The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Teacher Lesson Return to "Fighting the Monster Inside Me"
Fighting the Monster Inside Me
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Lesson for “Fighting the Monster Inside Me”

Fighting Depression

Almost every teen feels depressed at one time or another, or has a friend or relative who is depressed and wants to be helpful. Thus, Alina’s story about her own depression, “Fighting the Monster Inside Me” is guaranteed to have broad appeal in your class.

When you are depressed life feels hopeless and it is hard to see what steps you can take to begin to feel better. The strength of Alina’s article is that it shows the many practical and concrete steps she took, over several years, to conquer her own depression. In hindsight, Alina knows how hard her struggle was, and she wants to share it with readers who may be helped by it, or can use its insights to be helpful to others. To emphasize the closeness she hopes to achieve with readers, she writes her story as a personal letter.

Following are suggestions for a three-part discussion of this story.

Part 1: Describing Depression: You and the class will review the basic facts of the story and find the places where the writer describes her depression.

Part 2: Exploring the Author’s Struggle to Combat Depression. Part 3: Reflection (and an optional writing assignment).

[Note that the time frame of the story extends from 9th and 10th grade, when the writer becomes increasingly depressed and even feels suicidal, all the way through her first year in college, when she feels she has conquered depression. There are no overnight cures for depression, and this story’s long time line emphasizes that point.]

Part 1: Describing Depression

A. Feelings: To emphasize the kind of feelings associated with depression and “normal” feelings make two columns on the board, one labeled “Jekyll (normal)” and the other labeled “Hyde (depressed)” and ask students to list the feelings she describes under these two states. (For example, Jekyll = “loved and important”; Hyde = “helpless, lonely, sad, ready to fight”)

B. Causes: Ask students what they think is making the writer depressed. (She mentions her parents’ divorce, her mom’s depression, her dad’s “edginess” and, later in the story, her dad’s lack of emotional support.) Students may volunteer that there seem to be biological/chemical causes of depression as well. Acknowledge that to be the case, but note that it’s an inference because she doesn’t mention it in the story.

C. Symptoms: Ask the class to give examples of what she does when she’s depressed (stays at home, avoids friends, cries).

Part 2: Exploring the Writer’s Struggle

A. Strategies: Alina describes many concrete things she did to fight her depression. Ask your students to list as many as they can. Write on the board “Alina’s Struggle” and beneath it ask students to list all of the specific strategies she tried for fighting her depression. (They include: going to a counselor, (it “felt weird” but he “really did care”); starting to respect and appreciate herself; think positive; express her feelings; write in a journal; play handball; try medication; talk to family about her struggle and fears.

B. Reactions: Alina was not alone in her struggle. She notes that when she began to open up about her feelings many people came to her support: “After that, Mr. Hyde had to deal with an entire group, not just one person,” and “My family and my best friends made up my support group.” She is most surprised when her father, who previously hid his emotions, comes through and shows his love for her..

C. The future: Alina says “I still feel like I have days when I feel like Mr. Hyde has just punched me in the face,” but at the same time she says she has conquered her depression. Ask your class if they think Alina has really conquered depression, or whether she may always have to battle it, but with confidence that she has the tools to defeat it.

Part 3: Reflection

Suggest to the class that there are some things we can never completely “get over”: we can’t bring divorced parents back together; we can’t bring back a loved one who has died. There are many circumstances that are not under our control. What is under our control is how we respond to them. Alina is a powerful example of someone who used every resource at her command to struggle with her depression. She may get depressed again in the future, or she may not, but if she does she has the tools to fight it. Ask the class to discuss the difference between “conquering” a problem, and learning how to fight it.

Optional Writing Exercise: Ask your students to think of a problem they are facing, or that a friend is facing. Then, write a letter to themselves or to the friend giving support, and specific examples of how to struggle to overcome the problem. If the letter is to a friend, explain what help you’re willing to give. If the letter is to yourself, describe what help you’d like to get from friends and family.
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