And it was an amazing experience!
So far my blog-type posts on this website have been more about general issues I’ve been wrestling with, and less about a single activity. This time however, I want to talk about something I did about a week ago, as of writing this. I currently intern at a secondary school. My class consists of five kids with various mental health issues that have served as roadblocks on their way to success. They are all trying their hardest, and I often find myself relating to some of the issues they face.
As someone who has grown up with autism, in my case not even knowing it was in fact autism until later in life, this obviously resonates with me. My coworker and I had already discussed the possibility of me talking about my experiences in front of the classroom, and a week before this lesson the idea was coined to me to do a lesson on myself. I would come to school a different day and talk about my experiences growing up, the roadblocks I faced on my way to where I am now, and how I smashed through those roadblocks. This was both very exciting as well as kind of scary to me. I am very open about my issues, because I believe communication is extremely important when dealing with mental health. Since you can’t see autism, depression, ADD, OCD or other mental health issues, the only way people will know is if you tell them.
There is a difference between being open about your issues, and going in front of a classroom for an hour and opening up a window into your weird, messed up brain. But, scariness aside, I was definitely up to the task.
Tuesday came and there I was, hands shaking, playing with a whiteboard marker to distract my hands somehow, and standing in front of a bunch of kids eagerly awaiting what I was about to tell them. I figured I’d just start at the beginning and gradually work my way forward from there. So I told them about my youth, getting bullied, going to a youth psychologist, continuously hitting walls. I told them about getting diagnosed, almost grinning with joy because “I wasn’t crazy, I just had a mental health issue.” I know, it sounds weird to be happy about it, but to me that was a lot better than just unexplained craziness. I then told them about what I struggle with; new situations, sudden changes in schedules, surprises, social interactions, lack of energy, the entire list of issues. From time to time some of the kids would raise their hand and tell me if they could relate to something, or had a different issue. At some point one of my kids raised their hand and told me that he recognized almost everything I struggled with, because he struggled with similar things. This was my lucky day, because I could let this kid know that even all of these issues together couldn’t stop him from doing what he wanted. Look at where I got, from where I came. There’s so much you can do, even though it won’t always be easy.
There were two very important things that I think I managed to convey pretty well. The first one was that communication is key, and informing others of what you are dealing with will help them understand. The second one is to know where your boundaries are, yet not be too afraid to cross those boundaries from time to time. Trying and failing is not a bad thing. It’s when you never try, that you won’t ever be able to grow as a person. Does this mean you end up crying in the shower because you had to refuse a request that a normal person could definitely do? Does this mean you feel like crap all day because you failed at something even though you really wanted to succeed? Does this mean you end up in bed tired all weekend because you went above what you’re capable of? Yes, it means all of those things, but it also means you tried your best, and you put yourself out there. And if it doesn’t work out, that still makes you a better person than if you hadn’t tried at all. And will there be days where trying is too big of a step? Definitely, and you don’t always have to try your best. If you try your best every single day, you won’t have any energy left to live your life. But you try when you can, and you don’t try when you can’t. And you shouldn’t be ashamed of either of those options. You are who you are, and you can’t measure yourself by someone else’s standard. You probably couldn’t walk a thousand miles in my shoes, and I probably couldn’t walk a thousand miles in yours. That’s why shoes have multiple sizes.
If this wasn’t a good enough experience for me, I later heard one of the kids talked very optimistically about my lesson to their parents, about how cool it was to see someone else with similar issues, and how I’m a teacher despite all that. Needless to say I have peaked as a human being, and it’s really only downhill from here.
Thank you for reading, this meant a lot to me <3.