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That 11-year-old smirk

She had all the signs. She was listless, uninterested, tearful, evasive, negative self-concept, irritable and easily provoked. She failed the initial survey I gave on Emotional Quotient. She was quiet, she never complained, she never lashed out at me, but she seemed to be on complete auto pilot. Shuffling thru her day, to her desk and back, answering the questions she was called on, but her smile would only go to a smirk. She cannot be depressed…she’s 11, is this adolescent depression? I have only ever read about it, no…it can’t be. What in the world could make an 11-year-old, stunningly beautiful girl depressed?

I unfolded my blanket on the grass, she made unintentional eye contact with me several times, I mentally prepared for her as I smiled and pretended not to notice her noticing me. I began to unpack my items that I usually use to engage the students into conversations about emotions and started with a deep breath to clear my mental space, I was ready to go…or so I thought.

While most of the kids are jumping out of there seats to meet with me, she never is. Today I knew I had to level with this kid and really be myself. An open ear, a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold a soft landing in any way I could. I can see the pain in her eyes, I can feel it in my heart. What has this child seen and can I help her in some way not be so sad?

“Hi”, I said with my excited smile! “How long will this take?” she said. “Oh, um, I get to sit with you for 30 amazing minutes”! “Ok, let’s go”, she said. “Sure” I said, “so my job is to talk about”… “I know what you do” she interjected, “I have been watching it when you come here”. I knew instantly, I would have to completely individualize this workspace. “Oh Good” I said, change of plans, “can we just talk actually”, I said. I pushed the books and worksheets back out of our space, leaned back on my hands and said, “Sometimes I feel like crap, you know”. There was the smirk…not a smile, but a glimmer of a smile. “Do you ever feel like crap” I asked. “Maybe you don’t know why, maybe you do”. “Yep”, she replied. Picking thru the grass, seemingly not interested in me.

“Can I ask a favor?”, I said. Would you be comfortable if we sit back to back take a deep breath and just talk about all the things that make us feel like crap? She reluctantly agreed. Here we were, back to back, on my paisley blanket, ready to release our crappiness! I do generally try and stay on protocol, but sometimes, you just need some girl talk! The real real…and let’s face it, this is no average 11-year-old.

“I don’t know what to say” she said. “It’s okay” I told her, “just take a deep breath and start saying words that make you sad” “What makes you feel bad or sad” I asked again. She took several deep breaths with me and I could feel her little body start to shake, trying so hard not to cry, one sniffle, and then two...”Breathe” I said. “I am right here for you; you are safe here”.

We sat for several minutes in silence for her to release her tears, and then the words came, and they didn’t stop. It was like she was waiting to exhale, and you could feel the load lighten as she spoke. She talked to me about some very sad things and guarded others deeply upon exploration. We worked on self-esteem, coping strategies, mindful meditations and breathing and how to stand tall in the face of anxiety and sadness. We talked about some of my crappiness and we did have a laugh. A wonderful big belly laugh that provided a blanket of healing around both of us.

Today, she trusted me, she felt safe with me and she shared what she was comfortable sharing with me. That’s what I am here for. I am not here to label, diagnose, push opinions, or make decisions for her. I am here to explore emotions and without labeling them good or bad empower this youth to make great mental health decisions. I am here to be a voice if you need one and a silent guide if not.

I offered her a safe and quiet space to think and release, a soft landing and silence. A space to feel connected and relatable. We were just a couple of girls admitting we had some issues that could be worked on and that we were going to be A-OK!

I even got a hug that day and believe me, that smirk was the perfect smile. I began to see her as a beautifully complex work in progress. I honored her with the respect that some of her life was actually very sad, and she was just doing her best to muddle through it.

Today, she got to exhale, a moment, if only one, to breathe and re-connect with herself. Validation that she was good and worthy and lovable. She now has some coping skills to get her thru the bad days and celebrate the good days, if only worth a smirk! We both found some peace today, because sometimes life is sad, and that’s okay.

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