This morning, I read the news about Stephen “Twitch” Boss who committed suicide at 40. Boss was the former DJ and co-host of the Ellen Show, but my husband and I had known him from his beginnings and his meteoric rise after his stint on So You Think You Can Dance, which we had watched religiously since its inception.
Twitch always seemed like he was the epitome of happiness, and while I’m absolutely shocked at his death, I can tell you with absolute certainty that you can look fine on the outside and be dying on the inside. I think that’s why I’m so saddened by his death.
Five years ago, I changed jobs…
The school district where I taught indicated that there was a strong possibility that there would not be funding to pay the teachers in August – teachers who had been loyal and devoted employees for DECADES. In fact, I explicitly recall being told that this was practically guaranteed. I was among that number. I’d been teaching over ten years in that district, and I’d had no plans to ever leave my position that I absolutely adored. I knew, without doubt, that I was meant to be teaching exactly were I was – in the small-town high school from which I graduated.
I loved knowing the parents’ of my students, knowing exactly where they came from and who I could contact. I took pride in singing and teaching the fight song and the alma matter that I’d sung so proudly during my years at the high school. I laughed about how I was the “crazy school spirit teacher” when I’d been a completely introverted and isolated nerd-girl valedictorian during my own 4-year stint in that school. I sponsored the freshman committee and dedicated endless hours to Homecoming Week activities. I could not have been more dedicated to an institution.
The Initial Fallout
About a month before the new school year started, rumors were circulating about mismanagement of funds under the retiring superintendent and the distinct possibility that there would not be money available to pay teacher salaries. As much as I loved my students, I loved my family more, and so it was imperative that I find a job that would provide a steady and stable income.
A friend called me and told me to apply to a middle school in the neighboring parish – an elite public school that served the best of the best. Within two days, I’d applied and was interviewed. I was offered and accepted the job before I left the interview – and from that point on, I was on a downward spiral.
It Happened So Fast
It was supposed to be the Disney World of public schools. Most of the educators employed there thought it was. The students were an absolute DREAM. That I can admit. I was absolutely OBSESSED with my students. I’d never experience students who were so gifted, so insightful. For the first time as a public school educator, I realized the absolute impact of socio-economic status on learning. It was heartbreaking. I mourned for my former students, some of which had come to school from homes with no running water or electricity, or those who had begged us for a few dollars so that they could buy “extras” at lunch so they could have dinner at night.
Within my classroom, nothing changed. I was still the same kind of teacher I’d always been. The problems the students faced didn’t go away, they had just morphed. My students all had food and running water and electricity, but so very many of them had social and emotional problems. I’d never experience the sheer volume of children who were struggling with their gender or sexual identities. I’d never had so many students who were suicidal.
What they didn’t know is that while I was trying to help them through their emotional crises, I was experiencing my own. Much like Stephen “Twitch” Boss, I seemed just fine, but inside, I was anything but.
I’d go home every single day and face one of two modes: I’d either stare at the wall blankly or stare at the wall and cry… FOR HOURS. And every day, I’d go to work after and pretend. Pretend to be fine. Pretend to be happy. Pretend that I didn’t imagine myself bleeding out in my bathtub just the night before.
Facing The Worst
My story could have ended up just like Twitch’s. There are times when I am afraid it might still one day. But in my lowest of lows, when I walked up the stairs to my media room and could vividly see myself hanging, I knew that I needed to tell someone, ANYONE. And that those people existed and would have me sent on a grippy sock vacation ASAP.
And there were more than a few people there to help me. People who were lifesavers in an endless and vast sea of despair, no matter who they were – brilliantly hilarious students, new co-workers, a new tattoo artist, an old friend who became a lover – they all saved me. Each of them were oases in what felt like an endless desert designed to kill me.
I am one of the lucky ones.
I made it out. Years of medication and therapy later, I am still terrified of that place I found myself in, that I painstakingly dug myself out of. Not everyone is so lucky as I am.