Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Why I'm Not a Survivor.

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to my counselor about what we've euphemistically termed the "crummy days," the period in which I first experienced the symptoms of bipolar disorder, and they seemed to assault me with breathtaking ferocity.  These conversations always leave me feeling numb, vulnerable, and raw.  After our chat, my counselor asked, "Are you a survivor?" I responded with a resounding yes without thinking.

I haven't been able to stop thinking about her question, and now I wish that I could change my answer.  No, I'm not a survivor, and it's unsettling to think of myself as one.  I associate survivors with people who had a traumatic experience—people who survived terrible accidents or natural disasters, cancer patients who are in remission, people who escaped a life-or-death situation.  These people came out on the other side, and some were completely cured.  

With mental illness, though, there isn't a cure.  There isn't a moment where I'll come out on the other side, where I'll wake up in the morning knowing that my crisis was a one time deal, and it will never happen again.  Perhaps a full-blown crisis will not occur again, but I can expect small crises and occasional symptoms in the future.  Sometimes, that seems lousy, and I feel frustrated knowing that my life is forever altered.  It's not exactly comforting that this mental illness and I will always be chums, two peas-in-a-pod, wedded until death do us part.

So, if I'm not a survivor, then what am I?  I'm a bit too generous and prefer to think of myself as a fighter, a trier, or a charming gladiator—someone who is constantly engaged in this lifetime struggle.  Most of the time, my life is good, happy, and ordinary.  But when the small crises come, it's so much easier to approach these times from the perspective of a fighter, someone who recognizes that while these tough spots are inevitable, life will resume happily and beautifully shortly after.

And from the perspective of a fighter, it is helpful for me to remember that I wield some power and possess a degree of control over my illness.  I am the agent of the treatments for my health.  I utilize the resources and supports available to me, I thank God for the magic meds that I take, and I surround myself with people who destigmatize mental illness and help me feel grateful to be me.  I try to take active control over the things that I can control.  And when I do this, the desire for "normalcy" tends to dissipate.  Instead of including mental illness within the rubric of normalcy, I feel far more interested in understanding the disabled mind and in reimagining my identity as someone who is differently abled and astonishingly awesome.

I am glad that there are survivors and that people come out on the other side.  But I am also glad that I am not a survivor because I am consistently in awe of how much I learn and grow during this lifelong battle.  Society seems to perpetuate this desire for the end goal, the final state of being, or the ultimate result.  But I think there is glory in reaching, too.


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Happy World Teachers' Day!

Guess what? Today is a good day... a great day, in fact.  Today is World Teachers' Day.  I think that I've always been grateful for my teachers, but my gratitude was magnified a million times when I started teaching.

Teaching is one of the most challenging jobs ever.  I take my work home with me—there's grading, and lesson planning, and reading, and answering students' frantic emails.  I hold my breath and say many fervent prayers as I pass back C papers to my students.  I feel frustrated when I invest a lot of time in a new lesson plan, only for it to completely and utterly flop in class.  I've learned the hard way that I shouldn't abbreviate analysis on students' work because they get papers back with anal. written all over the margins.  

But teaching is one of the most rewarding jobs ever.  I get to interact with students who are eager to learn, fun to be around, and interesting to talk to.  I am in an environment where learning is reciprocal—I learn so much from my students.  I see students cultivating growth mindsets, as they are willing to experiment with writing and challenge themselves.  My best success story was when my student finished the class with a B-, and he was absolutely thrilled.  He was joyful because he worked so hard, he learned so much, and he realized that "writing didn't stink that bad." 

Now that I am a teacher and plan on teaching for a while, my appreciation for my own teachers is enormous.  I am thankful for my elementary school teachers who put up with a dramatic, tragic-helmet-head kid.  I am thankful for my AP English teacher in high school who sparked my passion for classic literature and made me watch a terrible version of The Great Gatsby with Robert Redford.  I am thankful for my seminary teachers who were up at the crack of dawn to teach scripture to bleary-eyed, grumpy teenagers.  I am thankful for Kate Frost, my English professor at ASU who excited students about discussing literature, who inspired me to teach, and who got the ball rolling for my thesis on "The Yellow Wallpaper."  I am thankful for my teachers at the Tempe Institute who changed my life and did so much more than just strengthen my testimony.  I am thankful for Meanie Jerkins, my dad's office neighbor, who invited me over for lunch, just so I could hash out my writing ideas with her.  I am thankful for my professors at BYU who are brilliant and have elevated my writing to such a level that even my dad says, "Whoa, that's good" when he reads my work.  

And of course, I am thankful for my mom and dad, who are the ultimate teachers (besides Jesus).  They have taught me for 22 years, and I am shocked that they haven't permanently glued a dunce cap on my head.  Some of their instructive practices are unorthodox (thank you, Mom, for abruptly slamming on the brakes when we didn't wear our seat belts, and thank you, Dad, for teaching me that a stop sign really means slight-tap-on-pedal).  But my parents' teachings have always been aligned in the Gospel, and they have always stemmed from the love they have for their children.  They're great, and when they read my heartfelt post, they'll be extra nice to me this weekend.  

So, thank you, teachers!  And extra blessings for you... for putting up with the craziest student ever.  

(I showed this video in class, today, for my lesson about rhetorical strategies.  It feels appropriate for this post!)