start the discussion. It’s about time.

broken crayons

39 thoughts on “Destigmatizing the Depressed Educator

  1. “It is absolutely imperative that our students only get the best versions of us, even if it is temporarily not the real one.”
    I’m sitting with this. On one side, I can see the reasoning of “Fake it til you make it” or “The actor becomes the part” or that our students need their days to be focused on them, not the adults in the room. Then I think about my own diabetes or someone else on crutches after knee surgery. I think we would talk about them and embrace those struggles- I don’t think we would tell our students to ignore them or try to pretend they weren’t there during the school day.
    If mental health and wellness are as real as physical health and wellness, perhaps we would be best served in including them in the conversations and education of our students?
    So glad you wrote this- we need more and more!

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    1. I absolutely agree with you that there needs to be education…no doubt. What I meant was allowing the overwhelming feelings of depression and anxiety…sometimes anger over feeling worthlessness, sometimes even just the feeling of being numb, take over how we treat students. Thank you for reading and commenting! 🙂

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  2. What a beautiful post. Thank you for being brave enough to step out on that ledge and share… you and many others can benefit because you took that first step. This is such an important topic we don’t discuss enough. I have friends and family members who I have seen struggle with depression for years and it’s not easy. It’s harder when you don’t even know someone you work with is also struggling. I would love to see us get to a more open and honest place where we can value each other’s strengths and support each other through our personal challenges.

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  3. This was beautiful and needed. I have written more openly about my depression in recent years, because writing and talking about it is key to destigmatizing. Thank you for adding your voice…I feel every word of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you…from the deepest part of my heart, THANK YOU! I chair our school’s Wellness Committee and this is going to spark our work in 2018! THANK YOU!

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  5. I’m so glad that Paul tagged you in his blog post, because even though I felt that I had shared what I’ve been thinking and feeling in my post, your reflections and experiences feel like they could have been written by me. Everything in this post makes sense to me. Everything. I know that I’m going to read and re-read it, because it helps to know that I’m not alone. The cliche phrase, “you’re not alone” means a lot more when there is substance to support it, just as you have.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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  6. Thank you for your post. It explains better than I ever could how some days feel. It has been my entire adult life as well, but being my best for my kiddos and knowing I make a difference help me push through when it’s tough.

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  7. Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing so much of who you are. I am also an educator who goes to work everyday with depression and anxiety. I empathize with you and so many others. Again, all I can say is thank you.

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  8. Been concerned for the number of teachers who battle this everyday. As complex as it is, I’d hope our communities and cultures would be supportive and never contribute. Thanks for being open and honest. This only helps others. Take good care friend.

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  9. Mandy, my friend! I hope that you would share these struggles with me more often so you have an outlet and a reminder of how loved you are. I pray for you often and believe that our friendship is much more than just “edtech.” Your honesty to share your struggles will keep those lies in check as they are absolutely not true-you are beautiful-you are talented-you are valuable-and YOU ARE LOVED! I hope your bravery gives others the confidence to share their story and get the support they need during their difficult times. I complete my comment with one truth that I know to be true!
    “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
    ‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:38-39‬
    http://bible.com/111/rom.8.38-39.niv

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  10. All educators Mandy. Absolutely. As a principal I wear the same smile and share the same anxieties. We should all be allowed to talk about these things.

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    1. Penny, thank you for blogging about this and sharing your thoughts as well. THAT’S how we start the conversation…and if everyone starts the convo, then putting myself out there like this is all worth it. Thank you!

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  11. You’re a hero Mandy. I’m proud of you for sharing and starting this conversation. I love who you are. We’ll always be here for support and to help your logical brain keep fighting. I hope the love and support can continue to make the remission times a little sweeter and the tough times slightly less exhausting. You’ve got an educator family of warriors ready to do battle for you.

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    1. It is not only you, and that is so important to realize. So many people suffer alone, and in this case, there’s nothing worse than feeling like you have nobody who understands. Keep people close who understand.

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  12. Just finished reading your post; it brought me to tears. Kudos to you for sharing your journey, and more importantly for taking care of yourself. You got this; you have all of us to lean on along the way.

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  13. Bravo for sharing your struggle in this space. I have dealt with a similar battle but haven’t built up your level of strength to share. Lots of unanswered questions and great confusion. It is very real and I feel only those who have experienced the games the brain can play will truly relate and understand. It WILL get better even if it feels like there is no possible way it can. Go easy on yourself as best you can. Lean on others as best you can, especially if things seem to be getting out of control. I know I had to and am so grateful I did. In reconnecting spiritually on this journey one quote that helped me is, “If it isn’t good, God isn’t done.” Thank you again for writing. You got this.

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