It’s OK not to be OK. You hear that phrase all the time. Especially in May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month. It is one thing to hear it but another to believe it. My therapist recently told me that it is hard to tell others that we are not OK. Saying it out loud is very difficult but it shows how strong you really are. I am working on being OK with not being OK.
Throughout my first year as a Lasallian Volunteer, I have had to overcome many challenges. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am not a big city person. So, moving to Philadelphia was a very big adjustment for me. Getting used to life in a big city took some time. While I have gotten used to living in a big city, I’d be lying if I said it isn’t hard still at times. Just like everyone else right now, I have also had to adjust to the changes COVID has presented. For example, teaching during a pandemic, which others have noted is not easy. It took some time to adjust and learn how to teach both in person and virtual students. At La Salle Academy, I am the PE teacher for all grades (third to eighth), as well as teaching fourth grade religion. Creating PE lessons that did not require equipment, were contactless and kept students six feet apart, as well as allowed virtual students to participate, was challenging. I had to get creative in what we did because I still wanted it to be fun for both the in-person and virtual students. Despite these challenges, they don’t compare to living with depression and anxiety while experiencing grief.
I am often getting stuck in my head and believing the lies my depression and anxiety tell me. It is very hard to get out of my head, and that is something I am working on. However, even on these difficult days, my students make me smile. Though school can become overwhelming at times, my students are part of my reason for pushing through. At the end of each of my PE classes, I tell my students to remember that they are loved. As I say it, I make eye contact with every student so that they know it is true. I say this to them because in college one of my education professors would end class that way and some days that meant the world to me. On my bad days, I would hear him say that and I would feel a little better because I knew that it was sincere. It meant so much to me, and I wanted to pass it on to my students. A lot of times it is ourselves that are telling us we aren’t loved or worth it. That is a lie that our mind tells us. I still struggle with believing that I am loved at times, so in a way, I am also saying that at the end of class as a reminder to myself. At times, it feels like my depression and anxiety have such a tight grip on me that I can’t get free. Now add grief to the equation.
Losing my older brother to cancer has been the most difficult and confusing part of my life. Even though at times I feel stuck and that there is no way to continue with all this pain, I know that I have a support system behind me. My community and the LV staff have been amazing in supporting me through my grief process. The Brothers can always make me laugh during social, and Kayla and Racheal never fail to make me smile. Kayla and Racheal have been there for me constantly. We go on adventures together and have deep conversations together that only continue to strengthen our relationship. I genuinely enjoy being together with them. It is a source of comfort to know that I have their support being so far from my family and friends back home. The LV staff has gone above and beyond in supporting me. They have provided me with more support by extending my support system, giving me more people to talk to and process the pain that is grief.
Life is challenging but with the endless support Lasallian Volunteers has given me, it is a little less challenging. One thing that is being told to me constantly is that there is no timeline and that there is no one right way. This applies not only to my grief but to my mental health. It is something that I am still working on believing. I’ll be honest, it is difficult for me to hear it sometimes, but I think it is important that I keep hearing it. For me, I want to see an end, or at least a light at the end of the tunnel, as they say. I recently told someone that I feel like every time I am making “progress” or “moving forward” I get turned around and then I am not doing OK. It has been hard for me to say to others that I am not OK. I am trying, though. Just as I have to remind myself that it’s OK that I’m not OK, I need to remind myself that it is OK to feel like I’m going backward. Because, as people have told me, there is no timeline. Life has all kinds of twists and turns, ups and downs. It’s hard. But I keep trying to be honest with myself and others. There is no timeline. But there is progress, even if it’s hard for me to see. The LV staff has helped me take the steps forward to asking for help when I need it or admitting that I am not OK. They have helped me make my mental health more of a priority. Even though my mental health has slipped a few times since being in Philly, I am reminded of the progress I have made.
I am slowly being OK with not being OK.
Emma Mockler is a first-year LV serving at La Salle Academy in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Emma is a 2020 graduate of Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota with a degree in elementary education.