My drama students are creating skits to present to the eighth graders at the end of April. I began this activity by asking them to name difficulties they personally are facing. As they shared, I wrote their answers on the board. I was not prepared for what they were about to tell me.
"Being a teenage mother is so much harder than anyone ever told me it would be."
"My grandparents are raising me because my parents didn't want me."
"My step-dad molested me when I was 7. He's getting out of the penitentiary in a few months and I'm scared."
"I sexted pictures of myself to a guy I thought I loved. He used me and now I am so ashamed."
"I used to cut."
"So did I," (an admission that was repeated several times).
"I suffer from depression."
"My dad abused me and now I'm seeing a psychiatrist."
"My parents tell me all the time I'll never amount to anything."
"My life has been a living hell. Through all of grade school I was made fun of ... and I still am."
"I've tried to commit suicide."
"So have I."
At that point, I spoke up. "Guys and gals, be careful saying you've tried suicide. Thinking about it isn't the same as trying it." They were quick to set me straight. When I asked how many had "thought about it," more than half raised their hand. Six had actually attempted it.
And that was just one class. I had three more to go. Their stories were similar. Two days later, when I saw those students again, they were eager to continue working to "help the incoming freshmen." They shared that their dialogue had been incredibly therapeutic, that just knowing others were dealing with the same issues comforted them. Others said they looked at their peers differently now, wondering if they, too, were protecting a secret.
I, on the other hand, felt helpless. As the suicide topic was broached again, one young gal, the same one who spoke about the bullying, admitted she thinks frequently about killing herself (not "thought" about it but "thinks" about it). What does a teacher say at times like these? Students were crying, a few comforting the majority, and they waited, expecting me to say something inspiring. I felt completely inadequate.
Addressing the young gal from the front of the class, I said what was on my heart. "I see your hurt and know it's real, but I want to tell you something that I know to be true. God made you just the way you are. He formed you in your mother's womb and He loves you. Do not give anyone the power to bully you or make you feel inadequate. You are not. You are talented. You are a hard worker. You are honest. And to God, you are amazing. That's what you must remember. Not just today, but always."
I pray she does. Oh, how I pray she does.