13 November 2008
Confronted With Myself
As I mentioned, part of my job is "Case Manager" to a group of 'Special Needs' students. These guys aren't what most would think of when someone says "Special Needs," most of them are just very low in reading and writing skills, and therefore have behavior problems. Makes sense right? Can't read or write very well, don't think I'll be paying much attention in Biology.
But, I do have a couple of kids on my caseload who are a little more in my league... autism spectrum disorder, & emotional disability (ED)... the kind of kids I went into SpEd to help. Today I got to meet one of the ED kids.
Dressed in jeans, a Jack Skellington sweatshirt, and Chuck Taylors (with doodles and writing all over them), she was a little awkward, and definitely at that 10th grade stage of angst-ridden development. I knew her immediately when she came in. She was well spoken, polite, and got along well with the adults (from what her teachers said, she has a couple friends her own age, but tends to get along better with older people and adults).
As soon as we started discussing the results of her academic testing she started to quietly cry. It couldn't have been the results... everything was scoring in the Average to High Average range... no one had said anything negative. I silently handed her a box of tissue, and gave her a small smile, as the "Team" moved on to discuss her Psych testing.
Depression and anxiety came up, she has had a hard time focusing in class, sleeping at night, and although she does her classwork and homework, can't seem to bring herself to turn it in. A story that sounded way too familiar to me.
As we're discussing different options, and making recommendations for her educational plan, we asked for her input, and thoughts as to what might help her succeed in high school. And, as she sat there saying "I don't know" and crying even harder, I suddenly had a flashback, and knew exactly what that "I don't know" meant.
"I don't know what is wrong with me, I don't feel normal, I don't feel right, I just want to be happy and do well. Why does it seem so easy for the other kids? Why am I so different? What is wrong with ME!?"
Follow that up with:
"Wouldn't it just be easier if I didn't exist? Then all these people wouldn't have to put up with me... then I wouldn't have to put up with me... all of this pitiful and miserable 'woe is me crap' would go away if I went away. I can't believe I'm so awful."
You might think I'm just projecting... and it is quite possible that I am a little. But, add in things like the fact that she is self-medicating (marijuana), and has been known to cut herself... yeah, it's pretty obvious.
As she left the room after the meeting, I put my hand on her shoulder, and said, "I know you don't know me, but I'd like to get to know you, if you need anything, you can come see me any time." She smiled and said "thank you," exactly as I would have at that age. It means, "thanks for making your empty promises to help me, but you can't possibly... if I don't know what's wrong with me, you can't possibly understand. Besides, why would you want to waste your time with me, you have better things to do. I'll figure it out, you don't have to care."
I know this girl.
I know her better than she expects.
I know her as well as I know the face that looks back at me in the mirror.
She is the reason I've asked myself a million times in the last 15 years, "if someone could have done or said something... anything... to help me, what would it have been?"
Still... my answer is the same... "I don't know."
As frightening as it is, I have no idea what would have changed things for me. I don't know how anyone could have helped me. I sometimes wonder if it was some kind of chemical problem in my brain, and maybe a combination of drugs and therapy might have helped. Maybe when the hormones kicked in my brain couldn't cope with the changes in chemistry.
What I do know, is I've been there. And maybe, just maybe, THAT is enough to help just one other person survive the awkward, awful, angsty (yes, I said angsty), low self-esteem years of misery that some people call high school.
(Please, don't worry, she has a strong team, and we are all aware of her issues. She is getting help, and being watched rather closely.)
*image is "goth crayons" that I stole from the web*