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Friday, 22 February 2013

Working With Children and Working With Depression

The following is not an easy thing to admit in what I hope to be a widely-read blog, but I have, to varying degrees over the last decade, suffered from depression. Aside from a few months when I was eighteen this has thankfully not been debilitating, and I have been lucky enough to be able to get on with my life. I think keeping busy is generally a good thing to do under these circumstances, and you can’t be kept much busier than spending a day working with large groups of children.

Working with children helps me in various other ways too. For example, it forces me to work hard on how I present myself. When you feel depressed it is very easy to fail to make an effort with things like social interaction, and even your appearance, and you simply can’t neglect these things when you’re working in a school. I am also constantly having to present the enthusiastic, upbeat side of myself– I want to be invited back, I want the teachers and the children to like me and to engage with my work, and I want the children to produce good work of their own as a result. This can be exhausting, but the more effort I make the better the outcome, and the more confident I get. And with confidence starts to come happiness, enthusiasm and an upness of beat. This is the opposite of a vicious circle – a happy oval, let’s say.

It must be admitted that part of the satisfaction I get from performing my poetry to children is egotistical – it makes me feel good about myself to see lots of children laughing and enjoying my work, thus boosting my self-esteem. But it is not all about me and my work. In a sense that I find very hard to articulate, and at the risk of sounding a little pretentious, I find the joy of children incredibly life-affirming and poignant, whether or not it is derived from my own work. At the end of a day working with children I feel that the laughter of the playground has somehow diffused into me. This is not of course to suggest that all children are happy, and sometimes during my workshops I come across children who are reluctant, unconfident or just plain glum. I can relate to these children (see my poem ‘Bad Day’ on my website). I have little way of quantifying or measuring it, but I hope my patience and understanding has a positive impact on them. I think it does – one of my proudest moments is helping a boy to go from tears and frustration to laughter and confidence.

Working with children is obviously not for everyone. I personally find it uplifting, challenging and rewarding. Anyone who has encountered depression will know that these feelings are precious. 

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