advocacy vs avoidance

Over the past week, five totally unrelated people who know nothing of each other’s existences asked me similar questions:

“Do your students know about your blog?  What do you do if they find it?”

“Do you think your students know about your mental issues?”

“What if parents or administrators found your blog?”

“How can you advocate for being open about depression and stuff on your blog, but not talk about it in real life much?”

“You don’t talk about depression at your school, do you?”

In a nutshell, no I do not advertise my blog at school, but I like to think I write in a way that if a parent or administrator were to find this site, there would be no issues.

I mean, when you google “Katie Sluiter” I am the entire first page of search results (at least I was the last time I checked which was not just before I wrote this, so things could’ve changed).

But yes, kids find it.  Usually while we are in the computer lab doing something that has nothing to do with google searching your Spanish or English teacher.

This is how it usually goes…

Kid: Hey Mrs. Sluiter!  I just found you on google!  You have a blog?  HA HA HA HA!
Me: Yup.
Kid: What’s it about?
Me: It’s on your screen; read it.
Kid: Looks like mom stuff.  BOOOORRRING!
Me: Are you done with this part of your assignment that you should have had done 10 minutes ago?
Kid: Wait. What are we supposed to be doing?
Me:  O_o

And that is all I hear.

Except when I hear this:

Kid in hall to me when no one else is listening or after school in my room: Um, Mrs. Sluiter?
Me: What’s up?
Kid: I saw you had a blog.
Me: Oh yeah. I do.
Kid: I like it.  You have really cute kids.
Me: Aw thanks.  Yeah, they are handsome guys.
Kid: Um, I like that you talk about your depression.  I am on celexa (or other antidepressant) too.
Me: Oh yeah?  Small world! I hope it’s helping.
Kid: Yeah. It does. {insert longish, awkwardish pause} I like that you wrote about it.  Thanks.
Me: No problem. It helps to write it out.  You don’t have to put it on the internet like I do, but it does help.  You should try it.
Kid: Yeah. Maybe I will.  Thanks, Mrs. Sluiter.
Me: You are always welcome.

I have had a total of one parent comment on it.  It was a parent/teacher conferences and it was one of my writing students.  One of the coolest, most supportive moms I have had the pleasure of working with.  She told me she loved my open, honest writing and that my school and students were lucky to have me.

I’ve sent the link to my principal so he knows it exists.  Pretty sure he has never read it, but maybe he is just silent about it. I don’t know.

I don’t talk about my depression and anxiety in school at all.  Sometimes with a few co-workers, but not with students unless they bring it up.  And I never stick my hand out to parents and introduce myself as the English teacher with PPD.

Consequently, I don’t talk about it much with my family or friends either.

They either read the blog and know about it, or know about it because they have been made aware of it.  Either way, it’s not a conversation we have much.

I’ve been accused of being hypocritical because I don’t shout it from the rooftops.

I am all about breaking down the stigma.  It’s why I talk about it here.  But I don’t know how that translates into “real life”.

It’s uncomfortable to bring up out of no where with people, but if someone asks, I am good about dispelling myths or telling them what my experience is like.

But I don’t go to restaurants and order my burger and then tell my server about my PPD, PPA, and OCD.

I don’t let the dressing room attendants at the GAP know I have Generalized Anxiety.

I don’t let the cashier at Target in on my PTSD.

And I sure as heck don’t put any of that stuff in my syllabus in the About Mrs. Sluiter section, nor do I introduce myself that way in my welcome email to parents.

If someone asks about it, I don’t lie.  I mean, duh. The google search.

Do I hide it?

Do I fear stigma?

Am I afraid parents won’t want their kids in the class of someone who suffers from depression and anxiety?

Do I think parents/students would blame ME when their child gets called out for behavior because I am the one with a problem?

I guess yes a little to all of these things.

But only as much as I feared these things being a pregnant teacher too.

Kids all the time would say, “You’re just mean because you are pregnant.”

No, I am being mean because you have been talking to your neighbor ALL HOUR WHILE I AM TEACHING.

You see what I mean.

So where is that line?  It seems to be a mighty light, hard-to-see line between being ashamed and being an advocate.

For me, it’s easy to “talk it out” here because I am not talking out loud to a face.  I can think about my words. Pace myself.  Say things exactly how I want to.

In real life I am awkward and nervous and can’t look you in the eye well when I talk about it.

Here I bring it up. Over and over and over.  Mostly so I can process it and document it, but also so YOU can feel less alone and YOU can know how your best friend, sister, wife, mom, whomever is feeling.

In real life I don’t bring it up, but I definitely don’t run from it.

Here it is natural.

In real life it is awkward.

Why is that?

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About Katie

Just a small town girl...wait no. That is a Journey song. Katie Sluiter is a small town girl, but she is far from living in a lonely world. She is a middle school English teacher, writer, mother, and wife. Life has thrown her a fair share of challenges, but her belief is that writing through them makes her stronger.

Comments

  1. Hey – love this blog topic! As a professional counselor, I worried about the impact my blog would have on my clients. Is it ethical etc? I’m pretty sure people google me and find it…it IS connected to my local LPC biz site, so I would imagine ppl poke around when they are bored…and exactly nothing has happened. My practice is very busy, so I like to think that people think I’m real and want to see me b/c I had normal struggles like everyone else…..I figured if I was embarrassed abt my own struggles, then what type of therapist would I be? salutes to you! let’s tear down that stigma together!

  2. I think some things are just easier to brain dump down into the Internets. On here, we can just say, yes, I have PPD/ PPA/ etc without being awkward or abrupt. In real life, we have to have courtesies, and manners, and watching for someone else’s reaction/ look after their feelings or emotions.

    Here, we just talk and we may or may not get a response. In person, we talk and we will definitely get a reaction for which we may not be ready for and there’s no way we can control that. It’s less stigma, it’s just human.

    I think it’s great that you do talk about it here and you’re not hiding under ‘Anonymous’. That’s huge.

  3. I think you handle it all very well. I don’t broadcast my depression to the world unless it comes up. Or in my blog. Its a safe place. People must understand that. Honestly, I have been dealing with depression since I was 12. My writing teacher my sophomore year of high school could relate, and it really helped. I never talked about it. But with her I did. I didn’t feel so alone. So props to you for relating when it comes up 🙂 <3.

  4. This is great! It is actually why I began my new blog anonymously, though. My family is very hush-hush about my depression (and life in general), even though it seems like everyone has some form of it nowadays. I wrote an article about it in a magazine once at 16 (specifically about my eating disorder) and my parents freaked. Now, I’m 28, a wife and mommy and former teacher and I am still nervous to talk about it. I like the way you word things; it is very encouraging to know it can be discussed in a positive light! As for my blog, maybe one day I will slap my name on it
    ..it is still fairly new. But it is nice having people read it without judgement!

  5. I think it’s easier on screen because you present it in a way that makes you feel comfortable without having to take other people’s reactions into consideration. I don’t mean that in a negative way at all, but it’s the best way I could think to say it. You can present it and let people read and react in their own time. I don’t think that’s avoidance; I think it’s a way to present it without sugar-coating it but also doing it on your terms and not other people’s.

  6. I am exactly the same. Will talk about most things on my blog but not in real life unless directly asked. Also, I feel the same about taking my time to write it out. I get awkward when I’m put on the spot to talk it out in real life. But writing it gives me time to think it through.

    I think the process of writing these things down actually helps me work through them…not the informing other people of the issue.

  7. I think it sounds like the way you handle it is perfect! If I were to read a blog of one of my kids’ teachers that were like yours, I’d feel good about the person teaching them 🙂 And I love that it probably does make those kids with depression feel like they can talk to you. It’s a hard subject to talk about, in real life especially, and it’s great for anyone to feel like they can.

  8. IMHO, you dont have to advertise the depression to anyone any more than I have to advertise my endometriosis to anyone. Depression is a medical condition just like thousands of other medical conditions. If you have The Diabeetus (thank you, Mr. Brinkley, for the joke that never gets old), it’s up to me to decide whether or not I want to share that info. You are an amazing woman, wonderful mom, and I bet you’re one he’ll of a fantastic teacher. You are, I’m sure, a great example to students who may need to take the same medications that you do. Where and when you decide to share a medical condition is up to you and you alone.

    • Amy The-BMG says:

      This. Exactly. And said better than I could have said it. 🙂

      We don’t all walk around wearing sandwich boards saying, “Hi, my name is… and I have (insert random thing here, allergies, diabetes, endometriosis, depression, whatever)” because that would be weird. We don’t NEED to broadcast our diseases no matter what they are. I think you can be an advocate and not announce it to every person on the street.

  9. For me it’s about my level of emotions. When I’m writing about my mental illness, I can pause-save as a draft-or choose to publish within my own time-frame. In person, I tend to break down when talking about my mental illness. I become an emotional wreck. Certain points are explained better and are more clear when I write. I have the option to write it and review it before hitting publish. When I speak, I tend to step on my words and it all comes out a jumbled mess.

  10. I think you’ve got a good attitude about this. You are not naive about the fact that having a blog means that people may find out that you have a blog. You seem prepared to deal with that. But I don’t think that having an advocacy blog means you have to be an advocate all the time. That would be a distraction in a lot of situations and for those who are around you a lot it would likely get annoying. Annoying people by constantly repeating your message is counter productive.

    Keep doing what you are doing. You are doing a lot of good.

  11. it’s awkward in real life because many people don’t understand it and that makes them uncomfortable, which in turn, probably makes you uncomfortable. i don’t think anything you have written on your blog is inappropriate for students or anyone else to read and don’t think that anyone would find it offensive. your blog is great and you should be very proud of it.

  12. I can’t answer your question but I think what you are doing is right. You write about it and students/people who need to find it and read and you help them.

    That is good stuff right there.

  13. I was the one that asked the first question just because I teach middle school students and the thought of them perusing my blog and knowing all the details of my PPD kind of freaks me out. I guess because it is something that is so personal that I would hate for my thoughts and feelings to be used against me. Does that make sense?

    And I am also deeply embedded in the community and already see my kids at restaurants, the movies and the grocery story – I think I like the idea that my blog is the one little corner of my world that feels completely separate from my job.

    BUT….you bring up some pretty valid points about being a touchstone for those kiddos that are struggling with depression and anxiety. I’m the 6’0 tall volleyball coach so I know that my students and athletes see me as pretty much invincible…….I bet some of them would find comfort in the fact that someone so seemingly strong in the gym or on the court can struggle underneath it all.

  14. I think the balance you’ve struck is perfect.

    Not everyone WANTS to discuss PPD and Celexa and other depression-related topics with you.
    Certainly many or most of your students wouldn’t.

    But the fact that you don’t hide the blog means that someone who is looking for this connection with you can find it. Will find it. Will know you’re a person he/she can trust. A person who isn’t ashamed.

    It’s all about the right time and place. And you’ve found it, Katie.

    As a teacher and a mother. As a parent of a kid starting high school.
    Tomorrow.

    I’d want you to be his teacher. For sure.

  15. I absolutely LOVE the way you handle those conversations. Well done.

  16. I think the advocacy of what you’re doing is great. And I’ve oftentimes wondered how you’re so brave to post about such personal issues, being that you’re a teacher.

    And as a parent of two kids attending a brand new school that I don’t know hardly anything about it’s staff, I can assure you that you are being googled all the time. Not necessarily by the students, but by the parents.

    I guess what I’m saying, is if I saw my kids teacher (who I know nothing about) writing heart wrenching posts of trying to manage mental illness, I would be super sensitive and watch them under an extremely close eye. Why? Because they’re a daily influence on my kids, and I’m entrusting that adult with my whole world.

    I would read their blog daily, I would watch what they’re tweeting, and I’d be on it like a hawk to administration if something looked “off”.

    Did this make sense? I’m just speaking from an overly cautious parental POV. And of course, my kids are in elementary school, not high school. So it might be different.

    But I’ve seen first hand some not so nice parents “witch hunt” down teachers, for stupid stuff. And I’d hate for that to happen to you. Because I like you and your family tons.

  17. I think your approach is perfect. My now 17yo — who btw wants to be an English teacher — found a real friend in her junior year English teacher. It was that teacher (who suffers from depression) who pulled her aside and suggested that maybe her “sadness” was something more. She’s been an incredible support system and advocate for my daughter — mostly because I think she can relate with her on a level that few other teachers can.

    The teacher doesn’t write a blog — but does keep a journal — which she suggested my daughter do as well.

    I can’t imagine your experiences could ever be categorized as an issue with your job. Now, the biology teacher who took a class poll on who knew CPR because he was expecting to have a heart attack…

  18. I think maybe it’s harder to do in person because you never know how someone’s going to take it, or what questions he/she’s going to ask. Maybe it’s easier to write it out as you said because it’s your words on your time. You can think about phrasing and message before it goes out there.

    And hypocritical? Nope. I mean, you don’t lie if asked, so what’s the point in assuming you’re supposed to start conversations with hi, I’m on antidepressants. It’s like hi, I have herpes. Um, unless you’re planning on having unprotected sex right at the moment of your introduction, is there a need to be up front about everything? The stigma surrounding mental health issues pisses me the hell off. Get over it. Yes, sometimes people need assistance, sometimes people talk about their issues online but that does not have to or always affect teaching or parenting. That conversation with a student is oftentimes NEEDED. Kids need to feel secure and like they’re not alone. I’m really talking in circles here, Kate, and I’m sorry. Because what I really want to say is fuck alla y’all who think it HAS to be discussed in particular ways. You’re honest about it here, you’re honest when directly asked about it. That’s all you need to hold on to. Be true to yourself. That’s it.

  19. Not everything is suited to real-life public consumption. It also depends on your audience. Most people who know me know I suffer from depression and anxiety, because they also suffer from it, and it helps to share. But like you, I don’t bring it up to just anyone. Just like I wouldn’t share my favorite sexual position or how often I color my hair (NEVER, heh heh, heh, heh). As long as whatever goes on with me doesn’t adversely affect other people, it’s none of their business unless I choose to tell them.

  20. Great post and something that people have probably not thought much about — how advocacy could affect a professional like a teacher. So glad you wrote this!!

  21. I love how you handle this situation and I think it’s fantastic that some kids come to you and feel they can discuss difficult topics with you. I would be very confident in having you teach my children. You have an unique insight in dealing with depression that could be extremely valuable to the students you teach. It has never occurred to me to google the teachers. I check out their classroom websites if they they have them and that’s the extent. You are a teacher and a “public figure” but you are a human who has her own life/family, struggles, joys.

  22. I feel the same way. I’m very open about my issues on my blog, if asked, or if I feel the need to explain in a situation but I don’t wear a sign.

    I think it’s the only balance there is for me.

    Kudos to you for being open about it!

  23. It is so funny that you wrote about this and I finally had time to blog read today. I posted for the first time ever at Postpartum Progress today and it dawned on me that I was a little scared for real life people to read it. It’s not that I hide my anxiety/depression/grief I just do not openly talk about it. I guess it is just part of me, like an appendage and it is so woven into who I am that I feel like announcing it would be stating the obvious to those who know me well and just make a really awkward moment for those who don’t know me well.
    Anyway, now I’m writing a blog post in your comments but all this to say, love this and I’m pondering the same today.

  24. Me again, I just had to add that I love that you are an example for students who do find you. Knowing that you are an adult and doing okay and are there to talk if they need you must be a huge support to them.
    Now I’m done :).

  25. There are things I write about on my blog that I rarely discuss in person but there are things I never mention on my blog that all my close friends and family know. My line is always if it’s going to hurt someone, it can’t get blogged.

  26. Love this. There are things, like my depression/anxiety, that I can blog about and discuss with my online friends, but I just can’t talk about it in real life. Im glad that you are here, and open about this. It helps me to know I’m not alone.

  27. I am so with you. I haven’t been able to open up to my family. I write and I write and I write and all of 3 people read it.

    I just read an article about the importance of going public with depression. It has me really inspired to share my blog on facebook. But I haven’t been able to yet. I am too afraid of the backlash. Which is stupid. What I’m dealing with is far scarier than any backlash.

    But it’s just too hard. So I am still struggling.

  28. Maybe I’m just an emotional, blubbering mess today, but the exchange between you and the random student in the hall when no one is watching made me well up. THAT would be enough of a reason for me to keep blogging about my depression if I was in your shoes, the knowledge that you helped a child feel less alone with something that’s still not easy to deal with.

    I’m glad I found you through BlogHer!