It’s been a long road. If you told 16 year old me that tomorrow I would be starting a new job as a high school English teacher, he would have called you a liar. Impossible. Could never happen. Wouldn’t even think I would have lived to make it to 33.
Yet, here I am.
As some of you know, I suffer from depression. As a result, I dropped out of high school. I lived for many years in a dark and lonely place. You may have known me back then, and yet, not known me at all. There was the Jon you saw (when I managed to get out of bed) and the Jon I was – a scared, desperate teenager who wanted nothing more than to vanish from all the pain life was putting me through.
It wasn’t until the death of a friend that I finally managed to come to terms with the fact that I had a disease and I needed help. Luckily, that help was there for me. What’s more? I’m blessed with family and friends who helped me as I pulled my life together and faced who I was in order to realize I deserved a future.
Now that the future is here – I can’t believe it. I can’t believe I’ve been able to find a person to love for the rest of my life. I can’t believe I’ve filled my world with so many wonderful friends and colleagues. I can’t believe I’ve found my way back to education and worked through undergrad and grad school. I can’t believe I’ve traveled – around this country and others. I can’t believe I’m going to lead young minds on a journey of self-discovery during a time I struggled with so dearly. I can’t believe so much of where my life has ended up, that when I think back to that fearful 16 year old, all I want to do is tell him…tell him…well…nothing. Because without the terrible fight my youth gave me, I wouldn’t be who I am today.
So, who am I? Am I fixed? Is everything just hunky dory? Afraid not. A big part of me is still that lonely, sad teen who is scared he won’t make it another year. I have come to learn that this is a part of who I am and will be a part of me forever. And I’m stronger because of it.
The difference between who I was and who I am is simple. If life is a boxing match, teenage Jon was nothing more than a punching bag – stepping out bell after bell and getting pummeled. I fortunately came to realize that the only way I was going to survive into the late rounds was to start throwing back. Today, I come out, again and again, swinging.
Eventually, everybody needs to reflect on their life – to look back and examine who they were so that they might better know who they might become. Now that I have come to what may look like the other side of my suffering as this drop out becomes a teacher, it’s time to tackle a subject I always felt I was too close to to write about: me. I feel that I am ready to look back on that fearful teen in order to let other fearful teens know that, yes, there is a chance at happiness.
In a few days I will enter a classroom, not as a depressed student, but as a confident teacher – still battling with who he is and who he was – like everybody out there. And it won’t just be any classroom. For the first time, and hopefully, for many years to come, it will be my classroom. Not only will I be able to discuss the subject I love with eager young minds, but I will be on the lookout for kids who look like they need a trainer and might want to start thinking about hitting the heavy bag.
If life has taught me anything from 16 to 33 it’s this – there’s always more. There’s always more pain; more happiness; more sorrow; more joy; more learning; more ignorance; more safety; more danger; more work; more play; more desperation; more confidence; more certainty; more uncertainty.
The judge rings the bell, another round begins. Hands up, always defend yourself, and get ready to bleed and be bled.