Thursday, March 20, 2014

Teaching with Anxiety

When I started this blog almost four years ago, it was because I had left an absolutely horrible teaching situation (which I don't believe for a moment is the norm really anywhere) and was feeling like maybe, despite everything I had worked for, that teaching wasn't for me. This was a place to kind of work through that--to reflect, to think, to see if I really was crazy and teaching wasn't for me after all.

In a short time, the blog became so much more than that. Recently I learned that someone in my district (I don't know who) discovered my little blog here. Four years ago that would have made me panic and I probably would have taken the blog down. But today, I don't mind. (I mean, it is weird to know that my boss or someone at central office might read what I say but it won't stop me from writing.) I think that when I look back on everything I've ever said or done on this blog, most people who know me in the real world would realize that I would say those things out loud to your face also. I'm not shy about voicing my opinion (you're shocked, aren't you? *wink*). I just think that there are better and easier ways to do it. Sometimes I write here because it allows me to be a little upset if something got my goat without being unintentionally belligerent to the person/situation in question. It helps.

Alas, I have to admit that I also started this blog way back when because I was dealing with anxiety about teaching. When I left my 4th grade class in February 2010, I was having panic attacks almost on a daily basis. I was so stressed out from too much put on me (many "other" jobs on top of my classroom teaching responsibilities) and I had a really rough group of kiddos that year. Very immature and sadly, there wasn't much support from the administration at that time (I will say my admin was awesome and she did support me -- she went out on a medical leave and her replacement was not as supportive...I suspect because he was "old school" and thought I should be able to wave my magic wand and change things, I don't know.)  I used this blog as an outlet--to literally work through everything by writing it down, analyzing it and reflecting.

I learned very quickly all those years ago that once anxiety is born in you--truly born in you to the effect that you are having panic attacks that frequently--it doesn't just go away. It lives inside of you and just waits for you to be having an epic moment and then WHAM, it hits you and you feel helpless again. I know that sounds dramatic....but I also know that I am not the only person who has ever dealt with this. If you haven't, consider yourself lucky. You probably think I'm exaggerating. I will pray for you that it doesn't happen to you because I'd rather you NOT know how it really feels...because it sucks.

I've done very well most of the time. I went on meds back in 2010 to help deal with what I was going through. Two years ago when the bottom dropped out on my life, it was so hard. I had anxiety attacks a lot but not because of my school or students--that was all personal. The hardest part was smiling every day and acting like I was perfectly fine when inside, I was dying a little more each day. Do you realize how  much it sucks to be "on" 6 hours per day in front of 2nd graders when you want nothing more than to rip out your own hair and crawl out of your skin because you hate yourself? You don't? Good. Because that sucks too.

The reason I bring this up today is because I had an anxiety attack yesterday for the first time in a long time. I had a mild one in January when I was helping put the intervention stuff together at school. That one happened because I was overwhelmed. I cried for about 2 hours that night at home and I was fine after that. Yesterday's was different somehow. You just know they are different when they come on. About two weeks after that incident in January I had a med check appointment with my doctor and said I wanted to go OFF my meds....I needed to see if I could survive without them. He told me to gradually go off but I just stopped taking them. I know I'm okay without them because it took nearly two months to have an attack again. (If I really needed that daily dose again, I'd have had one within a few days to a week.)

I was gone last week Thursday-Sunday for my DC trip. School Monday started with a data meeting, school ended with a data meeting and then we had PLC after school. That was all fine and good. I am good at the data thing and our grade got a lot of compliments from our boss and his mentor (who ironically was the principal who hired me into my first contract 7 years ago). That was fine. Trying to catch up on grading what the kids did when I was out, on top of what we were doing this week and report cards due with no records time provided to do it (which is SO weird -- we usually have a half day in March for records and we didn't get one this time) and a big PD on Friday turned out to not be fine. I was sitting at my desk at about 6 p.m. last night and just freaked out. I was grading (and grading....and grading...) and it hit me. No thank you. I called my student teacher from last year, who lives about 2 miles from my school to see if she was free. She was. So I quickly put together a sub plan, made copies, packed my grading and to-do stuff into my bags and left.

Hot shower, dinner and early to bed. I got Middle Child off on the bus this morning and hopped back in bed. The Husband wasn't sure what was going on with me. (We've had like zero chance to talk, let alone see each other since I went back to work after our trip.) He text me this morning and asked me if I was okay. I had to be honest. I'm fine but not fine. I'll get through it, I just need time to do that. 
I could have gone to work today but I wasn't going to risk freaking out in front of my students and scaring them to death. (Watching your teacher have a mini-breakdown is something no 9-10 year old should ever see. It would have been irresponsible of me to go to work today knowing that the breakdown as a big possibility.) 

I would bet my next paycheck that by tomorrow AM I'll be perfectly fine. That you'd never know anything had been wrong if I didn't tell you. You learn to fake being happy when you're anxious. You learn to smile and nod and say, "I'm fine." Because no one really wants to hear that you're not, probably because they won't know what to do to help. And let's face it, teachers are problem solvers.

So I write today to tell you that if this is your situation--you are stronger than you think. You are. Don't give in but don't suppress it either. Sometimes you have to let it come out. Cry, yell, shout (just not at your students or boss--that wouldn't be a good plan). Do something to help you. I sometimes go to the gym when I feel really anxious, it destresses me oddly enough.  You're not alone. I'm there too. Most people have absolutely no idea that crap I have been dealt in life...because a) its not something you just publicly announce and b) because it hasn't stopped me from trying to do the best I can do for myself, my own kids and my students. You have to just get up every day and put one foot in front of the other.

One of my colleagues, when I taught 2nd grade, told me that we had to really learn (as a teaching community in general) to hold hands and cross the street together because we're all in this together. And I would agree. I'm in this with you. Whether or not I want to be, I'm there.

Bottom line is really that I'm grateful I have learned what these episodes are like and what they mean so that I can appropriately deal with them. I'll be fine once this week is behind me and I can start anew on Monday with a new marking period and spring (hopefully) truly on its way.

Stay strong friends. You really are stronger than you think. Never give up. I promise I won't.

The Caffeinated Teacher

1 comment:

  1. Anxiety sucks. Had post partum anxiety after my 2nd kid.