Last week, I did something I didn’t think possible when I started this blog. I got the opportunity to speak with a group of eighth graders about my journey in finding my passion for writing and mental health.
When the wonderful teacher – who I believe these kids are beyond lucky to have mentoring them on a daily basis – contacted me through my blog, I’ll be honest: I was excited, but also very nervous. I was being asked to impart knowledge on young minds. Minds still being shaped by society, by everything around them.
Immediately, my anxiety started to feed off of this fear. The fear of being good enough. I had several different thoughts running through my mind:
What would I say?
Would I get my message across in the right way?
Would any of them even care?
Sitting with this feeling, I began to prepare for the presentation. I met with the teacher beforehand and it was such a privilege to see how she runs her classroom and all that she does to educate these students. She put me at ease for the entire process. Something that normally really helps to calm my anxiety is feeling ready, prepared. The mantra I can handle this, only tends to work for me when I have a plan.
This inspirational teacher lent a hand to that. Giving me an outline of how long I was going to be up front and center speaking, what I should touch on, and what aspects of my passion combined with anxiety I should focus on seriously helped me to center and get the creative juices flowing.
When the time came to type it all up, I found myself procrastinating. I waited a couple more days than I should have to get started. I talk about myself all the time, but actually putting it down knowing I would be telling my story to around 20 people was hard. I have some struggles that are difficult to talk about, and some that I really had to learn from. While they were awkward to bring up in front of a classroom, I’m glad I did. I was able to relate to them and show them that no one is perfect – it’s okay to be flawed.
When the day came to speak in the classroom, I made the trip to the local middle school with my close friend in tow (shoutout to her for coming along and taking the awesome photos below!)
With my heart racing as we walked up to the classroom door, I knew this would be important. Young minds, I kept telling myself. They are impressionable, it’s crucial what we say to them. The teacher brought us inside the classroom and had us sit in the back until class started. Taking my notecards for the speech out, I fumbled with them. Twisting, folding, bending, I could feel the anxiety spreading.
To get focused and ready for the day, the teacher did an awesome little group circle with the kids where we all stood and said a great affirmation for the day, and then she would call out something like, “This week, I cried,” and if you actually cried, you would take one step into the circle. With others doing the same, it was a wonderful way to show young kids that it’s okay to share. It’s okay to cry, and it’s okay to do something positive.
After that activity ended, the teacher wasted no time in introducing me. As I made the short walk up to the front of the classroom, my palms were sweaty and I was red in the face, but I still survived. I stood up there and showed those kids my soul. My whole being. Good and bad, difficult and easy.
Taking them through the unknown of applying to colleges, the pressures of college, and then the unpredictable life after school, I made sure to stick with the message that no matter what they end up pursuing, they are good enough. There is a certain magic in finding your passion, and I’m lucky enough to have found my purpose already.
After I talked their ear off about my own life, we delved deeper into what anxiety is. I did an interactive exercise with them where I wrote “What Is Anxiety?” up on the board, and asked them to come up with a few situations that gives them anxious thoughts, or would make them feel overwhelmed.
This was the part I was extra anxious about. Middle schoolers aren’t exactly famous for their love of sharing, so I had this nightmare that I would be standing up there with the loudest crickets chirping in my ears. Boy, was I wrong. I got an overwhelming amount of kids wanting to share, so we had them come up and stick the post-it note of their situation on the board!
For the next exercise, they wrote down “How Do We Handle Anxiety?” This time, I gave them an example of how I handle my own anxiety, and then had them write down how they would maintain it. I got some fantastic answers – with some young girls even bringing up Mindful Minute – and so many of them willing to get up and stick their post-it on the whiteboard.
At the very end, I left them all with three positive affirmations I always tell myself:
Whether I’m waking up in the morning, driving to work, or laying down to go to bed, I never miss a moment of saying these mantras. I ended the presentation asking them to say the affirmations with me, and I was so, so touched at the energy that came from it. I felt like they truly believed it.
They wrote down different prompts and even created their own affirmations on what they learned and we had a little Q&A where they got to ask me any questions they wanted. Most were pretty straightforward, but a few had depth. I had one young girl ask me if I remembered the moment I knew I had to start therapy. Damn, kid.
Once everything had wrapped up, the kids broke their focus. Gathering up their notebooks, cell phones, and backpacks, they made their way to the next class. I hoped that I made an impression on just one of them – that would be enough for me. It wasn’t until the teacher let me read some of their reflections that I realized I made more than one impact.
Check out a few of my personal favorites:
Turning each page of these reflections solidified my love for all that I’m doing on this blog. While I may have days where I feel like no one is listening, or not enough people care – this day took that all away. It is beyond important how we speak to the younger generation about mental health. I feel very confident that this amazing group of young minds not only got my message – they are living it.
Thank you to this inspirational teacher who everyday chooses to lead her students with empathy, kindness and awareness. I was honored to be part of your classroom.
Do you want me to speak at your local middle or high school about mental health or finding my passion? Email my blog or share in the comments for more!