My students are helping me recover from depression

This isn’t something I’ve mentioned on this blog, but I’ve been teaching at a disadvantaged high school on the South Side of Chicago for the last 2 months. It is a job I have fallen in love with. I have also fallen in love with the kids that scared me on my first day at work.

Back in Singapore, I went to schools where the authority of teachers was largely unquestioned, and where the worst that happened to students was failing a class. Going into this job, I knew this would be a whole other world, but it still shocked when I met students who refused to talk to me, who threatened to punch or choke their teachers, as well as those who shared about familial, social, emotional, and psychological problems so deep they left me feeling helpless.

Not to mention I was severely depressed at the time. With a hopelessly pessimistic worldview and a non-existent self-esteem, how was I to navigate these classrooms and hallways? Even my doctor was worried — she recommended that I looked for a different job with a “happy and positive” environment. I did not heed her advice. And by the grace of God, this job that scared me shitless ended up playing a huge role in buoying me toward recovery. 

Depression, by its very nature, sucks the sufferer into a kind of chronic and delusional self-absorption. My work forced me to not think of myself, instead focusing on the teenagers that came through the classroom doors each period, and that gradually pushed me out of the cocoon I had spun around myself. In retrospect, all this makes sense in light of the fact that we were created by God to be other-centered, not self-centered. And indeed I have experienced much healing through being pouring myself out for others. “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure– pressed down, shaken together, and running over. ” (Luke 6:38)

I don’t know if my students will ever find this. Maybe I’ll tell them about this blog somewhere down the line. In any case, they’ve been helping me far more than they realize, and the following words are begging to be written.

D.L., you are no longer my student, but you were the first one to get me excited about my job. Your willingness to learn drew me out of my shell. Your enthusiasm and excitability encouraged me to get creative in my teaching methods and re-activated a part of my brain I had long left unused.

C.S., you are one of the most genuine and sincere young men I know. Your sanguine spirit and goofiness inspire me to learn to laugh at myself and my predicaments.

L.L., I wish you would believe me when I tell you that you brighten up my day each time you walk through those doors. And I’m most definitely not coddling you when I tell you that you are incredibly bright and gifted, and that an IEP doesn’t mean otherwise. You ask questions that no other student asks me, notice things nobody else does. With you I have had the deepest and most profound conversations one could ever have with a fifteen-year-old boy. You show me every day that teaching is so much more than imparting academic knowledge.

R.H., I hope you will forgive me for the times I have lost my patience with you. You remain wonderfully compassionate and gentle toward others in spite of the setbacks and grievances you have experienced. You inspire me to continue to grow in humility and generosity.

M.M., I already told you that I see so much of myself in you. Thank you for taking my long lectures on life seriously. You show me that my failures and regrets can be used for the benefit of others. Your growing willingness to receive constructive criticism, and the way you struggle to fight old habits, inspire me to fight my inner demons.

J.F., teaching you brings me great joy. You’re that one kid no teacher could possibly get mad at — you’re polite, respectful, teachable, and yet you have no idea you are all of those things.

O.M., your curiosity and “strange” questions keep me learning and growing alongside you. And I look at you on that hospital bed and I see a living testimony of God’s divine love and protection. Fight on, soldier. I’m fighting right next to you.

I am crying as I type this because I love you all so much and I am praying that you will all be able to look beyond your immediate circumstances and see how precious and important you are — to me and especially to the God who created you and continues to mold you.

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Related post: “It all started with tea.”

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28 thoughts on “My students are helping me recover from depression”

  1. This is a wonderful post. It is good to know there is someone fighting for those kids that have so much stacked against them. I think your depression makes you more empathetic to these challenges. Keep trying, and be careful. It is a terrible tragedy that in order to make a difference to these precious kids, you have to risk your own life to meet.

    Fondly,
    Elizabeth

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Elizabeth,

      Thank you so much for your kind words. You give me too much credit though — I don’t think I’ve had to risk my life at all. You’re definitely right in that my experiences with depression has been a blessing in disguise for this line of work. πŸ™‚

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  2. My eyes are also misty as I write this (and I should be getting ready for church). But I had to quickly say how much this post touched my heart, and I know you are touching the hearts of your students even more. And the verse you chose in Luke fits perfectly with your post.
    I think many people assume that “love thy neighbor as thyself” only works one way: that you obviously love yourself and you should also love others the same way. In this happy report, what I sense is that as your heart grew tender towards these children and you were able to see beyond their problems to their humanity, the love you felt growing toward them helped you to love yourself more. In essence, love yourself as you love your neighbor.
    May the Lord always provide you with people to bring “cookies” and yourself, and may He bless you abundantly in return.
    Lois

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Lois,

      Your messages are always so full of wisdom and insight, and I’m very thankful for them. I love your observation about the dual meaning in “love thy neighbor as thyself” — those of us who already love ourselves can learn to love others the same way, while those of us who struggle with loving ourselves can learn to do so from the way we love others. Ultimately, though, we only begin to grasp the fullness of love from God’s love.

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  3. Excellent post. I think suffering is universal and that your personal suffering equips you with a better understanding of others suffering. This makes you a wonderful teacher for those that suffer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahaha stop what?? ❀ It's refreshing to get a comment from someone I know in real life. Other people tend to get really formal around here. :p Love you! Thanks for always supporting me.

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  4. Karen, reading this post made me want to teach even more! It is the one thing that I currently have on my bucket list. This is such a wonderful post- I hope that God will continue to use them and use you, as well!

    -Alan C

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I do not know that archery will have a positive effect upon your depression, but I will say this. I have experienced the phenomenon while shooting. When shooting all of my everyday cares go away for a while. (I believe this is because one must both relax and focus on the task at hand to be effective.) When I stop shooting arrows, those things that were of concern to me come back … and here is the odd part, they come back in the actual order of their importance (most to least). This mental sorting process may help prevent a mentality in which you focus on negatives to the exclusion of positives or on things that bother you to the exclusion of things that inspire.

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  6. Keep going . . . sometimes one foot in front of the other . . . but you will get there and we are all there in the trenches with you – sifting through thoughts of discouragement, taking them captive and coming out a victor in Christ!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks for writing such a heartfelt piece on depression. For me, writing is a way to cope with my on-and-off depression. I try to be as expressive as I can when I write, because it lifts my mood when I do so. Thanks. πŸ™‚

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  8. I’m taking care of my wife who became disabled a few years ago. We both go through periods of depression, but have managed to find some enjoyment in our lives. When I’m having a tough day I try to follow the advice of a friend whose husband suffers from a mental illness. She tells me to focus on the thing at hand and let the rest go. Thank you for your heartfelt post. It’s encouraging that you’ve found strength in an adverse situation.

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  9. I really appreciate your positive response to my post, “Testifyin’ at the PDC.” I realize that the situation I found myself in was quite different from the one you entered, but in some ways the problems are the same, right? Figuring out how to deal effectively with our students, while at the same time trying to remain true to our selves.

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  10. The title immediately caught me because when I taught 3-year olds dance class, it was at a time I felt like my heart was ripped from my chest and would be on the floor in the fetal position at home in tears. Those little angels never knew how much I loved them and later how grateful I was to have somewhere to go which didn’t require me to think on my own situation, but for their safety and fun! Thanks for this!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. When I was deeply depressed and even when I get down now, there is just this humble gratitude towards anything or anyone that uplifts me especially when they don’t know they are doing it and to them it is nothing. From despair any hand up is like a gift from God….thank you for sharing I loved your story

    Liked by 1 person

  12. This is wonderful! I could relate to the description of depression on so many levels. I can tell you really love your students and care for them deeply. May God continue to bless you in your life and help you remain recovered from your depression!

    Liked by 1 person

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