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Wednesday, February 24

How A Teacher Saved My Life the First Time

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This is a series of stories that is part of my own healing. I welcome you to read along, or not, but I'm going to write it anyway. I hope you take something good from it, and I hope I do too.
I had a bad day, and then I tweeted the President. This post could also be titled “Things I Do When I Get Too Frustrated and My Husband’s Not Around to Take Away my Phone.”

It’s now been eight days since I was released early (because I’m an overachiever, so of course I was released early) from my stint at the local Psychiatric Ward. Things have been good, bad, confusing, overwhelming. I’ve been pretty forthright so far with my blogs, and I don’t intend to stop that, so just being honest, today was a pretty rough day. And I wish I could be more eloquent than that, but in the moment I can’t seem to find that side of me.

In the days since leaving the hospital, I’ve thought a lot about the other patients that were there with me. I’ve thought about the nurses and doctors too, but it’s the patients that I think of most.

When you suffer from mental illness, most people (if they don’t suffer from it themselves) are weary of you, hesitant to sit down and talk at length with you about it. I think it’s easier sometimes for them to just say, “Hey, she’s crazy. Let’s just back away slowly and never bring it up again.”

I met a wide variety of patients during my stay, many of whom I will think about for many more days, if not for the rest of my life. I met a boy. He sat next to me during a game of Bingo. And he smiled, when I looked at him. I said “Hello,” and asked if he was happy today. He smiled, and nodded yes.

This exchange will stay with me forever. One small exchange, and less than a few words. But it was the only smile I saw him make in my short time sharing a unit with him.

Over the course of my life, a handful of people have managed to make me smile when I couldn’t even imagine making it to the next day. I want you to know how important this is.

The first time I seriously contemplated suicide, I can remember exactly what I was wearing. A pink long sleeve sweater and dark denim jeans. I remember that morning was difficult for me, because I had forgotten my homework and was late to first period. It didn’t take long (literally five minutes after the bell rang) for me to burst into tears over something so small - a boy said something that annoyed me, and I wanted to scream at him, “I want to die today, so just leave me alone, okay?” But I didn’t. I just cried.

At this point, several of my teachers knew I had been cutting myself. I had been assigned a social worker and a school psychologist - both of which I lied to so I wouldn’t have to see them again. (Remind me to gather my thoughts on our broken education system and how we leave so many children suffering from mental illness behind.) The tragedy is that the lies worked, and they believed them. I outsmarted adults that were supposed to try and save my life. How does a 17 year old do that? I still don’t know to this day, but I do know it shouldn’t have happened that way.

I digress.

So, there I was, in my pink sweater, the long sleeves covering scars from the night before, my scabs stinging as they caught the fiber of its polyester blend. Crying. 8:05 AM, it must’ve been, crying in first period, before attendance was even taken. Obviously a broken child.

My Psychology teacher was across the hall. My Calculus teacher went to go grab her. Little did I know at this point, that my teachers had built a coalition around me, to make sure I didn’t harm myself anymore, to make sure I wanted to live.

My Psychology teacher was the first person I had confessed my self-harm to. I had shown her my scars a few weeks before this particular day. She hugged me that day, then looked me in the eye and told me she had to report it.

It’s the looking in my eyes part that was pivotal for me. When she could’ve been frustrated, when she could’ve rolled her eyes at whatever small problems I had allowed to overtake me, she looked me in the eyes instead and made sure I was complicit in saving my own life. She made sure I knew what was going to happen next.

She made sure I was a willing participant in saving my own life.

So on this particular day, the day I was sure I would commit suicide, my Calculus teacher ran across the hall to get my Psychology teacher to pull me out of class. We stood in the hallway, tears streaming down my face. She didn’t ask me to roll up my sleeves and show her if I had been self-harming still or not. She didn’t ask me if I wanted to kill myself. She didn’t threaten to report anything to anyone.

She hugged me. And she asked if I was okay. And I said no. And then she let me sit in her class, by her desk for three periods, crying and thinking, until I felt well enough to go to my next class, until I stopped crying, until I could catch my breath and face the day.

And then I went home, crawled into bed, and didn’t kill myself that night.

And that was it.

She was the one person, at 17, who ever looked me in the eye, asked me if I was okay, and let me know it was okay if I wasn’t. She didn’t try to make me feel better. She didn’t try to solve my problems. She saw I wanted to cry, and she let me. I owe her my life for that.

My husband sat next to me in her class. And our friendship grew there, bigger than the two of us. The universe works in mysterious ways like that. I’m alive today, all because someone asked if I was okay 10 years ago, and accepted that the answer was no.

So please, if you know someone suffering, if you see it, if you feel it, ask them. Say hello. Ask if they’re okay today. Accept their answer, even if it’s no. Hug them, if they want it. Let them cry, if they need to. Don’t deny them their right to feel, because when you do that, you’re denying that they are them - you are denying they even exist. And if you don’t think you exist, then what is there to live for?

So please, just do that for me. Be kind. Be understanding. Be accepting.

And maybe we can heal each other.

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