When I was young, I thought I wanted to be a doctor. I was okay at math and science — enough so that my grades ensured that I was third in my graduating class. But I didn’t love the subjects, and the deeper I got into high school, the more it became clear that my actual interests lay in history, literature (sort of – I had five English teachers in four years, and none of them inspired me to love the subject), the social sciences, and that side of academia. I also feel that I was completely robbed my senior year. That year, instead of having the teacher we all thought we were going to have for senior college prep English, we had a first year teacher who let us TALK HER OUT OF teaching the Canterbury Tales. That year was a horror show of a teacher who I now wonder if she even liked her subject and made it as boring as possible. With the hindsight of an adult, I also think that she went about teaching the subject as if we were in seventh grade, instead of seniors in high school, preparing for college. She does get a pass for introducing me to George Bernard Shaw, but that’s about it. The class was unorganized and a waste of my time. At one point, a good chunk of us asked the teacher we SHOULD have had to help us out a bit, and she did, but I feel like her extra lesson ended up being unnecessary.
I hated senior English.
But the lack of teachers who instilled a love in their students for the study of literature wasn’t mirrored by teachers who taught us history, economics, and government. From those men I learned that history isn’t a dry series of names and dates, with an event to give the names and dates a title. I learned that history could be dynamic, and evolving. And this lesson was brought to fruition during college, where I was challenged and supported and taught that history is living and changing, and needed to be studied and understood, so that the future could be better shaped by what had come before.
I graduated college, and entered into a period of several years where I lost that connection to the subject that I had loved before. I became certain that since I hadn’t made it into the arena to continue my education, that I was actually worthless as an historian, and not competent to learn for the sake of learning. What was the point, I thought, if there would be no reward at the end of it?
Depression had sunk its teeth into me really deeply, and that was the result. My most recent bout of therapy has helped me the most, I think. I’m addressing the anxiety that has held me down for years, feeding the depression and leading me to believe that depression was the main mental illness that has been my companion for years. I now believe that the anxiety has been the worst monster, and as I start to chip away at it, learning to tame this beast that leads me every day into a battle against it, I can start to find my way through it. I may have felt like a failure all of my adult life, but my life isn’t over YET, and there is still time for me. I can still write, I can still learn, I can still reach out for the life that I deserve and that I can make happen.
I recently started listening to the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast. I’m learning things, just for the sake of learning them. I’m remembering what I knew about history when I wrote an essay about why I wanted to immerse myself in the subject in college, how it is dynamic and ever-changing, and how we as human being need to learn from the past so that we do not repeat the mistakes that were made. The years since college have taught me to appreciate a truly broader knowledge of the world, and to understand that the lessons contained in the history texts we’re given in high school and which we buy for our college courses do not even begin to cover what can and should be taught. I have learned, and continue to learn, that what I have been taught isn’t always correct, and that in order to be a better human being with a better understanding of my actual place in the world, I need to be willing to listen to and seek out other sources of knowledge, and to acknowledge that the history I have been taught is biased and does not include all that it should. I am also learning that I do not need to have the shiny degree to do all of this, and that I can best teach the young people around me these lessons by living them.
My life isn’t over yet, and I have a lot of learning left to do, and I intend to do it.