What Does your Face Say to the World?
I don’t look sick. I look “normal.”
That word haunts me.
Is normal taking dozens of selfies from different angles to get the best one for social media so that people know how happy you are? No. Tried that.
Is it begging someone to love you for who you are? Nope. Done that too.
Is it normal to buy friendship? No, tried it.
Is it looking in the mirror and giving yourself compliments like your therapist told you to, only to do it with tears streaming down your face, knowing you don’t believe a damn thing coming out of your mouth? No, that’s not normal either.
I’ve searched for “normal” my entire life, and I haven’t found it.
No, I’m not crazy. No, I’m not fragile.
But I’m human.
I’ve struggled with mental health since I was 13 years old. Starting in the 8th grade, I struggled with anorexia, bulimia, depression. I’ve grown in so many ways since then and am in recovery for my eating disorder, but the depression and anxiety still creep up on me.
I’ve been told so many times, “If you’re depressed, you’re just sad! Find something fun to do!” Right. Didn’t think of that.
My depression manifests itself in unpredictable ways. I can be on my couch staring at the wall, crying for no reason. I can be out with friends and suddenly feel empty, like there’s nothing to live for. Depression made me lose my passion for teaching, the one thing I’ve held onto – the one thing that I’m good at: working with kids. Depression made me lose relationships. Depression made me a different person.
This past year, I lost my beloved grandmother; quit one of the best jobs I’ve ever had because of a shitty boss; had sinus surgery; got the stomach bug and had a bad reaction to the medicine, resulting in blacking out and falling down a flight of stairs only to learn I had suffered a traumatic brain injury. My brain was bleeding.
Months of physical therapy and speech therapy helped me recover, but because I hit my frontal lobe, I’m an emotional mess. I also moved in with the guy I thought was the love of my life -the first guy to show me what it’s like to be treated with respect. He never put his hands on me or raised his voice, yet I just couldn’t make him love me the way I loved him. Depression puts a real damper on love.
So, I moved out, started a new job as a reading interventionist for middle schoolers, enrolled in a graduate school program, and found myself on my knees, praying for peace every night. It turned into one of the darkest times of my life.
Suddenly and more vividly than before, I began to picture myself jumping off of a bridge or just veering off the side of the interstate on my drive home. I started eyeing prescription pills and drinking heavily. (You want to talk embarrassing: When your live-in ex-boyfriend has to take you to your car in the morning because you have no idea how you got home. Don’t worry, I found a place to live…. And my car.)
One night, I swallowed a ridiculous number of Tylenol pills, only to vomit them up. What was the point of living anymore? I felt no worth. The man I loved the most told me he had “fallen out of love with me” and the last friend I had that reached out lived thousands of miles away. One of the only “girlfriends” I had in Nashville had become toxic. The last time I had spoken to her was when her best friend told me, after meeting me once that I was simply a “cry for help.” I was a failure. This was my fault. I had done this to myself. I could have worked harder at the relationship, I could’ve gotten more help with my anxiety, I could have been a better friend. Maybe I should have never told anyone about my struggles. I was a terrible, unlovable person.
I was alone.
Besides my family, would anyone really know I was gone?
It became a blame game for weeks upon end. I kept looking for an answer of what I did wrong, what I could have fixed, or why I couldn’t be more confident. Everyone always said, “Have more confidence and you’ll be fine.” As if confidence was a bottomless bowl of chips and salsa at the local Mexican restaurant.
Then, something funny happened. I had just started this job as a part-time reading interventionist for middle schoolers. I’ve taught kindergarten for the past 5 and a half years, and I didn’t even really like middle school kids. Yet, I needed a part-time job while I started graduate school (early childhood education) and healed completely from my traumatic brain injury. The job was offered, and I took it immediately. I could learn to teach a caseload of struggling middle school readers, right? Turns out, they seem to have taught me more than I’ve taught them.
A few weeks into school, I was in class with two of my 6th graders, reading a book about a woman with a scarred face called “The Skin I’m In” by Sharon Flake. In the text, the author asks, “What does your face say to the world?”
So, I asked my two sixth grade boys in my class what they thought my face said to the world.
They started laughing and carrying on, saying, “I don’t know, Miss Mullins.”
I asked them again, “What does my face say to the world?”
They laughed a little more and said, “I mean, you got blonde hair.”
“That’s not my face. Dig deeper.”
The boys could see I was serious and stopped laughing. Student 1: “Well, you always smiling, so maybe your face says you’re happy.” Student 2: “Your face says you’re confident.”
Nobody had ever called me confident.
“What makes you say that?”
“Miss Mullins, you hear yourself yesterday? You was real confident.”
Student 2: “Ooooh, you were letting them 8th-grade boys have it for playing in the bathroom. You was confident. So, your face says you are confident.”
I looked at those two 11-year-olds with a blank stare.
“Miss Mullins, we know you hurt your head real bad, but look at you now. You was strong.”
I blinked back tears as we resumed reading “The Skin I’m In.” Soon, I felt my voice grow stronger, more sure of itself. When I reached the stopping page for the day, I kept going. My mouth formed the words in the book, but they didn’t register. All I could hear were the words my students had used to describe me. Confident. Strong. Confident. Strong.
We reached the end of the chapter. I read on. The bell rang, and the students quietly left my room. I sat back, not sure whether to laugh or cry. These two kids saw the confidence and strength inside me that I had never seen before. I was supposed to be teaching them, not the other way around, right?
Well, I guess sometimes, things aren’t as “normal” as they seem.
Katie I am a long time friend of your Aunt Cissy. I don’t normally comment on Facebook but I wanted to share a few words with you. i met you at your grandmothers funeral. Wonderful woman, loved you with all her heart. I wish you could see in the mirror what I saw when I met you. You are a beautiful young lady with a kind and loving heart. Go back and read your story you posted. It is full of your STRENGTHS. Oh my word at the struggles you have been through since you were thirteen. You have chosen to survive, to move forward. That is the ultimate sign of strength. I am so glad your students told you what they saw on your face. So glad you ask.