Mental Health and Urban Education

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It’s been a while since I’ve wrote any posts about teaching. To be quite honest, I’ve had a really turbulent personal life the past 6 months so writing about my other passion (movies) has been kind of my cathartic release from all the nonsense going on.

I’m about to be real honest with y’all so if any of this is triggering then I will not take it personally if you stop reading. But I used to struggle with suicidal thoughts and anxiety for the past year and a half. At first I was scared about going to a therapist because as a black man, I was socialized into thinking that acknowledging my hurt and mental health issues was seen as being “weak”. But going to therapy was honestly one of the greatest decisions I made in my entire life.

I think a big trigger for me was surprisingly my career in Urban Education. When I say a huge part of my life is my career, I seriously am not joking. Back in 2017-2018 I was really struggling. I got fired from my first job as an After-School program director, then I started a job as a Dean of Students and I just felt low, really low. My first year after graduating undergrad was tough because I had such a successful time at West Chester University. I really discovered my passion for working with youth and it permeated into everything I did outside of classwork. One thing I realized through therapy was that I put way too much of my self worth in my work. So when I started to fail in certain areas, I wasn’t able to deal because of my unrealistic sense of pride I got from the work I do.

Because I didn’t know how to handle rejection and hardship in a field that I KNEW God wanted me to be in, my anxious thoughts slowly turned into suicidal thoughts. I thought that the best way to make the pain go away was just to simply take myself out of the equation. I know most people would think this is ridiculous, but for people who struggle with anxiety this may be the only way them to get that itching feeling out of their system. My anxiety was raised tremendously during my student teaching year in Baltimore because once again I couldn’t handle failing over and over again and picking myself back up. The thing with anxiety is that your mind is ALWAYS racing. Whether it’s about how you feel, what you want to eat in the morning, or what to do when you go home. It can be about anything. And my anxiety is tied to numerous things, especially how good of a job I can do in education. When you make a mistake, anxiety can make your mind race even faster than before with uncontrollable negative thoughts which then results in you making impulsive decisions in order to get rid of that feeling.

When my therapist helped me realize that, I was amazed. All this time I thought I was impulsive because I was stupid. I’m not kidding I really used to think this low of myself. But in fact, I truly struggle with an uncontrollable mental health issue that pushed me to make unhealthy decisions and think and even believe unhealthy thoughts.

Now the next step was medication. Another taboo subject especially for the black community. Growing up in an African household I was always told that prayer and family was supposed to be my counselor. Now I don’t completely disagree with this. My parents are a huge support system to me and I wouldn’t be half the man I am today if it wasn’t for them, especially my father. But mental health issues are better combated with not only support from your family, but consistent visits to a therapist AND medication. When my therapist brought up the idea of medication to me I was a bit worried. I only thought psychotic people took medication. Let me just demystify some medication myths for you real quick..

1. You are NOT I repeat NOT crazy if you take medication.

– I just actually increased my dosage of  about a month ago and I feel great. I take medication for my anxiety because I struggle with several rampant negative thoughts on the daily. The medication doesn’t make them go away at all but when they do come up I’m able to push them away with different coping mechanisms and my medication a lot easier. This makes it easier for me to make more sensible decisions because I’m not so pressured to do anything in the moment because of my anxiety. If you feel that you need medication do not hesitate to talk to a psychiatrist about it.

2. They are not “happy pills”.

  • Taking medication does not make you some overzealous hyper person. For the most part, I’m pretty much the same. Yes there are some minor side effects but it’s nothing that changes my personality. I’m still the same happy go lucky passionate man, just a little more tired from time to time. Now yes there are some medications that give you major side effects and if they are giving you major life difficulties then I would suggest either changing your dosage or talking to your therapist about switching your medication.

3. Medication does not mean you won’t struggle with mental health issues anymore.

  • Like I said before, I still have negative thoughts. But the only difference is that I can push them away easier now. Big triggers for my anxious negative thoughts are when I hurt someone or when I make a mistake at my job. Typical thoughts range from thinking I’m an idiot who doesn’t deserve any friends to thinking I’m the worst teacher ever and that I should have never chosen this career in the first place. Now both of those thoughts are not true at all, but anxiety makes you believe they are. But with therapy and medication together, I can easily combat those thoughts with healthy ones that are true, such as that I’m a great man who sometimes makes mistakes and hurts people, just like you know a normal person LOL. Or that yeah I made a dumb decision teaching the wrong thing in class but that I’m only a first year teacher, and that I’m still learning how to be better every day. My meds help me to understand that more effectively instead running through the same negative thoughts over and over again, which unchecked, can lead me to go down a very dangerous rabbit hole.

My journey through self love and growth is FAR from over, but I thank God I’m not where I was before. One of the biggest lessons I learned in 2019 is that if you are a teacher or if you work in any capacity with students in urban education I highly suggest you try to see a therapist, especially in your first year teaching. Being a teacher is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. However, it can be very draining and can bring up many serious mental health issues that you may have never realized you had. Unpacking those thoughts can help you become a better educator and all around just a more well-rounded human being. I hope any educator who’s reading this feels encouraged to give their local therapist a call because it can be the first step to truly loving yourself 100 percent and being an amazing example of self love to their students. Stay blessed.

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