SOLON, Ohio — Dina Rock has taught many subjects in her 32 years as an educator, but there’s one lesson in particular she hopes sticks. It’s the lesson about an invisible backpack.
“I use this concept with my classroom about an invisible backpack and allowing kids to be able to express their emotions through talking about the weights we carry,” Rock said. “We don’t talk enough about how to have your mind healthy.”
The weights, she mentioned, in her lesson are bricks that fill that invisible backpack.
“They opened up and they understood. The idea of a backpack is so easy for anybody to understand. The idea of a brick is so easy to understand. The weight of a brick is easy for everyone to understand,” Rock said.
She said it’s an easy way for kids to check in on how they are feeling, and express it to others.
“I’ve had kids that said ‘I had a really rough day. I think I had a 3 brick day.,’” Rock said.
A brick in your backpack can be any emotion that’s weighing on you.
“Whatever emotions you’re going through, whatever struggles you have, problems, worries, anxieties, angers, anything that you’re dealing with emotionally and internally is a brick,” said Hannah Cohen.
Hannah Cohen is Rock’s cousin. She said she grew up carrying the load of mental illness, but she never really expressed it.
“I would get really dark periods of time that would happen but you don’t know what depression is as a kid. You don’t even know what anxiety is,” said Cohen.
Cohen said it wasn’t until the loss of her cousin, and Rock’s nephew, Ezra, that she felt a need to speak out about her depression and anxiety.
“I don’t really talk publicly about it and losing Ezra really showed me that a lot of people, they don’t know unless you tell them. With him, he was such a wonderful, vibrant soul, always smiling, always engaging in conversations,” Cohen said. “We saw this extraordinary guy who had such a bright future ahead of him and he didn’t see that inside of himself.”
Ezra took his own life in Feb of 2020 at just 19-years-old after a longtime battle with depression. It was a war inside his head that no one knew he was battling.
“He loved everyone and people loved him and nobody knew what he was going through and he had been struggling since he was younger,” said Rock.
The two women decided to honor Ezra and promote positive mental health by putting pen to paper. They created a children’s book called Ezra’s Invisible Backpack.
“The book follows the story of a 4th grader named Ezra,” said Cohen.
In the book, Ezra’s teacher tells them about an invisible backpack and the bricks that can weigh you down that no one else sees. Ezra did not believe that anyone could have bricks because they looked happy on the inside until a girl in class sits down and talks about the bad day she is having.
“He realizes ‘Oh my gosh, just because the outside looks one way and it seems happy doesn’t mean that’s how they’re feeling inside’ and he realizes he’s not alone in his struggle,” said Cohen.
It’s a realization they wish their real-life Ezra could’ve had sooner, but one they’re hopeful will help other children as they work to de-stigmatize mental illness.
“On the inside he was struggling. If people had known that, maybe it would’ve given him better days. That is the purpose of this, is to help people have some better days,” said Rock. “It’s meant to make an impact.”
You can buy Ezra’s Invisible Backpack on May 25 at anywhere books are sold, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can also purchase it directly here.