How Online Advocacy Influences Life Offline

How Online Advocacy Influences Life Offline

Over the past week, five totally unrelated people who know nothing of each other's existence asked me similar questions:

  • "Do your students know about your blog?  What do you do if they find it?"
  • "Do you think your students know about your mental issues?"
  • "What if parents or administrators found your blog?"
  • "How can you advocate for being open about depression and stuff on your blog, but not talk about it in real life much?"
  • "You don't talk about depression at your school, do you?"

In a nutshell, no, I do not advertise my blog at school, but I like to think I write in a way that if a parent or administrator were to find this site, there would be no issues.

I mean, when you Google "Katie Sluiter," I am the entire first page of search results (at least I was the last time I checked).

But yes, kids find it.  Usually while we are in the computer lab doing something that has nothing to do with Google searching your Spanish or English teacher.

This is how it usually goes...

Kid: Hey Mrs. Sluiter!  I just found you on Google!  You have a blog?  HA HA HA HA!
Me: Yup.
Kid: What's it about?
Me: It's on your screen; read it.
Kid: Looks like mom stuff.  BOOOORRRING!
Me: Are you done with this part of your assignment that you should have had done 10 minutes ago?
Kid: Wait. What are we supposed to be doing?
Me:  O_o

And that is all I hear.

Except when I hear this:

Kid in hall to me when no one else is listening or after school in my room: Um, Mrs. Sluiter?
Me: What's up?
Kid: I saw you had a blog.
Me: Oh yeah. I do.
Kid: I like it.  You have really cute kids.
Me: Aw thanks.  Yeah, they are handsome guys.
Kid: Um, I like that you talk about your depression.  I am on celexa (or other antidepressant) too.
Me: Oh yeah?  Small world! I hope it's helping.
Kid: Yeah. It does. {insert longish, awkwardish pause} I like that you wrote about it.  Thanks.
Me: No problem. It helps to write it out.  You don't have to put it on the Internet like I do, but it does help.  You should try it.
Kid: Yeah. Maybe I will.  Thanks, Mrs. Sluiter.
Me: You are always welcome.

I have had a total of one parent comment on it.  It was a parent/teacher conferences and it was one of my writing students.  One of the coolest, most supportive moms I have had the pleasure of working with.  She told me she loved my open, honest writing and that my school and students were lucky to have me.

I've sent the link to my principal so he knows it exists.  Pretty sure he has never read it, but maybe he is just silent about it. I don't know.

I don't talk about my depression and anxiety in school at all.  Sometimes with a few co-workers, but not with students unless they bring it up.  And I never stick my hand out to parents and introduce myself as the English teacher with PPD.

Consequently, I don't talk about it much with my family or friends either.

They either read the blog and know about it, or know about it because they have been made aware of it.  Either way, it's not a conversation we have much.

I've been accused of being hypocritical because I don't shout it from the rooftops.

I am all about breaking down the stigma.  It's why I talk about it here.  But I don't know how that translates into "real life."

It's uncomfortable to bring it up out of nowhere with people, but if someone asks, I am good about dispelling myths or telling them what my experience is like.

But I don't go to restaurants and order my burger and then tell my server about my PPD, PPA, and OCD.

I don't let the dressing room attendants at the GAP know I have Generalized Anxiety.

I don't let the cashier at Target in on my PTSD.

And I sure as heck don't put any of that stuff in my syllabus in the About Mrs. Sluiter section, nor do I introduce myself that way in my welcome email to parents.

If someone asks about it, I don't lie.  I mean, duh. The Google search.

Do I hide it?

Do I fear stigma?

Am I afraid parents won't want their kids in the class of someone who suffers from depression and anxiety?

Do I think parents/students would blame ME when their child gets called out for behavior because I am the one with a problem?

I guess yes... a little to all of these things.

But only as much as I feared these things being a pregnant teacher too.

Kids all the time would say, "You're just mean because you are pregnant."

No, I am being mean because you have been talking to your neighbor ALL HOUR WHILE I AM TEACHING.

You see what I mean.

So where is that line?  It seems to be a mighty light, hard-to-see line between being ashamed and being an advocate.

For me, it's easy to "talk it out" here because I am not talking aloud to a face.  I can think about my words. Pace myself.  Say things exactly how I want to.

In real life, I am awkward and nervous and can't look you in the eye well when I talk about it.

Here I bring it up. Over and over and over.  Mostly so I can process it and document it, but also so YOU can feel less alone and YOU can know how your best friend, sister, wife, mom, whomever is feeling.

In real life, I don't bring it up, but I definitely don't run from it.

Here it is natural.

In real life it is awkward.

Why is that?

*************
Katie Sluiter resides in West Michigan with her husband and two sons. She is a high school teacher and freelance writer and who should probably be grading papers or changing diapers but is more likely blogging, tweeting, or just overusing social media in general. She chronicles all this on her blog, Sluiter Nation.

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