And it wasn’t for lack of trying. I was that kid. I was that boy. I was the one in the classroom hoping I could disappear because “Please God, don’t let the teacher call on me.” Yet, there was a piece of me that only wished I felt comfortable enough to be part of the room.
I was the one who stuttered when I read out loud. I was the one who counted the heads before me when taking turns to read paragraphs in the classroom. I’d count the number of students before me. Then I would look at the chapter and count the paragraphs. First, I hoped that I was lucky and my paragraph would be brief. But it never was. And then I would try and practice. I would try and read it to myself; this way, I wouldn’t stutter or lose my place. This way, no one would look at me in the classroom or think I was an idiot. But this never worked.
I was that one in the class. I was smaller than most. I looked much younger. I had anxiety all day, every day—and it was always worst just as I’d walk in through the doorways. It was the worst when I’d walk into class. I was usually unprepared. I seldom (if ever) did my homework. I couldn’t connect with the material. I didn’t understand much. My struggles with anxiety and depressive thinking gave me an internal sense of laziness. I didn’t want to do anything. I couldn’t do the work; therefore, I didn’t want to do the work. I felt uncomfortable; so therefore, I wanted to disappear. And I did. But more, I began to grow resentful so I found that my anger turned inwards. I wanted to get away. I wanted to step out of this life of mine and just run away. I wanted to find a place where I could be rid of the incessant shame and judgment. But I couldn’t because of course, no matter where you run to—obviously, there you are.
It was this that hurt me worse than the bullying. It was the internal voice that put me down more than any of my teachers or my classmates. It was the internal voice and that critical “Self-Talk” that was more punishing than detention or any suspension that was given to me.
This was me. I was this kid. I was that kid in the class begging to be someone else. I was that kid who wished for attention and wanted to be included, but yet, I was petrified in the classroom because somehow, somewhere, I believed in the lies that I was stupid and I didn’t want anyone to make fun of me. I believed there was something wrong with me. And why wouldn’t I? There were teachers who labeled me. There were doctors who labeled me. So why wouldn’t I label me?
Who was I on any given day? Was I the problem child? Was I the lost one? Was I the scape goat? As I far as I knew, I’d never be the hero—at least not the real one. I would always be the lost one because who else could I possibly be?
There are kids who slip through the cracks. There are students who find the simplest tasks to be cruel and intentional. And it’s not for lack of trying. It’s not that they don’t want to do the work—it’s more likely that they believe they can’t and in the end, there is no reward. In the end, there’s no glory in being the person who “Doesn’t get it.”
I have found this honesty has been helpful to students. I have found that my honesty is empowering to kids who’ve found themselves doing or thinking the same thing. I have found that although I was defeated and lonely and often hurting; above all, I am not alone. I never was. And neither are they—the kids, I mean.
The one thing we grownups forget is that as kids, we looked at grownups as separate entities. They weren’t people. Teachers were not real people. Moms and Dads were not real people. They were at different levels from us, so how could they possibly understand?
I have to say this because of this month’s push for suicide awareness; I always wished that there was someone who understood. When I was a kid, I always wished there was someone who could help me understand—not tell me what to do or what to think and how to feel. I just wished I had someone who could help me understand and teach me a language so that I could explain myself.
I have heard people talk about teenage suicide. I have heard people talk about kids who decided to end their life before the age of 12. I do not claim to have any answer other than this: We have to bridge the gaps. We have to fill the holes. We have to find the right ingredients of communication that make the recipe for a better success.
I never thought anyone ever thought the way I did. This is why I believed I was so alone. Imagine if the adults and the authority figures in my life showed me that they were human too. Could you imagine if they showed me the sides of them that were imperfect? Or, what if I was able to understand that this is only a challenge and there is a way to feel better.
It was luck that saved me when I was only 8. I write this openly because there are kids who find themselves so painfully alone that their only alternative is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Believe me, I know because this was me too. I took a bunch of pills. Thankfully, what i took was not lethal but that does not mean the intent wasn’t there or the shame.
So, what do I say about this?
I say it’s okay to show kids that we are human too, that we have fear, that we hurt, that we didn’t always like Brussel sprouts or homework. I say we show them our scars to bridge the gap—not to compare, but instead, to relate. I don’t offer all of my story to the children I’ve worked with. I’m not here to trigger harmful ideas. I’d much rather find ways to build than destroy. But I do see the benefit of honesty. And the kids did too.
Imagine the freedom a child would find if they felt understood (instead of stupid).
I can say that it would have saved my life. (Even if fate didn’t.)