To teach or not to teach? That is the question.

I am often told, ‘Teaching is a calling’ and to some extent I agree. You do not get into teaching for the money, that is for sure. The hours are long and the pressure can be high. You can be shouted, sworn and even spat at sometimes, by students and sometimes by parents. My pay is dependent on students results and it does add an extra pressure.

However, it is a steady income, above average salary, with long and frequent holidays. You can see students learn, progress and achieve. I have helped students though bereavement, abuse, physical and mental illnesses and more. Support them as they deal with learning difficulties. Inspire them to enjoy my subject, history.

Every job has its highs and lows. In teaching this can frequently happen in just one day. I understand the demands of the job. The emotional ties to wanting the best for your students. Leading to late hours of planning lessons, researching new ideas, preparing resources and marking, marking, marking. It is no surprise that media headlines show that teachers are leaving the profession at the highest rate ever recorded (Huffington Post).

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I went into teaching to help students who might be having a similar childhood to mine. Even when I told a teacher what my home life was like, I was not believed. My mother worked at my school and she was very well liked. Do you believe the angsty teenager or the parent, who is also a friend? Behind closed doors she was different; emotional abuse, gas-lighting and neglect. I was made the family scapegoat and bullied by my siblings too. I did not know all the terms then, but I knew it was wrong. Although I believed it was all my fault.

As a teacher I want to save all those unheard ‘child Becky’s’ out there, yet I never can. I was programmed to be our family resucer and I can help and support my students. But I have had to accept that I can not save them from their lives. I can; report what I see to social services when needed, I can teach healthy lives and relationships, provide emotional support, teach resilience, model survival, recommend counselling and even make recommendations to parents. I am a pastoral manager within the school to be more involved in doing all these things. But I cannot save them.

Not only due to the fact I am not their parent, but also the restrictions on social services and the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. Both overworked and understaffed, so they are putting out fires. They have to prioritise physical and high urgency cases. So the mental or emotional are left dropping down the list. I am sure this is not the whole picture and I have simplified their struggles, but I do know this is how it feels to me.

I say I have to accept this but I am struggling, I find this so difficult. This failure to save them all then triggers my childhood feelings of worthlessness and not ever being enough. Their stories set off memories of my own. I empathise and relate to their lives as they happen. I wish I could do more for each one but I am not their parent or from social services.

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Currently I am suffering with depression. I can not seem to shake it and have had to have two different periods of time of school/work. No single case has caused this but an accumulation of seven years of teaching and supporting young people and feeling like I have not saved one. I am not even sure what I mean by ‘saved’.

I am now re-evaluating my life and my choices. Do I keep teaching? Is it just the pastoral side, do I just drop the management role? Is it our catchment of high social care needs? Do I try a different school? Do I teach private or sixth form only? Do I do something completely different? Is this the time to decide? So many thoughts, going around and around in my head. Who do I turn to for advice?

I have started researching the options out there, knowledge is power. Should I start to apply? Then anxiety hits; interviews, meeting people, telling my Headteacher, letting people down, abandoning my current students, new curriculum, new friends, new students, moving house and so much more. Can I go through it? Will it help?

I keep thinking ‘what would I do if money was no object?’, apart from the luxury holiday I would take. I think about writing, getting into publishing, retraining as a counsellor, doing my Masters and so many other options. Then reality kicks in and I know I have bills to pay. I need a good regular income as I do not have anyone to lean upon. I having no partner or family to support me and nor would I expect this from someone. I have great friends, but none are rich and I would not expect support like this from them.

Today I have no answers, I will continue to research my options and maybe I will apply for a few. I will keep going through these thoughts and hopefully I will find some answers. Hopefully I will make a decision about my life in this mental world.

How do you let go of guilt and anxiety?

I saw the GP today. They have increased my anti-depressants and signed me off work for two weeks. The result is Guilt and Anxiety. The tortoise and hare are off the starting line.

The Hare (anxiety with a guilt backpack) starts to tell me I am not enough. I am letting down the students, the other teachers in my department and my bosses. It tells me I should be able to deal with all this while going to work each day. I worry about being judged by others. The panic causes me to breathe faster and my heart jumps about in my chest. My mind hurts as thoughts race around my brain, making me feel dizzy.

Many people will be judging me. Thinking I should be at school as I am not physically sick. I am not glued to the toilet, in hospital or unable to move. That doesn’t mean I do not have some physical symptoms: I am exhausted, having headaches, feel dizzy, nauseous and my whole body feels heavy. Yet I don’t feel it is enough for people to justify me being off. I feel they will judge me. Worse than that, I am judging me.

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My tortoise (logical brain) tries to reason with the hare. It explains that mental illnesses are equivalent of physical. That I am justified in my feelings and just like I could not cure my own physical illnesses, I need help and support to get better. My desperate despair will take time to get over and it is exhausting to do it. But they feel like clichés, slogans and advice I give others.

Am I letting anyone down? It is hard at school to find cover and make it meaningful. Will students miss out on having me as they will have a cover teacher instead. But sometimes our own health has to come first and I will help them as soon as I am back. How much use would I be in this state of mind? I am finding it hard to concentrate and it would be impossible to pretend to be ok for 5 hours a day in front of the children.

So, I need to show myself some compassion and let it go. I need to look after me and let the guilt go. But it is so much easier to say it. How do you let it all go? Reminding myself over and over. Will my mind just finally click into understanding?

I have learnt to be more compassionate to myself in the last couple of years. I now allow myself time to rest and recoup. I give myself time to look after my mind through meditating and reading. I adopted my lovely puppy, Toby, and I go for forest bathing walks. I have stepped away from toxic family members and that was not easy. So maybe this compassion about being off work will come too.

Maybe I just need to breathe, to give myself time and be patient with my life in this mental world.

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The Best of Intentions

Should we assume in life that everyone has the best intentions. Are we all just trying to do our best?

You can do everything possible to predict the many outcomes but you can have an unknown wider impact. Each action is like a stone dropping into water, sending ripples to places you couldn’t even see. People can be hurt or negatively affected in ways we cannot see.

I often tell my students you have to be aware of the possible outcomes of your actions and take responsibility for them. They throw some-thing and it unintentionally hurts someone then you are responsible for that outcome. If you are play fighting and someone gets hurt you are responsible. Can you tell I am Assistant Head of Year 8? Puberty has landed and the boys are learning the boundaries of physical behaviours. Taking responsibility for taking the risk of a bad outcome.

But my question actually came from a TV show, Madam Secretary. I missed this show when it came out in 2014 and I am now catching up (binge watching), thanks to Now TV. Recently, deep into season two, war with Russia was adverted but lives were lost in the process. As a history teacher I know my wars, causes, long-term effects, short-term effects, casualty figures and wars causing wars. I ponder the possibilities of IF things could have been different but have to accept what happened as it is the facts.

However, I believe these issues not only can be seen on the world-wide political stage but they play out on a smaller theatre in our lives. The choices we make impact the people around us. Everyday small choices and the big ones. I know my seeking help with my therapist has sent a ripple through my family. I caused this ripple and will have to ride out the waves it makes.

In therapy we have discussed responsibility, blame and forgiveness a lot. All words associated with these ideas. Do I blame any member of my family for my childhood? The impact it still has on me? Do I need to or want to forgive them for the abuses against me?

My therapist says it is not about forgiveness but about compassion. To understand people’s intent and believe they always tried their best in their circumstances. We are living in a web of history, relationships, and family dilemmas. To me a family tree is a web of stories woven together more like a tapestry.

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I also believe we are a product of our upbringing; a combination of family, friends, society, culture, religion and many other influences. These determine our choices. I have chosen therapy and am seeing some of the consequences as I have found my voice.

For example, My mum had a really tough upbringing; an alcoholic abusive father and an addicted to gambling mother who was sent to prison for fraud. She always tries to be her best self but is hampered by herself and her past. This resulted in her treating me as her scapegoat, emotionally abusing me through my childhood and adolescents, even my early adult years.

So here is my dilemma: How responsible are we for the unforeseen, if everyone is just trying to do their best? I know my mother never intend to abuse me emotionally, she just couldn’t help it. Should I still expect an apology, a recognition of her effect? My sibing’s bullied me, but they were brought up in a household where that treatment of me was condoned by the adults. They were not taught this was not okay, so can they be held responsible?

I have had to accept that I cannot change the past. I cannot demand anything from anyone. But I do live with the consequences and I have learnt to not accept abuse now. As an adult I can call them out for their behaviour now.

The past is just that, set in stone. It is my perspective I have had to learn to change. To understand every parent does their best, even when they fail spectacularly.

I find this so hard to accept. As a teacher I have cried and had my heart-broken by stories of child abuse I would not repeat. Were these people really doing the best they can? It feels like acceptance of these actions if I agree but it isn’t. Acceptance is still fighting for change but living in the present. It is letting people, who experience these things, know they did not deserve it but accepting it happened. Giving people back their worth and giving them their own strength.

I teach students about all of Hitler’s qualities: the painter, animal lover, vegetarian and lover of his mother. I teach them about his childhood and traumas he experienced as a soldier in WWI. Not because I want to justify any of his actions, far from it. But maybe, in understanding others are a product of their experiences, we can accept that so are we. Then maybe we can learn to forgive and have compassion for ourselves.

Compassion for others actions comes more easily to me. To understand their actions, not to agree with the behaviours or just let them go. To hope, I would have done things differently in their situation and in future situations I face. But to also hope people I have hurt along the way show me the same compassion. Compassion for myself I find harder and I am working on it, with the best intentions, of course.

Written with compassion from my life in this mad world.

 

Toes dipped in or am I deep in the ocean’s waves?

I have been on anti-depressant tablets since late October. Lately I have been feeling blue again. Overcome by moments of overwhelming bleakness that wash over me without warning. It takes my breath away, while making me want to hide from the world under my duvet forever.

I know I find this time of year tough; it is cold, dark, wet, damp and the sun is hiding away. Everyone’s vitamin D drops and some even have SAD. Then you add in family, financial January and school pressures. It is a hard time of year, or is it just me?

I have been trying to use my coping strategies to help. I am meditating (almost) daily, blogging on here and trying to enjoy nature on dog walks at the weekends. I am trying to savour company with my puppy and taking in the mindfulness of a cup of tea. But none of it has been working…

I have ideas to help my students but cannot get up the energy to have any enthusiasm. I am acting ‘happy teacher’ at the front of my classroom. I am finding noises particularly annoying and frustrating. Children’s chatter, adverts on the radio and even my dogs barking at the postman/neighbour/bird. I feel heavy and achy. My feet feel like they are burning.

One big sign for me, is that I am tearful. This might not mean much to many but for me this is huge. I do not cry, well rarely and when I do it is a few tears. I am like Amanda Woods, the Cameron Diaz character in the film The Holiday. Sat trying to make myself cry, making wailing noises in hope for just one tear.

My lack of tears are from being bullied by my family for years. As a child apparently I cried a lot so much I was teased for it. Called a ‘cry-baby’, ‘melon head’ or ‘lemon head’ repeatedly and frequently. I was an emotional child but learnt not to cry, hold in the emotion. Now, I am emotional. I just can’t express it on the outside.

So, how do I know when I am having a bit of a bad patch or if I need help through a higher medication dose? When is self-help not enough? My natural instinct is to sort it out myself, to be independent and not complain. As a child I was given a list of chores whenever I was off sick. I had to look after myself when I was ill. Now I find it hard to rely on others and ask for that help. It makes me feel like a hypochondriac or being seen as someone moaning.

But how do I know when it is more than I can cope with, when to ask for help? How long do I leave it? A week, two, more? When is it ok to moan, groan and complain? When does it become too much to bare alone?

Last time I waited months and waited until I was broken and curled up in a ball. I am trying not to get back there but sometimes I do not know if I am on the brink of the cliff…

 

 

Me, My therapist and I

Today I went to my monthly therapist sessions. After three years I have gone from twice weekly sessions on the couch to monthly. Finding the right therapist was also so important. This one came recommended and I have never looked back. She gets me, like I feel few have. She has my back while challenging my perceptions of myself and the world. I never feel judged or patronised.

As most people, I wanted someone I could get along with. I wanted it to feel friendly but also to get professional advice. Being educated and intelligent I also wanted someone who would see that. My therapist often tells me the theory behind what she says and recommends books I can read to know more. To me education is so key to understanding myself and the world I live in, I am a self labelled bibliophile.

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Before I even approached therapy I had read and googled a lot of psychology to understand myself, but I got to a point where I could not get any further. I knew my childhood had affected me and was impacting my present. I just did not know how to stop the triggers and deal with them. Luckily a friend who I had confided in told me  she thought that her couples therapist would be a good match for me.

Each session we wrestle with my issues; family, friends, school, and everything in-between. Some sessions I get angry, tearful, sad while others I feel happy and proud of myself. I never quite know which emotion it is going to be, it could even be all of them. One things I do always know is it will help.

I have found my voice in that room. It has helped me really learn who I am, what I believe in, what is important to me. I have learnt to be compassionate to myself and those who are part of my story. It is hard at times, as I re-live and re-count my memories. And I am not done. I am booked in again for a months time.

It is so important to find a therapist who does this for you. The person who will help, guide and support you, in all the ways in which you need. If they don’t then try someone new. Try a  recommendation from someone who knows you.

This can be difficult with budget cuts and insurance policies sometimes in control. I have the ability to go privately and I know that I am lucky for that. Although I do also budget to make sure I can afford this, for me. I have had to convince myself that I am worth this expense just like I am worthy of having my hair cut or having a duvet day.

Today we talked about the ripple effect of having counselling, upon those around you. My family and friends relationships have changed, they have had to adapt. Some have faded or disappeared. I have had to respect others decisions to not want to discuss things to more forward. Leaving doors ajar and hope they will come back when they are ready. I am also trying to accept that some people might never change or really understand.

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So to my therapist, thank you. To those around me I hope we can adjust and change together. If not I will leave the door ajar with hope.

Until next time, this is my life in a mental world.