Friday, February 20, 2015

A Path To Happiness, Discovered Too Late

Tonight I discovered that one of my community college students committed suicide.

I can't remember her face. I had only seen her once, but that bothers me. I'm not the greatest with names, but I always remember faces. And I can't picture hers.

As a teacher, all my students are important to me. I am a part of their educational journey, the most important journey we ever take, and I want to make sure their time with me is meaningful.

On top of that, I like to imagine myself as the metaphorical catcher in the rye; not Holden Caulfield, but the fantasy version of himself he envisions catching children before they fall off the edge of a cliff.

Basically, I want to be Sgt. Kevin Briggs.

We all want to be a hero, and as Sgt. Briggs proves, sometimes it's as simple as talking with a person. Listening. Caring.

I teach Composition 101, so I deal with a lot of young students, immigrant students, and adults coming back to school after a long absence. It can be very overwhelming, and I do my best to help students adapt. Part of my job is helping to build their confidence and self-esteem, two necessities in the writing process. It takes courage to put your thoughts on paper for the world, or even just one professor, to see.

On the first day of class, I asked students to respond to an article titled, "Writing Your Way To Happiness." The article explained how writing down our emotions and thoughts has a scientifically-proven positive effect on our mood and overall health. The article also discussed the difficulties students face in their freshman year of college and ways to overcome the common feelings of confusion and inadequacy.

I chose this article specifically because I wanted students to know that they are not alone in feeling overwhelmed. I hoped it would help them understand the difficulties of college in order that they could overcome those difficulties. In all honesty, I hoped the article could help with life in general; I always tell people that writing increases mental well-being, and this article provided empirical data to support my long held belief.

After hearing the news about my student, I pulled out her response, still in my folder.

Her words are heartbreaking.

As a person who struggles with depression and anxiety myself, this article and shown research goes to show me that my own journaling would improve my mood as it has for many people.

I found it very interesting that simply writing out my feelings could help improve my mood. I used to journal a few years back before I fell into a dark depression but I definitely feel that I could benefit from it now considering I'm working my way forward in life making many huge improvements. I definitely plan to start journaling more because I can always use an increase in my mood!

Reading it gave me chills. It still does. The fact that the last assignment she may have ever done before committing suicide was responding to an article called "Writing Your Way To Happiness" is an irony all too dark and depressing for me to completely accept at the moment.

"As a person who struggles with depression and anxiety..." "I fell into a dark depression..."

She was brave enough to give voice to her problems. She was facing her issues openly. This assignment gave her an opportunity to reach out, and she took it. I take comfort in that fact. Those are the opportunities I like to provide. What concerns me though, something I'll never know, is if she showed up the next class, would I have reached out to her? Should I have?

"I'm working my way forward in life making many huge improvements."

This line is devastating. This is all so much more heartbreaking because she saw the light ahead. A part of her felt good about the direction her life was taking. She was getting better.

"I definitely plan to start journaling more because I can always use an increase in my mood!"

This is the one that gets me. Look at the positivity! She ended the entire essay with an exclamation point! Maybe this little assignment gave her a glimmer of hope for a happier future. She desperately wants to feel better. She's making plans to improve her health.

But those demons are hard to outrun.

I'll never know if she did start "journaling" after this assignment. If she did, it was too late, her depression was too deep. Just the idea that she wanted to, that she saw it as a way to happiness, strengthens my belief in the absolute necessity of writing.

I wish I got to know her better. I wish I could have done more for her. More than anything, I wish I remembered her face.

I'll never forget her words, though, nor the cruel irony in the fact that these courageous, hopeful words were some of her last. She had not lost all hope, yet she was obviously suffering a lot more than she let on. Would I have been able to help her write her way to happiness?

I know it's silly to think that I could have done something to prevent it, but I can't shake the feeling that I could have done more.

In all actuality, all I can do is rededicate myself as an educator deeply invested in the well-being of my students and ensure that everything I do makes a positive impact on my students' lives. The same goes for people and life in general. I may not save any lives, but I can try to make someone's life more meaningful, even for a moment.  

I hope I did that for her.                  

I Love You All...Class Dismissed.

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