Since 8th grade with Mr. Conway, I’ve reread The Giver several times, and even “taught it” to several students, whatever that means. I read into every little detail, knowing I’m going to have to discuss it in greater depth with my students. But for some reason, this time around I really feel like I understand what’s going on.
Rereading this first chapter really got to me. I’ve been feeling pretty frustrated with the way people throw around their adjectives (whether that's because I am extremely literal, or because I am an LA teacher...), but this hit the nail right on the head:
“It was December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened.
No. Wrong word, Jonas thought.
Frightened meant that deep, sickening feeling
of something terrible about to happen…”
A lot of the time, we use words to describe the way we’re feeling when we either A) aren’t aware of the true meaning, or B) because it’s so overused (in it’s exaggerated form) that we think we know its true meaning.
And we do this a lot. I am consistently at fault. I get in a frighteningly bad mood when I haven’t eaten enough. I’ll probably tell you that “I’m starving,” when, you and I both know, I’m really just hungry. I might tell you “I’m exhausted,” when really, I’m pretty tired and could use a nap. A lot of us say “That’s interesting,” when really we just don’t know what else to say. (Thanks Lois Lowry.)
But what I’m getting at here is how often we say things, even if unintentionally, that really hurt or embarrass other people. When we say things like,
“Oh my god, she’s so bipolar.”
“She's so skinny, she looks anorexic.”
“I basically had a panic attack.”
“I have PTSD from last time.”
“I’m getting anxiety from that.”
We forget how lucky we are to be able to laugh about it. But mental disorders are not adjectives. I know many of you may be reading this thinking about how annoying “political correctness” is. But there are just as many people, if not more people, thinking about their own mental health.
“…There was a little shudder of nervousness
when he thought about it, about what might happen.
Apprehensive, Jonas decided. That’s what I am.”
You see, mental health is something we grow up hiding from. We’re told to “act normal,” to “quit being so emotional,” and to “stop crying” from such a young age. But we’re not normal. And we are very emotional. And maybe we need to just cry.
Mental health is something that controls not just your mind, but your body too.
There are days when I wake up ready to take on the world. I dance around the room and teach with more energy than 5 other people put together. I go on a walk by the ocean at lunch. I cook dinner for my friends. I smile because I am happy.
And then there are days where I wish the sun wouldn’t rise. My entire body aches as if I’ve just run a half-marathon without training. And it’s not that I want to think or feel that way. It’s that something in my brain just didn’t click that morning and I just can’t seem to figure it all out.
But the more we hide from our emotions and berate other people for showing theirs, expressing theirs, the farther away we move from compassion. And the more we toss around disorders as if they’re just casual adjectives, the more people are afraid to ask for help. But we need help. We all need a little help from each other.
I am challenging myself to think more about my “precision of language” (when I need to), and I’m asking you to challenge yourself, too.