To most teachers the phrase “hit the button” has a very specific meaning, referring to the button in every classroom used to call the office if assistance is required. Teachers routinely manage all kinds of issues that arise from having roughly 120 young people—each with unique academic, social and emotional concerns—rotate through their classrooms daily, but sometimes circumstances warrant a call for support. Hitting the button is an option reserved for the most serious situations. It might be a student becoming very ill in class, or a student hitting a classmate or even, say, a student threatening to kill the teacher because the teacher told her to open her literature book. (Okay, she didn’t actually threaten to kill me herself; she merely said she would be happy to see me dead. A bit disturbing.)
I no longer teach in a middle school classroom, but this morning I hit the button—on myself. Just as a teacher tries to handle classroom issues on her own, I have tried very hard to handle my issues of sadness and grief on my own. Like a good teacher, I have employed various strategies to keep the constant low grade depression, triggered by losing both my mother and sister within an 18-month span, from erupting to a fever pitch and completely consuming me. I have dug deep and mustered every ounce of my energy to present the face that the world has come to expect of me—my smiling, social, high-spirited face. No one but those closest to me would ever suspect this has been largely an act for some time now, but I am exhausted and can sustain the effort no longer. Today I faced the fact that it was time to call for back up. I hit the button and made an appointment with a therapist.
Twice in my life I have suffered fairly severe episodes of clinical depression, both times after prolonged periods of personal upheaval and trauma. And twice in my life I have been treated with great success—not to mention gratitude and relief—through a combination of talk therapy and antidepressants. And even knowing this, I still delayed and delayed asking for help this time around. I would never have hesitated to ask for help in preventing a dicey classroom situation from escalating to a dangerous level, so why did I drag my feet when I my own mental and emotional well-being were at stake? Why did I let the misery go on so long?
I am ashamed to say I think it’s because at some deep level in my consciousness depression still registers as some kind of moral weakness, something I should be able to conquer by sheer force of will or right thinking. Despite my clear intellectual understanding that this interpretation of depression is patently false, and as much as I would scold—er, educate—someone else who expressed such an ill-informed opinion, I still struggle with owning my need for help. I know this dark landscape well and I know where the exit is, yet I stubbornly insisted on going down dead ends. Until this morning. This morning I said, “Enough, I am ready to feel better” and I hit the button.
If you feel the darkness of depression closing in on you, please know there is help available. Depression is a very real medical condition and you can’t wish or pretend it away, no matter how hard you try. I know. There are so many effective treatment options now—if one doesn’t work, try another approach until you get the relief you deserve. Don’t be hard-headed and mired in denial like I was for so long. There is nothing to be gained by procrastinating. When you need help, reach out and hit that button, baby!