When I was depressed in high school, before I told anyone about what was happening to me, all of my friends believed I was fine. And I let them believe that, because I was too embarrassed to admit otherwise. I’m not really sure what my parents believed, probably that I was just going through a normal amount of stress from school. Whatever the case, I didn’t mind. I suffered in private, which is what I preferred. I was too confused and disgusted with myself to tell anyone how I really felt. I honestly believed that I must be what my marks reflected, and what they seemed to suggest – that I was lazy, unmotivated, and just not intelligent enough to achieve anything better.
Only one person ever asked me how I was doing, and seemed to want to know the real answer. My Math teacher.
He would check on me whenever he noticed that I was struggling with a unit, and he would offer help during and outside of class. He would regularly ask me if everything was alright, and I would usually reply that everything was fine. I was puzzled and then appreciative that someone cared.
I have never had a teacher more dedicated than my grade ten Math teacher to his students’ success and well-being. My Math teacher put in long hours to give me extra time on tests, extra help with homework, and he had the patience to work with me when I had lost faith in myself. He always encouraged me, offered assistance, and praised me for what I could do. I felt hopeful and motivated in his class.
Soon he had earned my trust and respect. I was beginning to be less shy, though I still had trouble with anxiety, and he had become one of the people I would work hard to gain approval from. I wanted his praise and approval like I wanted my parents’ praise and approval. Sometimes getting my Math teacher’s approval also felt like an easier task.
One day in Math class I had thought that I had lost my teacher’s respect. I remember it was the day of a test, and I was very anxious about writing it. I was trying to extinguish the thoughts of failing from my mind, when my Math teacher, handing out the test papers, paused at my desk.
He leaned over to me and passed me a paper, but he didn’t rise a second later as I had expected he would, and he didn’t continue handing out tests. Instead he whispered my name and pointed to my wrists.
I glanced at my wrists to see what he was staring at, and then I saw them. I hadn’t even realized that I was doing it, but I was digging my nails into my arm so forcefully that they were leaving marks.
I froze, and I believe my face must have turned red, and for a long minute there was silence and I couldn’t say anything. My brain froze. My body froze. I felt like time had stopped.
Finally, my Math teacher said something about wanting to talk to me after class, and he resumed handing out papers.
The entire class I wasn’t focusing on my test. I tried, but my thoughts kept turning to the incident. What will I say? What did he think? Will he tell my parents? Is he emailing them now? Is he disappointed in me? Will he believe me if I tell him I didn’t even realize what I’d done? Will everyone find out?
The hour was excruciating. When the bell rang, I shakily walked towards my teacher’s desk and handed in what I am sure was a terribly written test. I don’t even remember if I finished it.
My teacher glanced up at me with a smile on his face. I was momentarily confused. He didn’t begin speaking, just looked at me expectantly. My anxiety was high. I realized that I would have to say something. The moment was quickly turning awkward, and I was just standing over his desk without words.
“You wanted to see me?” I finally said quietly. It took all of my strength to get those words out. My teacher looked thoughtful.
“Oh, yes. I did.” My teacher then proceeded to ask me, gently, what was going on, to which I replied nothing, how I got the marks, to which I responded with the truth, and then he asked me if I was okay once again. I think I nodded that I was, even though I totally was not okay, and then my teacher said something about not wanting to see the marks again but was glad that I was okay.
I left the classroom, and my anxiety began to fade. I worried and fretted over him telling my parents, but I don’t think that he did. When there was no confrontation and a few days had passed, I slid back into simply feeling blue.