This blog is taken from a guest blog I did for Kate Moxley
(Early Years Consultant)
Please visit Kate's website to access a series of blogs, videos and resources supporting adult mental health in the early education sector: https://katemoxleyeyc.co.uk
When Kate contacted me and asked if I would be interested to write a blog for Mental Health Awareness Week, I was excited but quite cautious. I am totally in my comfort zone talking about and advocating other people’s mental health but when it comes to discussing my own difficulties, I tend to constrict and enter a mind block (repression anyone? Ha!)
I certainly like to appear as though I have it all together especially in my career. It is the one domain in my life that has given me relative stability and success. But in truth, my depression is a very dominant part of my identity. Suffering from depression and working with children can trigger some very conflicting feelings. I want to initiate authentic connections with the children I care for, but I also have to decide how much of my depression I swallow down without being ingenuine.
My decision to work in the early years was triggered by my desire to make a difference to those children who may have faced similar adversities to myself growing up. The lasting impact of a difficult background has at times been challenging but there have been consistent positives within my career so here goes;
At 24, I was the room leader for a large pre-school, a job I loved but struggled to do. At the time, I was dealing with a lot of issues. I was overwhelmed with despair and many things felt beyond my control. My job, however, really kept me going. No matter how debilitating my feelings were, I found a way to get up every day, smiled, welcomed children and families, worked alongside and laughed with colleagues and maintained the standard of my work to the best of my ability. I strived to be “good enough” because that is all I could offer at the time and now it is my mantra for life.
One day while speaking to a colleague, she caught me at a particularly vulnerable moment at lunch, and I shared with her that I suffered from depression. She looked quizzical and said, ‘Well you don’t look depressed, you were laughing earlier on.’ I was stunned. Facing your depression is like wading through mud and so when you get to the other side of a day and that is belittled or even questioned, it is like a punch in the gut (and you fall face first back into the mud).
On reflection though, my depression has never been taken that seriously because I don’t really “look” depressed, plus I rely on funny anecdotes and humour to avoid the intimacy of mental health discussions. Depression, for me, is a profoundly private experience and so the signs and symptoms are often dealt with away from the workplace.
Since that particularly horrific period, I have met many colleagues with depression and anxiety, and what never fails to surprise me is that everyone’s depression looks different and is dealt with in different ways. The common thread, however, is that they have all learned to adapt to their depression because it isn’t something you have, it is something you live with. It takes an insane amount of courage to get through each day and to still be standing but to outsiders, that battle is just not always visible. Just because someone doesn’t “look” depressed, it doesn’t mean that they are not feeling it.
Our feelings are so transient and co-existing that it is often common to feel quite depressed but to still be able to laugh and treasure those small windows of feeling okay. People cannot split themselves away from their depression and if there is an opportunity for laughter, lightness or calm, they should grasp hold of it. Understanding this is useful in our work with children because we are not merely teaching them to strive for happiness but showing them that different feelings can exist at one time. I always find it odd when people say they are working towards being happy because feelings in themselves aren’t goals. Teaching children that we can think, feel and deal with our emotional experiences and that this is an on-going process filled with highs, lows and everything in between will lead to more meaningful connections with those children.
Well-being and stress are hot topics in early years, and rightly so, but always remember, there are some deeply personal battles going on for our early educators who are showing up every day and fighting through the light and dark sides of their depression.