“I’ve been looking all over the place for a place for me, but it ain’t anywhere. It just ain’t anywhere.” — Syd Barrett
I’ve been told I complain a lot. It comes naturally I guess. Teachers as a group complain a lot. It’s our favorite pastime in the teacher’s lounge. It extends to time at home and then our time here. There’s nothing wrong with letting off a little steam and cussing under your breath a little. Yet, at some point we need a dose of positivity.
Everyone has their only personal stuff and I’m no different. My summer has been spent in one doctor’s office after another as I try to manage the effects of diabetes on the body. I look for silver linings anywhere I can get them. Combine that with COVID and it’s enough to make anyone go running to the funny farm.
Ironically enough, that’s where I found a silver lining. Mental health is usually something no one focuses on until there is a mass shooting. Then, it becomes a convenient crutch to lean on until the news cycle moves to the next crisis. While Washington and Austin dither, some localities have been making changes to address it.
My local district now employs two student support counselors in every high school. They made the move following the Santa Fe shooting. Someone apparently decided that simply giving lip service to mental health was not enough. Funny, but it is the go to response for conservatives. Quarantine was bad because it damaged our mental health. Remote learning was bad because it damaged our mental health. While these facts are not deniable, it invites us to step up and actually make lasting change like our local school district.
Additionally, we cannot deny the positive impacts that quarantine forced us to do. Zoom and other technology has helped us connect when we couldn’t before. Perhaps, other new adaptations can remain permanent. The second support counselor never went away. Some of the things we did this past year won’t go away either.
COVID is obviously not the only drag on mental health. Americans work more than most other countries in the world and families have fewer safety nets than most western nations. Add in other societal ills like prejudice and bigotry and you get a recipe for stress, anxiety, and depression.
Seeing the Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka stories from this summer further highlight mental health and our need to do something different. Their bravery hopefully will lead not only to lasting change within the athletic world, but also lasting change outside of it too. It will also hopefully lead to more of us admitting when we need a little help.
One of the most beautiful conversations I saw was an interview between Anderson Cooper and Steven Colbert. It’s a long video, but it is well worth the watch. Inside Colbert utters a seemingly paradoxical line about the things we most wish wouldn’t have happened being a gift from God. It was a brutally honest moment that brought Cooper to tears. He had learned to love the thing he most wished had never happened.
Understanding that paradox takes a lifetime and a ton of humility. It takes an understanding and appreciation for both how much culpability we had in those situations and the grace to understand we aren’t in control. Those painful moments have a purpose. We can’t see it at the time. Sometimes it takes days, months, and years to understand.
Our nation collectively has gone through a lot in the past five years. I definitely wouldn’t want to go through it again. However, maybe we can collectively learn what inside us motivated us to go that direction. Hopefully we can find the better angels of our nature. Hope is what keeps us going and hope is the best thing we can sell after all the suffering. It will take time to learn to love the thing we most wished had never happened.