GUEST POST: Jennifer Scott on “Fighting SAD”

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Image via Pixabay by Antranias

5 Tips for Fighting SAD

I have suffered from depression for as long as I can remember. To this day, it always finds a way to put me off kilter. One moment I’m feeling great, and the next, it knocks me down. Those days seem especially plentiful this time of year, when Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) tends to rear its ugly head. But, as I’ve learned more about–and received treatment for–my depression, I have found ways to manage it so that when it does knock me down, I can get right back up and take steps to infuse my days with happiness.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that coincides with the seasons, often beginning in the fall and lasting throughout the winter months. Most people with SAD have symptomatic relief as the days grow longer, the temperatures warmer, and the sun shines brighter. However, this is certainly the time of the year when SAD hits the hardest. If you’re currently struggling with SAD, here are a few ways to fight back:

Sleep Regularly, Eat Well, and Exercise. This idea is not new–it is something that everyone should be doing throughout the year, anyway, but it’s particularly important to maintain healthy habits if one suffers from SAD. Adequate rest, diet, and regular exercise all contribute to a positive mood and can help ease the symptoms of SAD. It doesn’t mean that one cannot enjoy a few sweets every now and then, but one should indulge in moderation and stick to healthy food options as much as possible.

Consider Phototherapy or Increase Your Exposure to Light. Shorter days mean fewer daylight hours, and this lack of exposure to the sun is believed to be one of the biggest contributing factors to SAD. People who suffer from this disorder can ease their symptoms by increasing their exposure to light during the cold winter months. Phototherapy often is provided through light boxes; spending time under fluorescent lights can also help reduce the feelings of sadness and depression one experiences from SAD.

Avoid Over-Indulging in Alcohol. While it’s fine to indulge in an adult beverage or two (provided you’re not on medications that have adverse reactions to alcohol or that you’re not in recovery from an addiction), drinking too much alcohol will only make the anxiety or depression you’re feeling in connection with SAD even worse. It might be fun while it lasts, but recovering from a binge the next day is no picnic. If you’re struggling with SAD, don’t overdo it when it comes to drinking–moderation is the key.

Think Summer. Warm temperatures and sunny days may be months away, but it doesn’t mean your days can’t be a little brighter. Conjure up the positivity and possibility that come with warmer temperatures by participating in summer activities during January and February. For example, you might invite a friend over for a summer movie marathon. Or, you may throw a summer-inspired party, like a luau, so that you and your friends can escape the cold and dreariness–at least in theory.

Consider Volunteering. One of the contributors to increased anxiety and depression for people with SAD is the tendency for activity levels to decrease. It’s cold outside, so staying in, snuggled in a cozy blanket in front of the fire may sound like the best way to spend your time. However, not taking the opportunity to get up, out, and active can increase feelings of loneliness and depression. Find a way to volunteer your time or do something to give back to others. Not only does it force you to get up and out of the house, but volunteering for a good cause naturally provides feel-good vibes and opportunities for socializing and connecting with new people.

Combating SAD’s symptoms may seem like an uphill battle. That’s why it’s important to take steps to maintain good health, keep bad habits in check, and find ways to get out and about and do something good for those less fortunate. Doing so will help to reduce the negative symptoms that plague us during these short, frigid days.

Jennifer Scott is a lifelong sufferer of anxiety and depression. She created her website, SpiritFinder.org, as a platform for advocacy on opening up about mental health. Through the site, she hopes to share the types of steps and success stories that can help others realize their own power. When she isn’t working on her website, she enjoys traveling, working with animals, and seeking out new friendships and adventures.

Struggling: When the Need for Social Justice Never Sleeps

Have you ever found yourself struggling–emotionally, physically, spiritually? By the book, you’ve had the hours of sleep you need. You are happy with yourself and your life. You know what drives you, what your values are, and fight for your beliefs. Your boxes are checked, but you see something, hear something, think something, and there you are: struggling.

I am struggling today.

I haven’t written in a while. I’d blame it on lack of time, but we’re all busy. It is easy to hide behind guest posts and occasional blurbs, but there are words to be said and I’ve sat silent. Behind silence is privilege and cowardice. A colleague and mentor, Bettina Love, often writes: “White silence is violence.” I am beginning to understand the gravity of those words today, especially since I began this post four weeks ago, and here I am, finally posting.

I have so many incomplete posts that will live forever in the purgatory of “unpublished drafts.” Yeah–it is easy to get lost in life; lost in the day-to-day, but despite being busy, I can still find time every Sunday to watch yet another Black man die on The Walking Dead so, in short, let’s talk about our world in and outside the classroom (and everywhere in between). I am not necessarily going to start with Ferguson and end with what is going on today, but I’ll start with my class and we’ll go from there. Please join me in this dialogue.

I was reading an article about the school-to-prison pipeline with my seventh grade ELA students a little while ago. As you’ll see (if you click the link), I added annotations to encourage active reading. Here is a link to the original piece. Previously, my kids and I were knocked around for poor grades on benchmark tests addressing nonfiction texts, so we read, analyzed, and responded to articles discussing this topic, income inequality (there are fewer annotations here because they were instructed to come up with questions and answers of their own), the American dream (or, mostly, lack thereof), and more.

Needless to say, their test scores did not improve much, but the way they read and responded to texts did, so I call that a win. Since then, I have had more students willing to speak out and about “controversial topics,” including race relations, gender issues, income inequality, the disillusionment of the American dream, and more. I have seen and heard them relate “single stories” to their own experiences. I am amazed by these kiddos every day. They are brave and tenacious.

If you’re reading this piece and thinking I underestimate(d) my kids, you’re probably right. This year is my first working in a middle school (and eighth year teaching). For some reason, before I began, I pictured my students as much younger than they actually are. I am surprised often by how little I know and how little I’ve experienced in comparison to them.

This year is also my first time teaching in a rural school district. I assumed these topics–ones of race, class, gender, sexuality, etc.–would be difficult to address in my classes. They aren’t easy, of course, but my students are extremely receptive to discussing various ideas, despite where their opinions land on the spectrum of possibility.

Most of these surprises are positive ones. My students are critical thinkers who are eager to learn–that discovery is both inspiring and uplifting to me as an educator. However, despite how great things may be going, there is always something on the horizon that stops me in my tracks–and then I struggle.

Today I learned that three White men, allegedly White supremacists, shot and injured five people in Minneapolis who were participating in a peaceful #BlackLivesMatter protest. Here is the story. These people were protesting the murder of Jamar Clark. According to NPR, “Police say they shot Jamar Clark in the head because he interfered with paramedics who were treating his girlfriend. Demonstrators say this is yet another case of police using excessive force.”

I was in Minneapolis this past week/end for the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention. At the convention, I joined others from the CEE Commission on Social Justice in Teacher Education in a protest against Pearson’s unethical, profit-hungry policies that hurt our students, teachers, and the educational system as a whole. While I still believe this protest was a necessary act and raised awareness (that even caught Pearson’s attention, since they took down much of the footage online), little did I know something else–something bigger–was happening on the other side of town.

In other news, I also learned earlier this year about a young woman who was assaulted in her own school, own classroom, and own desk by a school police officer:

In international news, we have seen Paris’s struggle. Not only was the attack on Paris horrific and unbelievable, but I am also ashamed at the media’s coverage thereafter. We have reentered the arena where Syrians and Muslims are terrorists, look a certain, stereotypical way, and are unworthy of our help and refuge. Even more? The media has all but ignored the attacks in Beirut and Kenya, where other brutal attacks occurred around the same time as the ones that hit Paris.

Many, many more social justice issues and events have happened recently, but despite what has happened, how do you talk about these things with middle schoolers (or any students for that matter)? It has been fairly easy to discuss general social justice issues–race, class, gender, religious differences, etc. However, as I enter discussions about specific events, I struggle–and my students struggle.

How do you explain a broken world, but encourage hope and action in your students without merely bursting their dreams before they’re even formed? How do you put a face on injustice–and why am I being forced to do so over and over again? To clarify, I am not arguing against social justice pedagogy, and I am especially not arguing against teaching for social justice. On the contrary, I am struggling today because I’m looking for a light in this world, but we keep entering a further state of darkness.

I’m struggling because I’m angry.

I’m struggling because my students are angry.

I am struggling because the world is angry, and sad, and hurting, and when people stand up for what they believe in, they’re deemed as: whiners, radicals, crazies, extremists, wrong–and some are even shot or murdered for their beliefs. How do I inspire these kids to stand up for their own values if others are being physically and emotionally harmed for demonstrating theirs peacefully?

This post is not a resolution. It is not meant to be a radical rant. It is simply a post from a struggling teacher living in a struggling world. Any suggestions?

JJW

Rise.

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You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

neutraloppressorDoes my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 1.06.26 PMJust like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 1.10.24 PMDid you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 1.12.08 PMDoes my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 1.14.58 PMYou may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

ac6qxuw3ogsc6chngc5oDoes my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

11193321_10101769550134147_1503411069760286507_nOut of the huts of history’s shame
I rise

martin_luther_king_arrestUp from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise

MarchonWashington1963I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise

3034486-slide-s-1-hands-up-dont-shootInto a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise

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Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

–Maya Angelou

Grappling with Social Justice

I find myself wondering if “social justice” is becoming a buzzword–a trending topic. On one hand, of course it is. Everyone wants social justice, right? How can a person argue against justice, especially in a country that defines its founding upon it, in a way? On the other hand, though, talking about it and living it are two different things–especially, in my opinion, when it comes to teaching for social justice.

Christine Sleeter (California State University, Monterey Bay) wrote a compelling piece for the Journal of Language and Literacy Education titled, Deepening Social Justice Teaching. In it, she addresses the very issue I am currently struggling to understand: what, in fact, does teaching for social justice look like now? How is it changing, and how can I evolve with it in order to best meet my students and my community? I don’t want this work to look like a trend; I want it to be my past, my present, and my future.

According to Sleeter (2015), “Teaching for social justice means developing democratic activism: preparing young people to analyze and challenge forms of discrimination that they, their families, and others face, on behalf of equity for everyone.” To me, that means meeting students where they are, asking them and getting them to ask questions about their world(s), and troubling the ideologies behind those questions and answers. Then, and most importantly, acting out in response to those thoughts.

Sleeter’s words (throughout this piece) encourage me to look past talking about issues, and toward talking back at them (hooks, 1988). Teaching for social justice is not just expressing one’s anger about the injustices found in our country, but acting out against them. As a teacher, I think “all of this” has more to do with how my classes are conducted–what we read, what we write, what we do, how we interact with our communities–and less about what is in my heart as a social justice educator. I can want the best for my students. I can hope for change, but I need to be social justice–be the change (as Jones mentioned in her TSJ guest post).

So, what can we do to make sure “social justice” isn’t trending, but is becomingbeingstaying?

Another mistake; another funeral pyre: When will we stop killing our Black boys?

There are so many things that happen in real life that already happened in books. I suppose ‘history repeats itself.’ However, it seems like we’d learn from our mistakes. Some do, sure, but we — the human race — make the same mistakes over and over, turning a blind eye to injustice. My mind wanders to Ray Bradbury’s famous quote: “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” Somewhere, people are not reading; or, if they are, they are not paying attention. This has to stop.

Of course, Bradbury was referencing Fahrenheit 451 (above). I love the last few pages of this book, as it draws attention to humanity’s Achilles heel: we can’t help but make the same mistakes repeatedly. Although, maybe we can learn from them:

There was a silly damn bird called a phoenix back before Christ, every few hundred years he built a pyre and burnt himself up. But every time he burnt himself up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again. And it looks like we’re doing the same thing, over and over, but we’ve got one damn thing the phoenix never had. We know the damn silly thing we just did. We know all the damn silly things we’ve done for a thousand years and as long as we know that and always have it around where we can see it, someday we’ll stop making the goddamn funeral pyres and jumping in the middle of them. (p. 163)

I was hoping the death of Trayvon Martin would be our last funeral pyre. I was hoping we’d learn from his tragic murder. I was hoping his death would open our eyes to the racial injustice that still exists in our “free world.” However, we’ve built yet another funeral pyre in the death of Michael Brown. We have to stop killing our Black boys. 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” The death of Michael Brown does not just affect him or his family, it affects all of us [indirectly] — it affects our world, and we should not stand for such injustice. I am not arguing for everyone to raid stores or hold violent protests, but we must do something

Stephanie Jones wrote an essay arguing that these deaths are stories that must be told — in our classrooms: “Every single story matters. Teachers, let’s not get caught up in what is common. Let’s talk about what is relevant. Let’s talk about how these things get started and how they keep going.” Maybe the problem isn’t that people aren’t learning from mistakes; maybe they’re not learning. I’d love to open a dialogue about how they/we can. I’m not talking about White saviors, but about social justice education. How can we make these stories so common that they cannot be repeated?

Further Reading

Brittany Cooper’s In defense of Black rage: Michael Brown, police and the American dream

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail

Corrine McConnaughy’s Trayvon Martin and the Burden of Being a Black Male

Peggy McIntosh’s White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack

 

Note: This post feels unfinished because it is. I don’t have answers, only questions.