#EqualAccess Series Guest Post: After All You Can Do
This post is part of The Exponent’s #EqualAccess Series. Disabled voices rarely get a chance to speak for themselves, but this blog series seeks to eliminate the stigma that disabled people are less than, and need a representative to speak on their behalf. This blog series is intended to break stereotypes by gathering the voices of disabled individuals. #DisabilityExperience
by Miriam Castle
Sitting through church has never been easy for me. When I was in primary, I thought, “maybe when I’m a teenager, I will learn how to be reverent and not talk”. When I was a teenager, I thought, “maybe when I’m an adult, I’ll learn how to pay attention”. Now that I’m in my 20s, I’ve accepted the fact that church + ADHD + anxiety = not the best combo, but that I’m doing my best. One of my favorite scriptures is 2 Nephi 25:23, which says, “…for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do”. Even if I can’t make it through a meeting without zoning out multiple times, I know that if I am doing everything I can to make myself feel centered and healthy, such as taking my medication, daily prayer and scripture study, attending church regularly, and striving to serve others, God will reward me with blessings because I am doing my part.
This last fall, I took a huge leap of faith and moved across the country from Provo, Utah to Washington, DC, where I would be doing a semester of student teaching at an inner-city high school. I was so excited to be teaching US history in a city that had so much history itself, but that didn’t come without anxiety. I did not know anyone in DC, not even my roommates, who were also student teachers.
Six days after we settled in our apartment, we finally got to meet our program advisor. She was around the same age as my grandparents, and she talked a mile a minute about our expectations. I don’t remember anything from that first seminar except for when she looked all serious and said: “Ladies, there’s something really important that I need to talk about. A lot of women in the church struggle with it, and it is Satan’s biggest tool in making us feel inadequate. I’m talking about perfectionism.” She went on to say that if we wanted to be successful, we needed to learn how to deal with these thoughts or else we would be depressed and on Prozac. I figured that since she was from my grandparents generation, her views of mental health were not up-to-date, so I nicely said, “Actually, being on Prozac is the one thing that has helped the most with my anxiety!”
Thankfully, she said, “and that’s okay!” and changed the subject. However, almost every time she came to observe me teaching, she would bombard me with comments on everything I wasn’t doing perfectly, ask me to take notes, and then ask me why I always looked so stressed. I would say, “Well, being a teacher is hard and there’s a lot of things I have to remember to do, and if I remember one thing, I forget another.”
Instead of offering advice or acknowledging my feelings, she said, “Well, don’t you have ADHD in addition to anxiety? Shouldn’t your brain be really good at thinking about 10 things at once?”
I explained that’s not how it worked, and then she went back to where she was at our first seminar: “You are a perfectionist. And those thoughts that you have to remember to do everything right are preventing you from being successful. Remember, this is how Satan influences you. And you better learn now how to not let that influence get to you.”
I left school that day feeling discouraged. My advisor would put words in my mouth and tell me what she thought I was thinking, instead of listening to me tell her how I was feeling.
Still, for the rest of the semester, I tried doing everything I could to strengthen and center myself. I prayed every night to be focused, prepared, and confident in my teaching. My sweet roommate would wake me up every morning to help me be on time. I made friends in my ward who were very encouraging, and one of them even helped me lesson plan. But I still felt like I wasn’t doing enough. Where was that grace that came from 2 Nephi? Deep down, I had a feeling that God was going to come through with his grace, but why not now?
Eventually, I hit rock bottom and got to the point where I would literally sit in front of my computer for hours and still not get any lesson planning done. I had been successfully managing ADHD and anxiety my whole life, and yet when I needed to the most, I couldn’t. Was I not trying hard enough? Where was that grace? Even my students, who I loved so much, were noticing that I was completely exhausted and asked if I was okay. That warmed and broke my heart at the same time.
The weekend before Thanksgiving, my advisor took me out to lunch and broke the news to me that I had to fly home 3 weeks before the semester was supposed to finish. I had never felt so embarrassed, confused, devastated, or angry in my life.
Yet, that’s when I got my answer.
I had a thought in my head say, “You did all you could do. You read your scriptures. You took your meds. You never gave up. You worked really well with your students. You learned a lot about yourself, and things will work themselves out.”
And they did. Through the grace of God, I was able to meet with the university and am finishing my student teaching this semester at a local high school. My mentors and advisors have been super encouraging, and I found a therapist who is giving me tools that will help me become successful. I am still graduating on time. God was able to see that I was doing the best that I could do at the time, and even though it hasn’t been easy, I am so grateful for that grace.
Miriam is currently finishing her student teaching at a local high school. This April, she will graduate from BYU with a BS in Teaching Social Science. She is passionate about tennis, rock n’ roll, and mental health awareness.