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“How are you, really?”

by School's Out Washington | | Posted under Opinions

Only one teacher in my high school asked how I was doing and actually meant it. I’m not sure if any others asked, actually. She was my art teacher – a tiny woman with short, boyish hair and huge round owl glasses. She’d peer up at me, put her hand on my arm and ask, “How are you?”

“Fine,” I’d blurt, avoiding eye contact and trying to pretend I was considering my drawing. In my junior year, I had been cranking out collages, unable to stop the tumble of ideas – mostly feminist stuff, anti-Barbie, anti-1950s housewife. I had been excited then, productive, angry, but excited to be able to express myself. And I was receiving recognition from the art teachers and my peers. I was good at this, which was surprising and felt great.

As a senior, when I made art, I was really slow and stretched each project out as long as I could. When I faced a blank page, I felt paralyzed. How could I take something from inside myself and put it out there for my peers to judge? I had a hard enough time choosing my clothes in the morning, which was how I was representing and packaging my identity to the world. (Yes, this was actually how I thought. It sucked).

I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety that fall. I felt like suddenly everyone was judging my every move, and simultaneously no one seemed to notice that I was trying to disappear into myself. Or if they noticed, no one asked me – except Mrs. Monroe. She was earnestly concerned with my feelings, so I avoided her like the plague. I was working so hard to keep my feelings intact, not to let myself cry, when this sweet little woman would show her concern for me with those owl eyes, I felt like a mouse. Cornered. “No, I’m fine” i.e. please leave me alone. Please don’t give me the opportunity to cry.

Now I wish I could thank her for caring about me and explain that I was depressed. I didn’t mean to be rude by avoiding her.  I wanted to please her by continuing to produce great work, but I just couldn’t.

Maybe she should have taken me some place private to talk, some place where I could relax and tell her. Maybe she did, I don’t remember. But I had my parents looking out for me, too, and I made it through.

I try to remember now as an adult to ask people how they are doing and mean it with all sincerity, because maybe I’m the only one.

For more information on teen depression, read this document What’s Up: Information for Adults who Care about Teens from the Washington State Department of Health.

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