Story Time, the Default Button and Mental Health

Yesterday afternoon, I shared a quick story with my Period 4 and 5 PDCP 10 classes.
Ironically it was four years ago Sunday that I hit the publish button on article honoring my former coach and mentor, the late Dale Turner.
I was compelled to write that article after a presentation from my friend Dr. Cheryl MacDonald.
It was a Tuesday or Wednesday morning I can’t remember exactly what day it was now, but I was flying out to Montreal on a scouting trip that Thursday. We were covering the careers section of that course and I had invited Cheryl to school to talk to my class about her work and career path. The conversation shifted near the end of her presentation to bullying.

I hadn’t shared my story with anyone, but the memories and emotions came flooding back to me in that moment.
I told the story that eventually turned into the article “Ten Minutes That Changed Everything”.
A weight was lifted off my shoulders, I remember telling Cheryl after that class, that I couldn’t believe I had actually told the students that story and that I hadn’t shared that with anyone for a long long time.
I was really nervous leaving for Montreal, that Thursday, it was my first scouting trip, the first trip on a plane in a long time and the first time I had been that far away from my family ever. I had started writing my thoughts down Tuesday night and had about 300 words down before I stopped writing. All I wanted to do was to honour Dale. Honour and pay tribute to him taking the time to go deep and help me as a person and player when I was 16. As I sat on that plane, the words started flowing. They wouldn’t stop.
By the time we had started our decent into Montreal, the article was almost finished. Several times between games and periods in Blainville those four days, I found myself tweaking it, re-reading it constantly. By the time I touched down in Moncton on Sunday evening, the article was ready to go. Monday morning, I hit the publish button. I never really thought what would happen next. The overall reaction to the article was incredible. Fast-forward four years later in the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of our career’s unit, in the middle of Mental Health Month, and I begin to tell the story. As I’m sharing my thoughts and feelings with the class, the word default came to mind. You see I hit the default button that day in 1994 in Dale’s office in the basement of the old Moncton High. When he asked me how I was doing, I gave him the prototypical teenager default reply. “I’m doing ok, I’m doing fine.”
Thank God, Dale knew enough to pause and reflect and in a split second and come back with a game changing message.

“That’s what the other guy said and I don’t want to lose you.”
That changed everything.
Dale knew I had hit the default button.
He knew I was hurting and didn’t let me get away with the usually default setting.
Like I told my students yesterday, I’m not the be all end all of mental health or teaching for that matter, but if they are hurting not to keep hitting the default button. I realize it’s the easiest thing to say or do, but I tried to convey the importance of sharing and talking with someone.
I’ve written and told this story a lot since I met and interviewed Michael Landsberg in 2016, but to this day his words are etched on my heart and teaching DNA.
How can teachers help our student’s mental health?
Landsberg’s response still resonates in my soul, I’m paraphrasing now, but his reply went something like this.
“For teachers it’s incredibly difficult, because people who suffer from depression are really good at wearing the mask. I think teachers can help the most by creating an atmosphere or environment where it’s ok to talk about mental health.”
“It doesn’t matter what class, it could be Math, English or Science, if kids know that it’s ok to talk about mental health in that classroom or environment then that’s the most important role teachers can play.”
We are all too quick to hit the default button. Nowadays it’s our go to setting for everything really.
“Yes, I’m fine.”
“Yes, everything is ok.”
The fast pace or warp speed pace of our lives has created a default setting loop when it comes to our mental health.
In all walks of life, we need to break away from that setting. I’m not the be all end all of teaching or mental health advocacy, but I continue to try to create an environment where it’s ok to discuss mental health, it’s ok to share, it’s ok to talk, it’s ok to check in, it’s ok not to be ok.
Let’s all try to be more aware of everyone’s default settings and potential barriers they have created when it comes to mental health.
It’s time to hit the pause button, it’s time to talk and share.
It’s time to go deeper.
It’s time to listen, check in and not always accept the default button.

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