A Woodland Walk

I walk through the woodland, an excited puppy running around my feet. Headphones placed in my ears, a voice tells me to slowly breathe in and out. Each muddy step feels like a journey in a novel, a wander through an enchanted forest. I feel my heart beats growing faster, so I focus on the breeze as it swirls through the leaves above me and across my face.

The raindrops feel refreshing as they fall around me. I watch as they flow down the leaves to the woodland floor. Each droplet has a journey, a destiny as it tells a story washing fears away. I look at the many greens and browns that surround me. Degrading autumn leaves fallen are beneath my feet, the puppies paws disappear into the squelching mulch.

The ground goes up and down as I follow the path into the depths of woodland. My mind turns inside and I feel the pain within. In this woodland I am alone in its peace and the loneliness closes in. I can feel each scar and wound left on my heart. Damaged over and over by the loves and losses of my life.

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Thirty-three years of heartache; wounds, scratches, bruises and stabs. Betrayals, insults and losses have taken their toll. My heart feels battered like it has had a long career as a boxer. Round and round of fists until hearing the bell ding. Family, friend and lovers leaving their marks. Stabs, although no longer a seeping wound they have left deep scars.

Sometimes I feel these scars will never heal completely. Memories cannot be erased and self confidence is hard to regain. The wall of protection around my heart is concreted in place, yet lately I see the cracks appearing. I feel my heart calling from it’s locked box, yearning to be free. Screaming out for another love to nurture it like it has never really known.

I enjoy my solitude. I like to take my dog walks bathing in nature. It is like I crave my space and time with me. However, I also wish for someone to share this life with me. Supporting each other. To share a cup of tea. Friends are amazing but a love is something transcendent. A love not to cure-all, but to provide additional forces in the fight for our lives in this mental world.

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Life is exhausting, each and every day

Life is exhausting! Getting up each day and living is very tiring. Having depression and fibromyalgia makes my body ache and feel so very heavy. Weighted down by feelings of numbness and sadness.

Sleeping through my seven alarms, I scramble out of bed. I take my pills and brush my teeth. Brushing my hair seems like a marathon of effort, mile after mile of strokes until it is up and out-of-the-way. Dragging any clothes I can find, onto my limbs. Choosing what is comfortable, closest and clean.

I feed the bunnies and the puppy, as the kettle boils to make tea. A travel mug and breakfast bar in hand, I head out to the car. The door slams and I feel my world get small, Volkswagen Polo sized. With the radio on I navigate the traffic, focused on everyone’s moves as the world swirls around me.

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I park at school and get through the day. I travel back in time as I teach, jumping from Norman England, to Nazi Germany, to Tudor Britain and to many more. Grounded with my feet in what I know, the past. The day ticks on and my mind pushes everything else away. In some moments I even feel echoes of my passion for teaching. That feeling which seems to escape me most of the time, it feels like a reminder of a long-lost friend.

The students leave and I feel as empty as my classroom. My mind fills with clutter, memories of laughter float around. I am back in the car and fighting rush hour traffic wanting to be at home. Encapsulated in my car I listen to soothing music as I breathe my way home, in…out…right…left…home.

Greeted by an excited puppy, I can’t help but smile. He races upstairs, with energy I wish I could steal. Behind him, I drag my feet up each mountainous step. Stripping off my hard protective shell of the day I can climb into my safe pyjamas. The kettle goes on to feed the tiredness that is growing.

The sofa envelopes me as the tv noise fills the space in my head. The sounds push any negative thoughts aside, for now. My puppy curls up on my lap, giving me all the warmth and love he can. I wish for the simplicity of his life, the peaceful day of  sleep with food and drinks provided.

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I look at the kitchen as if it might spontaneously produce a dinner. Preparing my meal for one feels like making a banquet for a King. I need the energy to breathe but I know I need to eat. A sandwich, toast, ready meals or maybe I will just order in. Someone else can make the effort while I use up my reserves just making it up the stairs.

I climb into bed as early as possible, beneath the duvet I feel warm and safe. Camomile tea and an interesting novel to calm my mind. Meditation, mindfulness or just music to sleep by. I hope tonight sleep will be easy to find. I hope it will replenish the fatigue and exhaustion of my life in this mental world.

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.

I’ve no love for the Drama Triangle

I am trying to escape from a triangle, it is known as the Karpman Drama Triangle or the Dreaded Drama Triangle. The triangle has it’s three points; Rescuer, Persecutor and Victim. It is a social model conceived by Stephen Karpham in 1968.

The Dreaded Drama Triangle consists of three roles: Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer
The Drama Triangle (powerofted.com)

In my family this triangle has been playing out without me knowing it. My mother often played the Victim and she lives the mentality of a victim, however she was a persecutor to me. I am the victim of her abuses and so I should be the victim. However, as her scapegoat I was not allowed to be the victim and so I became everyone’s Rescuer.

This leaves me running to the rescue of my family, no matter how big or small the problem. I do not know when this started but an instance that comes to mind was when my Granddad died.

I was fourteen and I remember going to the hospital to see, the once stocky veteran of the Second World War, a man who wore braces to hold his trousers up over this enlarged beer belly. He was now a tortoise like creature, without his shell wrapped in the clean white sheeted bed. He had pancreatic cancer and he died.

After his death I remember everyone else’s tears and thinking ‘I have to be the strong one’. I refused to cry and stayed strong for everyone. No one specifically told me this but I felt this belief like this was my role. It was like a rule I had to follow and I am a stringent rule follower. I remember, I was able to not cry until I was in his funeral, two weeks later.

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My role was cemented, Rescuer I was and Rescuer I am. Today anyone has a problem I am your girl. I will suggest solutions and support its implementation. I am at my best in this mode of operandi. Maybe I even crave it, I became a teacher to save children who might be in the situation similar to the one I was in as a child.

My therapist alerted me to the Drama Triangle in one of our sessions. We were discussing a nightmare I had experienced a few nights before. I now know I need to stop rescuing my family. Then I break the triangle and take back control, then they can no longer persecute me and make me a victim.

Easier said than done, of course. I want to help and the urge is fierce. Also, I like the fact I am a nice, helpful, generous person. I have to tackle with the idea of saying no against a key part of my identity. I need to gently remind myself that things are not black and white, I can say no and still be the kind, generous, helpful person I want to be.

It is a true self-care to say ‘No’ at times like this, because if I give into it and rescue it always bites back. My family members are unable to be grateful, they believe it is to be expected and so cannot be sincerely thankful. I am then hurt and feel unfulfilled by the process. If I cannot find a solution then I feel ashamed and a complete failure.

So anyway I play the game I seem to be burnt at the end. Therefore, I need to break the cycle of this triangle and be free of the pain it brings. However, in the short-term holding it in affects my health and increases my pain. In the long-term it will make things better, I hope.

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I am finding holding back hard at the moment. My sister-in-law is struggling and I want to be there for her, I am. The issue is not this but the fact some of their issues are my brother and I want to fix him to help. I want to tell him some truths he won’t like. But I know doing this is my Rescuer wanting to help my sister-in-law and protect my nieces and nephew. Would it help? The short answer is no.

With narcissistic traits, like my mother, he would not hear me. He would resent the fact comments came from me, the family scapegoat. His ego would be wounded and so he would lash out at me and probably his wife, maybe even his children. So I know I need to stay out of it, I need to walk away.

I will help my sister-in-law but I need to listen and support her. I do not need to be her rescuer. She does not expect me to find and implement solutions. But to be her friend, her sister in this mental world.

Letting Myself Cry

Dear teenage Becky,

I know things are hard. It seems like no one loves you or cares about you. You have the weight of the world on your shoulders before you should. Your mother is mean and yells, she tells you that you are not worthy. Your siblings and father call you ‘cry baby’, ‘lemon head’ or ‘melon head’ as you cry a lot. But you have every reason to cry and be sad.

Crying is absolutely fine. Cry away the sorrow of your childhood. The abuses and bullying you have to endure. Cry for the people you lost; loosing Nan and Granddad, when you were 14 and 15, was tough. Nan was the one person who seemed to understand your plight and then she died. It is ok to be sad about that, it is not blaming her. She had to go she was sick, you gave her permission to go, to gain relief from all her pain. But you have no relief from your pain.

You held back tears when people died believing you had to be strong for the family. You hold the family up, like the adults should. It is honourable, but you also have to look after your own feelings. Let out the tears. Bottling them up leads to pain, causing some of the migraines you suffer with and flaring up your fibromyalgia.

Crying lets out toxins and relieves stress. It is a natural bodily function that you should have and do. It expresses so many emotions from happiness to sadness (Wikihow – Cry and Let It All Out).

I know you do cry a few tears, for others and for happy occasions. You well-up at a wedding, when a baby is born or watching a romantic film. But you should also cry for you. Let out the pain and hurt from your own life story. You have suffered, and people have hurt you. You deserve those tears for you.

As an adult, I find crying almost impossible. I wish I was there when you started to hold back the tears to tell you “It is ok, let them out”. To counter the bullying and stand up for you. To come up with a witty comeback to the names they called you. I mean really ‘melon head’ what does that even mean? They were not the most intelligent of names.

Finally, also know that if you cry you are not your mother. I know she cries at every whim, at every argument and that she uses it to emotionally blackmail everyone. But when you cry you are not doing it with malicious intent, your tears are pure. Crying does not mean you are her. I know becoming her is your deepest fear, but you never could be her. You will come to learn and accept this in therapy.

With all the love and support you should have had.

Adult Becky

(Still no tears but I am working on it, in this mental world)

Dealing with criticism

When you feel like you are never enough, dealing with criticisms can be difficult. Any suggestion of a fault can be hard to handle. Corrective suggestions about my grammar recently sent me into a tornado of emotions.

Throughout my childhood and early adult life my mother told me, over and over, that I was never enough and not worthy of her love. This has left me with a hole in my soul which I am trying to repair. I have sticky notes around my house telling me; I am enough, I am worthy, I deserve love, and more. Four years of therapy have helped me to realise my mother was wrong.

However, one person’s opinion can still throw me back to the 1990s and my world as a worthless child. No one intends to trigger me, I know that. It is not their fault it makes me feel this way. But I do.

I need to learn my triggers and try not to let it not happen. But this is harder than it sounds. Especially when someone close to me, someone I care about, is the one giving me feedback. I want them to think the best of me, so I have to not show weakness or imperfection. Or they might not love me, like my mum.

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It might not seem logical, it isn’t, but to me not being perfect is a slippery slope to people leaving me as I am not enough. People leave. People decide they do not like me or love me anymore. They find out that thing my mum saw from the beginning. The thing that stopped her being able to love me as she should.

In this case I felt I was trying to help. Swooping in on my white horse in rescuer mode, helping when someone asked. Instead of feeling appreciated I felt deflated as my work was criticised. They had every right to make suggestions for corrections, it wasn’t really a criticism. Yet it felt so personal to me.

Of course, in therapy I have addressed this. My mind knows my premise is not true, I am not defective, I do not need to be perfect. However, in the moment my brain goes haywire first. How do you control those impulses? When will my mind learn? How do you stop being a perfectionist? Just because we have gone through it int herapy does not mean I truely believe it, yet.

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This I think is one of the biggest problems with childhood abuse, it programs your brain differently from such a young age. Scientists tell us that the brain is malleable and it can create new pathways. So, there is hope for my brain and yours, but trust me this is hard to do. I will keep working on it, to keep myself sane 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…