At the end of fourth grade, I stopped caring.
The breaking point was a class assignment learning about biographies. We were to select a biography from the library and create a presentation on the person we selected. I chose Mary Cassatt. That was about as far as I got. I could not bring myself to do the work. I realized how incredibly pointless this activity was. I knew this was a bad idea, but I could not motivate myself to do anything. When it came time to do the presentations I stood up at the front of the class uttering a few short sentences. When a classmate asked, ‘What did she do?’ I said in a bratty voice with the stink eye, ‘She was an artist’. My teacher promptly told me I shouldn’t be so rude, as I didn’t say what she did in the first place. Luckily, summer break was about to start and while I probably failed this assignment it wasn’t really enough to spark attention from my teachers, but it was the moment I remember a shift in my mind, the knowledge that I could not do something, even if deep down I knew I wanted to, another force had entered my psyche.
Then fifth grade came, a personal year of hell. My teacher and I were like oil and water, she didn’t offer me a sense of motherly comfort as teachers in my previous years had. I felt low for no reason and the idea of doing schoolwork felt completely irrelevant. I stopped caring, and things spiraled. I started to hide homework, or letters to my parents. I knew I wasn’t as quick to learn as my friends. I felt like I was in a bubble watching most of my classmate’s flourish in activities I too wanted to do well in. I felt like an observer rather than a participant. One specifically bitter memory was while working on a history project. When given some free time to work I blankly sat at my desk, doing nothing. My teacher pulled me outside the classroom and questioned why I was not doing any work, saying ‘just yesterday you were doing so well.’ I didn’t have any words. I just started to cry and she scoffed not understanding what was going on, and really neither did I. My grades were hanging by threads and I felt lost. Weekends were bliss, as I could just spend time with my sister and dog, Sunday nights were hell as the imminency of Monday morning loomed. I had a saving grace that year, as it was 1997. This was the year of ‘The Flood’ in my town. The flood cut our school year short, as well as gifted an unusual amount of snow days. When April arrived and the melt began it came with a fast force and we had to evacuate our town. Migrating between grandparents and their homes I finally ended up in a small-town school in Minnesota near my maternal grandparents lake home. There was something freeing for me in this change. I wasn’t having to battle with my teacher on a daily basis, or harbor the self imposed sense of failure that my peers successes had on me. I was going to school for reasons other than just learning, it was for a sense of normalcy. During that time, I started to understand the depth of love I had for my family, and the joy of small things like my grandma making me breakfast before she brought me to the bus stop. I didn’t feel great, but I felt free. When summer break came, and our river retreated my family moved back into our house, with a long road of reconstructing the damage the water did on our home. Because the end to our school year came to such an abrupt end we had one last day in school to clear our desks and say goodbye to our teacher. I brought a massive black garbage bag with me that day. When I opened my desk, it was a complete shit show of papers stacked and crumpled, and the most cathartic activity was piling it all in that garbage bag. My memory cannot tell me if this next statement is correct, but I want to believe that the bag was never reopened, all of my physical crap from that classroom was chucked into a dumpster.
Environment played a role in my mental state, but it was just a spark igniting what was in me already: a disposition for depression. My fifth-grade year was the first fully fledged wave where I experienced its odd hold on me. I can easily look back on subsequent phases in my life when this has taken over and nearly destroyed ambitions of mine. Now, there are small indicators that flare up as warning signs for a downfall, but by no means a crystal ball. As I have gotten older I have learned how to work with my waves as best as possible. I now consider myself to have ‘high functioning depression’ as I am able to cope with the depressive and highly anxious episodes. I like flux and flow. I thrive with some key habits as parameters and control of my time working independently. In this state I produce work I am proud of, as well as enjoying the process of production.