Content Warning: This is a post about depression and suicidal thoughts in primary school.

This year after summer our daughter started group three in primary school. It’s the first ‘proper’ school year, in the sense that actual lessons start. Reading, writing and counting is the focus right now of course. She has a classmate X with whom she was friends already in the past two years. X like Y is a quick learner, a fast learner even. X could already read fluently last school year. As a consequence X is extremely bored right now. The material on offer in class is well below Xs level. In the past weeks I’ve seen X change from a sparkling little kid to a listless one. We regularly cross paths en route to school and X used to shout a greeting from afar and chat with us, but he fell silent, eyes downcast. Every day X was more reluctant to enter the school, and came back out looking flattened, regularly in tears.

Myself, I hated primary school after group three. In my memory it literally became very dark at school (years later I saw that this was caused by a bunch of tall oaks keeping sunlight away from that particular classroom, which resonated with my psychological state). From before I remember the sense that something new and exciting was hiding beyond every corner just for me to discover. The endless repetitions of the same things, the same sums, the drone of saying the multiplication tables out loud. Things to which the answers just seemed to already exist in my mind. The teacher kicked me out of the classroom until I had finished all the repetitive work in the hallway, when I refused to do them in class because I didn’t see the point. It stopped after the head teacher found me in the hallway one day, and apparently had a word with my teacher. I withdrew and lived in my head. In the photos from my school class in those years, I don’t recognise myself in them. I now know where I am in those images, but back then I found myself in the photos by removing all classmates whom I did recognise, until I was left with the one person that logically would then be me. Back then, realising I would return to that school day after day after day, I lost the energy to live. I started sleeping with my head down below the tight sheets and blanket at the feet end of the bed, so I might suffocate during the night and not wake up. I tried taking a bath early mornings thinking I might fall asleep again in the tub water and drown. I read somewhere that a child had injured themselves stumbling while having a sharp object in their breastpocket. I kept sharpened pencils and a small screwdriver in the shirts with breastpockets I had, in case I stumbled on the way to or from school, so they might stab my heart. It somewhat improved after group 4. Increasingly I gained space and permission for my own projects while the rest did their lessons, which helped. In group 6 at some point, sitting in class, I was playing with a marble in my mouth, rolling it around. It shot down my throat and I choked. I remember thinking, ok, this is it now, and kept quiet while my air ran out. The child next to me noticed after a bit and called out to the teacher “something’s wrong with Ton”. The teacher intervened and dislodged the marble. Group 7 was my best year, with what I thought was the best teacher. He was a young teacher then, he’s 72 now, twenty years older than me. When I talked to him 7 years ago at my dad’s funeral and mentioned he was my favourite primary school teacher, he said he still very much remembered me, because he did not have a clue at all how to handle me. That had stayed with him. So he just fed my curiosity and kept suggesting things to see what would stick.

In hindsight I see that primary school time from group 3 until group 7 as my first depressive period. I was a fast learner. Towards the end of primary school a school psychologist alerted my parents about that, and told them to be aware it could lead to issues at school. My parents never mentioned it to me, thinking that as long as things seemed to go well it would not be needed to talk about it. Not knowing how I actually felt those years, which I in turn didn’t dare talk about at home. They told me when I became depressed towards the end of my university years. It took me until shortly before Y’s birth to actually feel sad for primary school age me. When I mentioned it to a coach half jokingly along the lines of how childish and clumsy my attempts at death were. You were seven years old, do you realise how deeply sad that is, the coach asked me. I do now.

I was a fast learner. Well above two standard deviations out, but below three sigma. X seems to be more than four standard deviations out from the average. Seeing X change these past weeks tore at me. Luckily Y and X’s primary school is very aware and active when it comes to differences in learning speed. Already last year both were in a group that got additional material and challenges one or two times per week. For Y that seems to be working well enough, she’s always eager to go to school. But not for X. The school can handle the needs of children up to three sigma out, not beyond. In the past week X visited a different school that is equipped to provide the right level of stimulation full time, and Friday Y came home saying X would be switching schools in a few weeks. X’s new school looks great I saw on their website.

I very much hope it brings back the sparkling X from before. I hope the sparkle stays well alive with Y. Seven year old and current me are rooting for them. We’ll be in ongoing conversation with school of course as well.

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