I have long suffered anxiety and depression in my life, and this weekend produced a particularly intense episode of heightened stress for me. I know that it is not socially acceptable to admit one’s psychoses in public, but I honestly think this hinders our understanding of mental illness. We withhold empathy for the mentally depressed as a society by our insistence of not wanting mental instability to invade the rhetoric and policies of the community. I write publicly, not privately, to hopefully allow a dialogue that shows my character as someone who struggles frequently with mental depression.
This weekend’s episode was triggered by a political exchange on Facebook, in which a former colleague, a college professor, attempted to bully her opinion my way, when it wasn’t invited. It was an absolutist opinion about a volatile issue, one for which I openly attest that I will never agree. In fact, she may have managed to push me away in some regards from a position for which I felt fairly secure after a lifetime dedicated to understanding the issue and sympathizing for an oppressed group.
At any rate, I’ve chosen not to share the details of the public exchange at this time, instead focusing on the heightened stress level she caused me this weekend. It’s hard to avoid the stressors in life when one has people who insist on picking a fight, even when warned to just stay away from a sensitive topic, one which tends to flare up an anxiety attack something fierce in me.
That built-up emotion isn’t good for me when I write—hell, it’s just not good for me— because I understand how I can be a rhetorical bully, and I want to avoid it. I’d like to tell you that I resisted this bully’s taunting, but I didn’t. I managed to keep my cool for three days, but the third night, I read about ten further exchanges from this woman, and I lost my temper. I briefly told her off and informed her to take her ideology and stick it where the sun doesn’t shine. She’s dead to me as a friend and colleague, and I feel just awful about it.
Hello, depression. My old friend. I’d ask where you’ve been, but I’m pretty sure you’ve been under the surface this whole time.
Depression is often triggered by the stressors of the adult world, especially when the adult world is littered with bullies who want to dominate the depressed. Supervisors in the so-called real world bully employees with harsh rhetoric, terrifying glares, lunch-room gossip, and creative policies designed to subvert employees who have been conditioned to accept bullying as a good business model. Minimally, we should thank Donald Trump for contributing to the social acceptance of this claim. Colleagues will bully one another for advancement purposes and higher salaries, and in the collegiate world, many professors bully their students habitually, not so much for effective pedagogical purposes, but more to condition and prepare students for the bullies they will encounter in the American workplace…or maybe it’s just to prove everybody else wrong…Lord knows some people have no interest in not being a bully.
About a month ago, I attended a high-school music competition where my two daughters were playing their instruments. I admit I wasn’t crazy about going to this competition because last year I saw how upset my daughter became after a silver medal performance. This year, my daughter didn’t get upset (at least, not as upset as last year), but I saw three young children just bawling their eyes out while walking the hallways. I stopped to put my hand on a boy’s back and attempted to console him; his mother told her crying son to “thank the nice man,” but I could tell his Mom was more taken aback by a stranger intervening on her son’s behalf. The second was a crying teenage girl whose two friends were hugging her. I smiled at her and told her she did a good job; she attempted a smile back, but she just couldn’t hold back the sobs. The third young girl had her head buried and was shaking visibly; by that point, I just couldn’t help to think, “What the hell are we doing to our kids?”
This semester, I’ve noticed how a few students in my courses are becoming stressed out by my class, and I want to eliminate that factor to the best of my ability. I’ve found that stressing out my students does very little to contribute to an education. My goal is to create a relaxed environment where students can elaborate without fear of being bullied in response. I have no interest in preparing students for a world that tells us that bullies should be respected. In short, I’ve written this rhetoric as a device to communicate my perspective to my audience, ye old show-don’t-tell writing approach, and I write calmly to ward off my own rhetorical bully, as that persona has done very little good for me, professionally and personally.