To the Teacher Who Said, 'But You Look So Normal'

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In class one day, you had me stand up and explain the traits I chose to describe what kind of teacher I wanted to be once I graduated. I chose “advocate” because after being severely bullied for six years in public school, I wanted to let my students know I would stand up for them, against all odds. You looked at me and said, as the class looked on, “but you look so normal.”

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See, that’s the thing. I’m not “normal.”

I self-harmed throughout those six years — from sixth grade to 11th. I even made an attempt to take my life. I struggle with anxiety and depression, which makes my day-to- day activities challenging. I can be perfectly content when I wake up, but as I walk into the dining hall or class, I start panicking. I think about the things that have happened to me, and I replay them like a movie. I spend the majority of your class preparing how I will physically and mentally get to my next class. When I go home, I lie in bed for hours, just staring at the ceiling. My assignments are rushed and often late. Every day, I fight an internal war between worrying about things and just not caring.

Your comment has stuck with me this past year; I think about it every day.

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Just because I managed one morning does not mean everything is all right. I am not OK, and I am definitely not “normal.” For those six years, I thought I was normal. I didn’t think I was sick. I thought self-harm was  just a part of growing up. I thought the trauma I went through was my fault.

I have worked hard over the years to accept myself for who I am, and I’m working even harder to get better. I’ve learned that getting help is not as hard, nor as scary, as it seems. I’ve started going to counseling provided by the university.

I’ve also learned there are so many ways to help myself. Some days it’s bad, but some days, I’m pretty proud of myself.

You said I looked normal, but I don’t see myself as that. Every day, I wake up, and I manage.

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But I do have to thank you for saying this because it helped me see I did need the help I’ve finally come across. Nine years since all these feelings started and 11 years since their root cause, I finally reached out. You helped me take that extra step by saying something that hurt me.

I’ve come far from where I was, but I will never be “normal.” Soon though, I plan to be better.

By Caitlin Ainsworth

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