Teaching With Depression (Part 1)

I haven’t posted in a long time. The burnout I was facing at the beginning of the summer has lifted.  Unfortunately, the intermittent bouts of sadness and depression to which I’ve been prone for a couple years have taken its place.  So today I shift gears slightly, and puzzle out, how do I do this when I’m really, REALLY epic-ally sad?? How do we care for our students when we can barely care for ourselves?  I am sure I’m not the only music teacher out there teaching with depression.  I hope you’ll add a kind or helpful comment – I know it will help someone who is feeling alone and unable to reach out.

So, this blog post all started with a post to my personal facebook page today:

I know why people “hide” their depression. At least I know why I do. It’s because when you wake up in the morning, too low to do anything beyond the bare minimum, who has the energy to tell someone they’re not feeling well? Or even to post it on an impersonal social media site, for that matter? Then the next time is similar, and the next, until eventually that little voice creeps in who says,

“Nobody really wants to know…” “It’s not like anyone can make it better…” “People only want to see funny cat videos and kid quotes…” “There’s so much awful stuff out there in the world, why add yours to it…?” “Just get through today and maybe tomorrow won’t be so bad…”

And maybe tomorrow will be better–but sometimes it isn’t. And pretty soon, through omission and self-convincing, you’re in a pit, haven’t told anyone, and bizarrely feel that you shouldn’t tell anyone.

So here goes. I’m in a pit today. I’m not in a pit every day, but today is a pit. And I still had to do some serious self-convincing to even post this. Blah. Send me hugs please.


Today, I got a huge outpouring of support and love, even from some people I hadn’t seen since high school graduation. So many sharing their own stories and struggles, letting me know I wasn’t alone.  If there wasn’t a pit in my heart, it would have been filled to the brim.

Today I Cannot. Stop. Crying.  For the moms out there – you know that day a few days after giving birth, when your hormones are so wild that you literally cannot turn off the waterworks?  That’s how my day is. Every time I read a statement of support from someone, I start crying again.

Today… wait for it…  I teach 13 students. How do you teach when you can’t stop crying? Today I am going to be lucky to feed myself and my family. How the heck am I supposed to face my students?

How Do You Feel About Lessons Today?

Well, I’ve decided that this is a prime opportunity for a “How do you feel about Piano Today” conversation.  In my lessons, I try to weave through this concept of music as a long term relationship.  A commitment that comes with ups and downs in your feelings about it, much like a marriage, a job, or anything else we do for a long time.  When you’re overall feelings are in a valley, they drag down your feelings about everything else too.  When your overall feelings are on a peak, they can bring everything up too.

I tell my students that valleys are the most important time to practice consistently – because if you can get through them, the rewards when you get to the peak on the other side of the valley are SO WORTH IT.  Even though you can’t see the peak when you’re down in the valley (or the pit). It’s OK to be feeling down in the dumps about piano. It’s OK to feel your feelings.  You will get through it.

So today I’m in a valley about everything, teaching included.

And it’s OK.

I might cry in your lesson today. And I’m going to teach anyway. How will it go? Who knows?  Find out next time.

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5 thoughts on “Teaching With Depression (Part 1)”

  1. I teach college classes, so, very different, but – I also find that teaching gives me a sort of performance high. I always feel better afterward even if I go in sleep deprived and/or depressed. I think it must be much harder to keep up the performance one on one, thirteen times in a single day! But I agree that sometimes just going through the motions, finding you can still function even when you feel awful, can build your confidence in your own abilities, and your faith that you will get through this. Hugs to you Shanta.

  2. Several years ago I had a family situation that forced me into the pit. Teaching was the only reason I got out of bed. It was my life saver! I thank God for it!! Keep teaching and focusing on others. That’s great advice. Praying for peace and joy for you, Shanta. Thanks for being real.

  3. Wow, this is a brave step to take now. But if people understand a little about what’s going on, they will be better equipped to ride along with you. Everyone goes through things like this to some degree, so they will empathize. And the kids will want to try to cheer you up, but they will worry about what to do, and it may confuse them and make them anxious. They, by themselves, may not be ready for this: be sure to involve the parents and invite them to participate. The end result, pragmatically speaking, may be to call off the lessons for a week sometimes. Brain chemistry is a tricky thing to balance, and letting nature just take its course might not be enough–you may need some skilled help. Medications? Be open to anything. A tell yourself you don’t mind filling your time with mundane maintenance activities. Routine things can be helpful. Best of luck with everything. Don’t forget about your innate self-worth, which is a locked-in-place truth you can always count on.

  4. Hi, Shanta! Thanks for being so willing to share. While I haven’t personally struggled with depression, I have close family members who do. Here’s a coping skill that helps them and, frankly, is good for all of us. Shift your focus and energy to others. How can you pour into others and be a blessing in their lives? So, teach! Focus on your students, their life coaches, your family, your friends, the cashier at the grocery store… These planned acts of attentiveness, kindness and mercy feed our soul. I wish you much fulfillment on your journey. Abundant cyber hugs to you, fellow traveler!

  5. Sometimes I go into coachings and can’t imagine how I’ll get through. Then I get going, get distracted by the necessity of being in the moment and responding to the human being in front of me, and before I know it my spirits have more room to expand, if not lift up. Music, especially the sharing of music, has such power to give hope and stir positive emotions. We are lucky that if we have to work, we work in such an inspiring field. We work in a field where vulnerability and generosity are not only welcomed, but vital aspects of what make a musical experience feel satisfying and complete. Wishing you room to expand and allow happiness to enter. 🙂

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