by JESSE SCACCIA
A while back I wrote about how painful, intense, and guilt-bearing teaching with depression can be. I even indicated that teaching can, in a sad roundabout way, induce depression in some people. I wrote:
It’s a horrible catch-22: being a teacher you’re not allowed to be depressed, but the emotional output required by the job makes you more likely to be depressed.
Now I again find myself in the pitiable position of going through a phase of heavy depression while also having a regular teaching job I am obligated (and desperately want) to attend.
But that’s underselling both parts of the equation. For those of you who haven’t experienced real depression, it’s not like the blues. This kind of funk, no amount of ice cream or Lykke Li songs can cure. For the past few weeks I’ve found myself spending upwards of six hours of the day in bed, essentially unable to move or be productive. Some people might say, “Well, why don’t you just get up and start doing shit?” If only it was that easy. To those of you who have never felt this kind of depression, for the benefit of your sad friends, treat what they’re going through like any other physical ailment, such as a broken ankle or emphysema.
What I’m saying is, depression is a mighty force, and you simply cannot will it away.
And “obligation” and the word “want” do not begin to cover the charge I feel as a teacher. I know that bad teaching isn’t just a waste of a young person’s hour, it can damage their perception of a subject. I teach bad, and suddenly my kids hate reading and writing. That shit is real.
I also know that good teaching saves minds, saves lives, saves souls, can save this dirty ugly world, if enough of us teach well. That’s real too. So when I step into the classroom, I pretty much feel obligated to kick some pedagogical ass.
Which leads me to this certain Aha! moment. It’s what the Beats used to call a satori, and it goes like this:
Teaching is not an albatross or anathema to the depressed person. It’s actually a cure-all, a panacea.
See, what we’ve got in our classrooms is a good old-fashioned war. It’s a war of wills. It’s a war of spirits. It’s a culture war. As the generals say, it’s a battle for hearts and minds.
And if you believe in the cause of a war–and I know I do, and I think you do too–then damn you to hell if you’re not putting the cause before yourself. Once a person has found their raison de vivre, they are obligated to live it. To not would certainly appall the Christian, Muslim or Jewish Gods, and any secular ethicist will tell you the same.
To not save a life is to help end that life.
So I’m going to keep on fighting my depression, but through a bigger cause than just whether little old me wastes away his afternoons. Through teaching. At least at first. From there, who knows? Maybe I’ll learn a thing or two I can apply to the rest of my life.