It’s been said that those who work with children and show even the smallest bit of patience are angels. That may be true, but for me, the children are the ones doing the saving. While struggling with depression, I’ve discovered they can be a kind of treatment for a multitude of conditions, even mine. And while working two jobs both taking care of children, I’ve also discovered I don’t just have one guardian angel, I have 50.
Last year I was diagnosed with clinical depression, and with it came the typical symptoms: a bottomless glass of sadness, wanting to sleep all the time, and no appetite for life. I started seeing a therapist, which, okay, that helped, since my parents were beginning to feel the toll it takes having a daughter with depression and not knowing how to help. I also participated in a study for a new depression medication – so at least I was being paid to be depressed – requiring I shove two big horse pills down my throat every day. I was doing everything possible to get some kind of relief or refuge.
Looking at me from the outside, friends and co-workers couldn’t tell I was depressed. I learned to hide it because of the infamous stigma attached. I was afraid of exclusion and abandonment; of people backing off as if it was contagious. I was also afraid that a parent of one of the kids would find out and complain I wasn’t fit to work with children.
Combined, the methods I tried in order to find relief was a map for despair. And unlike an actual map, there were no forks in the road or ways to escape it. Depression was a one way. The only thing that seemed to really make a difference was work: teaching part time at a preschool, and working at an after school program through the Boys and Girls Club.
Hearing “Teacher Serena, we missed you!” and receiving tight hugs each day affected me in a way the horse pills couldn’t. Those hugs put me back together every morning and reached into the part of my heart quieted by the depression’s destructive thoughts. “You’re never going to feel better” was pushed out of my mind as soon as I walked into work, greeted by bright smiles and little hands working their way into mine. Their bright, inquisitive eyes looked up at me, as if seeing something in me I couldn’t.
The preschool kiddos and the BGC kids are my family. Work is sometimes chaotic and unorganized, messy both literally and figuratively, and occasionally the catalyst for pounding headaches, but I love it all. I’ve made a home in the chaos. Loud rooms became my savior: an abyss of macabre thoughts clouding my mind have been traded in for kids asking homework questions, excitement about a cool fact from the Guinness World Records book, and random thoughts such as, “Are mermaids real?” All of this has shed light into a dark room.
Working with these kids is like a Two-Scoop Day for my favorite ice cream shop: there are no bad days and I never leave unhappy. If anything, they make me want to work 24/7. While everyone else dreads Mondays, I look forward to them. I get to be a kid and I’m reminded each day that I’m not so hopeless and unlovable. They make everything okay.
I read somewhere someone’s life philosophy was, “Be what you expect of yourself, not what others expect of you.” But if I lived that way while depressed, my lifestyle and mood probably wouldn’t ever change. It is because I’ve been so concerned with what these kids expect of me that I’ve tried so hard to beat the depression and have almost overcome it. They’ve looked to me for all the answers because they have the utmost confidence in me, even when I don’t. We all know if you want an honest opinion, ask a child because they’ll never lie to you. I’ve concluded that if they love me and want to be around me, I can’t be that hopeless after all.
Being so little can sometimes make a child feel like they don’t matter or that they can’t make a difference in any positive way. But the truth is, no matter how many times a day I tell my kiddos I love them, they’re smart, they’re a star, and they are just plain awesome… they will never know of even a fraction of a difference they have made in my life. Seeing myself from their perspective is what has saved me. Each day with them is bringing me one step closer to getting back to what’s “normal” for me, and who I will become as a result from all of this.