On life, unmet expectations, and the impact of depression

It’s amazing to look at where my life has been and what has changed in the last year.

A year ago, I was studying to be a teacher, dating a great girl, planning on getting married sometime in the summer, running a profitable volleyball club, and expecting great things following those lines.

In March I was hired to be a full-time teacher and head volleyball coach in Salt Lake City. It was exactly what I wanted: education courses are a joke and nothing but common sense and I now had a way to support the family that was starting in the summer.

Then things started changing. Drastically. In May, we broke up and I spent the summer making friends near where I was living. In July, I moved closer to work and left all the social support I developed to that point.

Preparations for school started in August, and I began to mourn the things I didn’t have. I was starting this job that I wanted, but I didn’t have the person I wanted alongside me for this new experience. I didn’t have anyone.

As high school volleyball started, I was overcome with the amount of bureaucracy required by high school beyond what club requires. I was spending more time trying to manage stuff I considered ridiculously superfluous to the sport than I was spending coaching.

And to top it all off I was unable to spend as much time preparing the team as I believed I should.

Life became very, very lonely. I would spend each weekend nearly catatonic, trying to recover from the emotional stress of the week. Nearly every day I threw up my hands, looking heavenward, wondering “why me? Why did this set of things happen to me?”

“Why do I hate going to practice everyday? I love this sport, and I love coaching my players. Why can I not better prepare for my classes? Why do my assistant coach and I always misunderstand one another?”

It was the most unhappy time I’ve ever experienced.

My mind often thought everything would be better if I were only married. If only that one thing had been different, my life would be better.

Going back to school each week was a trial. I loved my students and my players, and I knew I brought things to my interactions with them that no one else could. And that kept me going. I kept getting out of bed each morning for them.

More than one commute each week was spent in tears wondering what was going on and why I was so deeply unhappy.

Every week, the cycle continued: go to school Monday morning, believing there was nothing that could get me through the week; teach a few periods, realize I could make it; go to practice, hate it; on Wednesdays, things would seem doable in the mornings; spend Saturday vegetating; spend Sundays catatonic, not wanting to face the upcoming week; wake up Monday and repeat.

There was no end in sight. There was nothing I could do except continue to endure and hope my life got better.

Two people made a major difference in my life, and I am incredibly indebted to them for their love and suggestions. One was in my new ward and one had been around through everything is experienced that year.

At various times and independently, each heard me, listened to my struggles–as I was willing to be opened and asked for them to be there, noticed when I was struggling, and showed the most incredible support I could have asked for. Additionally, both suggested I seek professional help and go see a counselor.

That was completely out of the question. There was no way I needed to talk to a counselor. Those were for people with real problems–clinical depression, schizophrenia, marital conflict. I didn’t need that.

As I spiraled downward, I gradually became more open to the idea. Spending most weekends in tears wasn’t normal. Was I even myself any more? Was I really convincing myself that what I was experiencing was ok?

At the beginning of October, I broke down. Just after sacrament meeting, my friend in my ward asked me if I was doing ok. To that point, I had been mostly honest when people asked me that question. I frequently answered, “no.” But I couldn’t even choke that out. I just was in shambles, and she just waited, listened, translated through my sobs and tears, and suggested (again) I go see a counselor.

After doing essentially the same thing to my bishop, he suggested the same. (I had visited him and laid out my woes to him frequently in the two months prior, so I think he realized I needed more help than he could provide.)

Seeing a counselor gave me a bit more perspective than I was exercising. While talking with her (and somehow making time for it), I recognized some of the lies I’d been telling myself, primarily: Life wouldn’t be better if things had gone differently. I’d followed The Spirit when accepting a job, when breaking up, when prepping for classes and practices.

Spending my life choosing (and that’s what I had mostly been doing) to focus on what I thought should have been was dragging me down.

Life started getting better. I regained some amount of control over what was going on. Volleyball was still pretty hellacious, and I realized I far preferred teaching.

I resigned the coaching job pretty soon after the season. There are a few reasons beyond just doing too much and not getting along with my assistant as to why I did, but they are less relevant here.

So things looked up.

For a while.

I was teaching, enjoying it, enjoying my students, and enjoying not having additional responsibilities at the school.

But around Thanksgiving, I started realizing I wasn’t exercising my mind enough at school. I needed more. I needed freedom from the shackles of district policy (which for student privacy, I understand) if I was going to continue trying to teach technology and computer science to students.

So the first Thursday of December I rewrote the curriculum for mobile development for the state of Utah, and the next day I wrote a letter resigning my teaching position as of 16 January 2015.

It was a big change. It was a scary change. I didn’t have a job offer, but I had resigned.

It was a massive leap of faith. I have no idea what the future holds. I interviewed pretty heavily during the following weeks (eight times in six calendar days) and was told “no” by all the companies I interviewed with.

I spent the Christmas break taking stock of what I really wanted.

I want flexibility. I want control. I want to enjoy my coworkers. A stable paycheck is less desirable than these things.

A few things I’ve realized:

  • If I were married, quitting my job wouldn’t have been an option. I would have to languish doing something that stifles me at least until the school year ended.
  • Perspective matters.
  • Depression can still hit. My family was here for most of the Christmas break, but because of some thought processes I had, I couldn’t stand being with them for more than a bit at a time. I had to spend most of that time alone just to keep my sanity.
  • I don’t know what the future holds. But Father does.
  • Even in the depths of depression, I can choose to have hope. It’s not easy, and for some people it may not be possible. But I can choose hope, and that makes things bearable when they seem beyond all possibility of enduring.
  • I have a Savior who walks my path with me. He may not be the only one I want to walk that with me, but He is The One who walks with me now.
  • Father sees the end from the beginning. I may not, but I will eventually.

And that gives me hope.

Schooling the world, a documentary

So I just finished watching the documentary schooling the world, which is about how the modern (western) education system has ruined cultural societies and is actually anti-sustainable living.

It was an interesting look into another view of education. Americans focus so much on getting better education and the need for every child (American or not) to receive better education. Do we ever question what that better education causes or why it was instituted in the first place? Do we ever look at what has happened as a result of western education that was instituted as a part of colonization?

This documentary doesn’t make a solid, cohesive argument. It seems to indicate that isolated, agrarian societies are ideal, while trying quoting those interviewed as preferring many positive things modern education has brought (improved medicine). In so doing, it weakens its own argument. When we look only at negative things that western education has affected, of course it will sound bad. But when we look at all the positive things, as well as the rate at which more positive things have been introduced, it is hard to say the good doesn’t outweigh the bad.

Yes, we need to continue to have familial interactions; yes, it is not ideal to have people end up living in slums. But at some level we have to accept that western culture is here to stay. And if it is not, we’re not here to stay, either. Western education needs to acknowledge that the informal sociocultural education argued for by Vygotskiy is beneficial to positive living and should be practiced, and certainly teachers who teach through shame, as demonstrated in the video, need to be silenced. But focusing solely on learning what my grandfathers knew would have made me good at chemistry and carpentry. I would have never learned about sports (or had time to) and I would have missed out on something that has played, and will continue to play, a major role in my life. If I learned only what my father knew, I would be a tile-setter, down on my hands and knees every day. I might have learned to love that, but only if, somehow, I had learn about art and creativity as well. That’s unlikely; I learned to aspire to those heights through the western education system.

It is perfect? No. Does it cause shame and hurt people, yes. But it still is bringing the entire world out of the dark ages of sickness and intellectual blindness faster than anything has done before.

Finals

Sometimes I wonder if exam week is meant to be a joke.  I’m not sure why.  But I haven’t gone crazy over a final in years.  Today I’ve already taken 2, my third one starts in 30 minutes, and it’s only 1030.  I think that it’s just that I haven’t had a final that has adequately tested what I learned in the class.  Or maybe I am actually in the top tenth, but I really don’t think so.

I almost wish I could take the rest of my finals today, but the other two are scheduled.
I guess I might be bragging, so I’ll stop.
But finals week is fun, I get to do lots of cleaning checks (38).  But there aren’t any today, which is what matters.  Most are tomorrow night. Yay.

Education vs. Schooling

You know, it’s funny, but I’m in an Honours Writing class and today the teacher talked about how trying to get a C in a class would change our university experience. She talked about how it would give us new insights to life and learning, among other things.

While I haven’t been trying to earn a C in any of my classes (my presence in an Honours Writing class should give good indication to that), I have realised that, in some small way, I have been following some of the principles my instructor discussed.
As a resident assistant, my life has become one of service to my floor and building. I’ve given a lot of time to others to help them with papers and other assignments, putting my faith in God to bless me in m studies. And I’ve seen Him come through. As I’ve trusted that my service would help someone else, I’ve seen my own studies greatly blessed (and I’ve felt very rested on little sleep). In fact, I’m doing better this semester than my previous two–and I feel like I’m studying less.
It’s pretty weird, but I have learned a lot as I’ve put my education (about life and all other subjects) in front of my schooling. I’ve learned more overall.
So to all you uptight Honours students, don’t favour your schooling above your education. Put others first, and trust that the Lord will bless you. I’ve seen it.