Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. This year, I aim to remove social media from my life and to fill the wasted time with writing.
What I originally planned on writing today had to do with my faith and the journey I’ve been on, instead, I’m going to vent about a training that our district is being forced to take. It’s called Youth Mental Health First Aid: A Manual for Adults Assisting Young People by Betty Kitchener. I understand the point of ensuring people have mental health tools, but throwing everyone into the same training is not the best idea.
They offer the training as an all-day event that people can take online or in person. I chose to take the training virtually. I thought this might be an easier way to digest it; however, I was wrong. There is no way to digest these topics, especially when living with these problems. The only thing that made it easier was vocalizing that this is fucking stupid instead of internalizing it.
I am already dealing with postpartum depression. Only a few weeks ago, before I started my antidepressants, I was sitting on the edge of the pool watching my daughter swim and wondering how long it would take for anyone to notice that I was no longer there. How could I sink myself to the bottom of the pool, or if I could walk off the pier and into the lake and never breathe again? Thankfully, I didn’t do it. Not sure how I could have done it. I think my body would have gone into auto-drive and brought itself to the surface to breathe. I kept thinking about how I could stop saving myself, and while doing that, my daughter didn’t leave my side.
It was by far the worst experience to go through. I felt as if I was trapped inside my head, screaming, banging on a glass wall, trying to break through and stop the person who had hijacked my brain. I didn’t understand why I would want to leave her alone to go through life without her mom to help her. She’s an emotional little creature who needs both her parents, and I wanted to wear cement shoes on the bottom of a lake.
Until today, I thought I had things under control. Who knew that a six-hour training would throw me into a tailspin? The whole thing is supposed to make teachers and other school employees aware of mental health issues with our students, but not once did they think about asking us if we were okay with the topics they were covering? They rushed to throw everything out there. They broke us up into three groups and asked to read little fictional stories and ask how we would handle them.
My story was about a student who was developing an eating disorder. The only thing is that this topic isn’t fictional for me. I just had to handle this with a student upon returning from maternity leave. Listening to other educators talk about how they would be uncomfortable handling the situation brought me back to high school when I was dealing with my budding eating disorder. No one was aware of what I was going through. It also made me truly grateful for my relationships with my students.
As I listened to the people in my group present what we discussed, I word-vomited how I handled my situation. How that only in a week or so back from maternity leave, I noticed one of my girls kept putting her head down, how she had transformed from an energetic student to one dragging through the day. When she returned from lunch, she talked about how she didn’t eat again, and I snapped. I responded as if I was out to brunch with girlfriends and asked, “Are you anorexic? Is that why you’re skipping meals?”
She just stared at me. “What’s that?” she asked.
I explained to her and her other classmates that anorexia is when a person controls, limits, or stops eating because you don’t like the way you look or feel out of control in your life.
My student looked like I had just peeled a cover off her eyes. “Yes, it’s both.”
I told her I would notify the guidance counselor, and she asked why. I explained because I loved her and this was not the path she needed to go down. It only causes pain and more trouble.
The trainer said I did what the purpose of the class was. Only she missed the part where I said I lived with this and didn’t have the mental bandwidth to handle my students’ issues. Not once did she ask how I felt returning from maternity leave and being inundated with students’ problems. But, you know, why would you want to check on the people asked to be aware of students in crisis? Obviously, we are all fully prepared and qualified to help students and guide them on where to go for help after a few rushed hours glancing over highlights of anxiety, depression, and psychotic disorders.
But we did get a solid hour or so being inundated with the worst guidance on suicide help and prevention.
As the instructor spoke, I took a Xanax. I felt like I was going to crawl out of my skin. I kept staring at the webcam, not covering my mouth as I talked to my co-worker, who was in the same session. We both could not believe what they were covering as suicide prevention. It was like listening to someone who had never experienced or knew someone close that suffered from suicidal thoughts or depression. I swear, if anyone had approached me and asked, “Are you going to kill yourself?” or “How do you plan on killing yourself?” things would not have gone over well. When I expressed this to the behavioral health specialist, he said it was proven to stop people from killing themselves. I don’t believe this.
I watched the screens of the other people in the session, and you could see those visibly disturbed and uncomfortable, and not once did the instructors say hey, let’s take a break or check in with us. No, because today isn’t about finding out if the adults are qualified to handle their students in crisis. Today was about the district covering their ass because they lack the proper amount of mental health professionals to help every student. Now, they can claim that everyone on campus, including those who work indirectly with the students, has received training from experts to be aware of mental illness and health problems.
Oh, the best part, after spending most of my day being triggered and slipping back into a dark space, I have to teach until the end of the workday.
So thanks, Palm Beach County School District, for thinking this is the best way to handle things.