The best colleagues for the mentally unwell.

Exhausted. I’m writing this in my bed (at 8pm). Shattered. Very much due to my 2 year old being up intermittently for 3 hours last night for no other reason than he is an utter scamp! Oh why can’t he be a good sleeper like his older brother?

In between the various get ups for “Mummy where’s my water?” “Mummy my cover!” “Mummy dog dog gone!” “Mummy I have a cough” … you get the jist, my mind raced. Everything screamed at me, you can’t teach, you are a bad mother, your husband hates you etc. I cried and cried. In the middle of the night I was so convinced that I couldn’t go to work today.

Awoke at 6:15am my mind was still at war. On days like this it is literally like I fight a battle all before 7am. On days like this it is desperately bad. Having a voice constantly tell you how awful you are in every way and you can’t possibly teach is like a 6ft wall to climb before breakfast.

So I text my friends in my department. My job share and one other. I explain that today is a truly horrendous day and I’m battling to get in but just giving them the heads up that no way am I great at the moment. I explain to them it’s my impending guilt and feeling bad for the students that is driving me into work kicking and screaming.

At this point I should explain. Things still aren’t great at the moment. They seem to have come to a head the last few days and I’m very snappy and wobbly. I know some including my husband would be advocating a visit to the doctor and a return to the antidepressants but hold your horses!

Yes I’m struggling but in a weird way I’m ok with the emotions that seem to be much more freer than normal. This is a general problem for me and something I still see the counsellor for so I’m kind of trying to roll with it.

I’m incredibly anxious, which I’m actually learning is the start of the problems and seems to bring on the depression not the other way around which I had always thought. Some current concerns:

  • Mum worry is through the roof. All I want is for my children to be happy but it seems to be such a daily, weekly, monthly battle with so many external pressures to ensure that happens.
  • News about a friend and her career choice brought me into floods of tears and has rocked me in so many unexpected ways.
  • Constant emotion connected with my dad’s Alzheimer’s and the pressures on my whole family.

So back to my colleagues. By the time I had got to school one had offered to teach my year 13’s period 5 so I could go home and get some rest. The other was straight in to check how I was.

By lunchtime I had taught 4 lessons which I had handled fine and generally gone well (I have this ability to teach well even when I am extremely unwell- most would never notice). Inside I still felt like I was being torn apart and the negative voice was still on full blast. But knowing I had got this far I was determined to keep going.

In the staffroom at lunchtime another colleague asking how I was got a perhaps unexpected honest response “I’m not great at the moment”, “what’s up?”, my response was to point to my mucked yo head! She immediately offered to have my children sometime if I needed the space and proceeded to give me her telephone number.

The original colleagues offered to collect my student who was in after school detention and let him work with them so that I could go home straight at the end of the day to get a little bit of a rest.

They also reassured me that I wasn’t a failure or a let down. They said I could have been puking and then I wouldn’t have been apologising I would have just gone and mental health is no different.

The rest never quite happened as a petrol pump incident and a poorly, over tired two year old conspired against me but at least I was in my pyjamas earlier than I would have been!

Thanks for caring. Thanks for making a huge difference to my day. Thanks for understanding that I live with a mental illness and it’s just as valid as a physical illness.

It’s all about balance…being a parent and a teacher.

I have just read an article by @thosethatcan that advocates You can be a great teacher and a great parent. A year ago I would have argued wholeheartedly that she was wrong. Off work with stress and depression from my role of part time head of department in a secondary school, the combination of parent and teacher seemed to have sent me to breaking point.

After going back to work when my youngest child was 8 months old and also having a 3 year old; it wasn’t long before I was off work with stress. Juggling the work load and the extreme student expectations that leadership had, brought me to breaking point.

Depression returned. Self-harm hit me again with ferocity. Suicidal thoughts became reality. 6 months off work. Teaching truly seemed incompatible with parenthood.

Eventually I returned to work. Still very poorly but feeling like I needed to earn money to keep my family afloat. I didn’t think teaching and parenting was a long term option. It had made me seriously ill.

One year on and my thoughts have changed. I have returned to the same job. I haven’t had a day off with stress or depression in a year. I have managed to find a balance between my two loves being a parent and a teacher.

How have I done it?

  1. I have hold tight to the promise I made myself. My first priority are my own children. I want to enjoy them whilst they are young. Be with them. Treasure them. I don’t allow work to get in the way of that.
  2. My expectations of myself are lower. I’m not a perfectionist. I will try my hardest whilst at work. I plan good lessons, I interact with the students and I try to inspire them. However I have learnt to accept some things can’t get done. I have to say no more. I still believe I’m a great teacher without all the extra stuff.
  3. I care less about what others think. One of the things that made me so ill was the expectations of leadership for mine and student performance. Now my attitude has changed. I am content with the belief that I am doing the best I can for the students. My lesson observations are always outstanding. The students enjoy my lessons and want to learn. If I don’t pass these arbitrary targets set for my performance management then what’s the worst that’s going to happen? I know I’m a good teacher and I can’t do anymore or I will be ill again.
  4. At one time progression in my career was so important. Now nearly aged 35 I have been head of department of a core subject for ten years. I have come to terms with new goals. Right now career progression is not on the cards as I don’t have the time or the inclination. My children are my priority. This doesn’t mean you can’t be a parent and progress your career. It is just for me I have found out balance and wellness comes with being content in what you have.
  5. Rest! What you say parent and teacher when does that happen? I now make it happen. An occasional nap when my 2year old naps on my days off. Watching tv in the evenings instead of working all night. Tiredness makes me stressed and pushes the depression I suffer with out of control.

Now I am at the point where I am most of the time being a great teacher and a great parent. I have the balance right for me. I’m lucky my husband is a teacher too and he gets the stresses and the strains. We also have amazing holiday times when we are all together as a family.

I’m so glad I have found a way to manage. I love teaching and being a parent is my greatest achievement and brings the most joy. You can do both if you work out a way that works for you.

Teacher and student stress.

Schools can be full of stress and anxiety. The combination of expectations, pressure and a range of people can make it a hive of tension. Today I witnessed this from many angles.


Many of the students that I teach are in their final GCSE or A level year. At the moment they are tired, stressed and anxious. It has been a very long term. We are coming towards the end of it and now added in to the tiredness they have mock exams coming up.

For some the pressure is from their own high expectations of themselves. They are desperate to do well. They want to get the top grades. For others the pressure is from their parents and the demands they make of them. For others there is a stress because they would love to do well in reality but they know they haven’t put the work in and are therefore worried about how the exams will go.

This stress comes out in a variety of ways. Today I have witnessed teenagers strop over a revision game. Today I have witnessed teenagers argue over exam questions. Today I have witnessed students cry over words between friends. Today I have seen students snap at each other and even me.


Like the students staff are also extremely tired. It is sometimes hard to muster up the energy and enthusiasm to teach a class of 30 youngsters when you are so exhausted. Add into the mix the tiredness of the students and the combination is tricky.

Instead of winding down for Christmas school life seems to wind up at times. With the mock exams comes marking and report writing for the teachers. When I used to be a primary school teacher I remember winding up for the Christmas productions! Throw into the mix the usual winter illnesses, colds, vomiting bugs etc and wow the end of the Christmas term is tough.

Today I have spent an hour planning and setting cover work for a colleague who is off work. Today I have listened to a colleague who is struggling because they are so tired. Today I have visibly seen how drained some teachers are. Today i have apologised to colleagues for forgetting things, my brain is a little foggy with tiredness.

This is the stress pouring out. I love taking the time to support colleagues or students with times of stress. My message today has been one of compassion. I have tried to listen. I have tried to offer them an ear or place to offload. I have tried to advice. I have tried to encourage. And most of all I have advocated that students and staff rest as much as possible. I more than anyone know the downward spiral that stress can cause. I have recent first hand experience of depression triggered by stress.

So rest when you can. Take time for yourself. Try to balance your work commitments with your you commitments I.e things that give you life.

I am an advocate of you will be more productive and better prepared when you are rested. That’s why I’m always telling my most conscientious students to remember to rest. This is why my message now to colleagues is to encouraging them to rest.

Rest before the stress beats you.

Supporting school leadership with wellbeing.

Recently I started a Facebook group encouraging support and guidance for staff who work in schools. In the guidelines for the group I stressed the importance of not using personal or school names because it is not meant to be a venue for critics and negativity. Twice in a week two people have shared their view that we must not blame the leadership of our schools they are under pressure too.

This is a view I whole heartedly and completely agree with. The leaders of our school experience pressure and stress like their staff. They have targets and expectations that have to be met. Parents, stakeholders, governors, teachers and other staff to keep happy. I once thought I would like a leadership role. I’m not sure anymore. Do I really want their pressures?

As wellbeing of Staff begins to creep up the agenda of schools we should remember not to turn it into a blame culture. I think the majority of leaders want to improve wellbeing but perhaps part of the problem is a lack of knowledge as to how rather than a lack of interest or care for their employees.

Twice in my current school I have become seriously unwell with depression. My experiences of how others have supported me have been mixed.

I have had some awful experiences and comments from people who you would think would know better. I have been pushed deeper into depression by well meaning colleagues. Mental health is a hidden illness which is so hard to handle correctly.

But where leadership is involved there has always been a great sense of wanting to do the right thing. Caring greatly. Trying to help. The support hasn’t always been perfect but that isn’t down to a lack of care or interest.

I think we need to remember that employers perhaps don’t know much about mental health. Unless they have suffered themselves or had experience of a close family member who has. How are they to know how best to support their staff? When their personal experience is limited, this isn’t something they had training in. We can’t suddenly expect them to be experts just because they became a leader of a school. This is a different set of skills. Mental health perhaps requires its own training and education for everyone.

So let’s stop judging leadership so harshly. Let us instead change the culture of our workplaces to mutual support. Let us encourage our leaders to attend and open up training on mental health for all of their staff. Let us develop wellbeing ideas that we can share with them.

Yes they are the leaders of our school. They set policy. They set the rules. They set the culture. They set everything that teachers and pupils sign up for. But they have not necessarily had training in mental health. So perhaps we need to work with them to ensure staff wellbeing is protected. Perhaps those of us with personal experiences need to share. Perhaps forums like my new support group can help develop ideas for wellbeing that we can share with our leaders. Perhaps it is about mutual support of colleagues rather than expecting it all to come from the top.

Positive steps for wellbeing

So on Friday my school had their annual wellbeing teacher training day. If I am honest I can be a little skeptical about it. Is it just a gimmick? A tick box activity to say we have done something.

So I was positively surprised. I was happy (especially after marking my year 7 books early before it started). It was nearly half term and I was looking forward to a week with my husband and my boys.

Department time was relaxed. Everyone was chilled out. I got a job done that had been needing to be completed for a while so I felt like I had accomplished something.

Then we had a speaker. His name was James ketchell @captainketch. Ocean rower, Everest summiteer and round the world cycler. To be honest I found him interesting. His stories entertaining.

However, there was also a part of me that wanted to scream. Just be positive he said. Yeah like it is that easy when you have a mental illness. Have a positive attitude and anything is possible. Hmmm. But something did stick with me. Follow your goals and your dreams whatever they maybe. That sounded like me of old.

Then in the afternoon a lovely walk in the countryside with colleagues. Lots of laughs were had. A strong sense of community was felt. Strength and support in numbers.

That evening it struck me. I want to do more. I have made a start on my journey to support people with their mental health but there must be more I can do. So what could it be? What are my areas of speciality? Teaching and mental health. Why not combine them?

I belong to a great Facebook group called time to talk. This group is amazing as it allows people with a mental health issue to share their current problems and people with listen and comment and help if they can. Was there a way of using this model to support those working in schools?

So I have developed a Facebook group called “mental health support group for teachers and those who work in schools”. It is meant to be a place to develop wellbeing strategies and offer support. I want to keep it professional so I have stressed there is to be no use of school or individuals names.

I have a great belief that teachers can help each other. Working in schools is very hard. It can drain our mental health. It can stint out wellbeing. Someone needs to do more. Why can’t we do it ourselves. If we want change. Maybe we need to lead the change.

If you work in a school please feel free to come and take a look and join the group: Facebook group mental health in schools

Depressed teacher-the self confidence is returning (slowly).

So it’s slowly been coming back. Today was always going to be a massive step for me. It felt like it was make or break. In reality it wasn’t as extreme as that at all!

This time last year I was starting to feel extremely unwell. The stress of work and home was becoming too much. The depression which I live with was starting to rear its head.

At this point last year on the day of my lesson observation I had a panic attack at break time.It was so bad. A friend and boss had wanted to send me home but I was determined to stay for my lesson observation period 5. I did the observation and it went ok considering how unwell I was!

This was the start of the end for me last year. It certainly wasn’t the lesson observation that made me unwell but looking back it signals to me the time of when it all started going wrong.

So today a year on and another lesson observation. The one I had been in a state about for over a week. The one that the pathological liar in my head had tried to pollute and poison me with negativity that I wouldn’t be able to cope with it.

Last night in bed I was telling my husband that I wasn’t going to work tomorrow. I couldn’t do it. I was going to fail. I am a rubbish teacher and a failure. Today I had a mountain to climb before the lesson had even begun. I had to persuade myself I could at least attempt it.

The classic “are you ok?” This phrase came from a number of sources this morning! Was I oozing doubt and worry? The classic “I’m fine”. I was far from fine but desperately trying to hold it altogether for fear of falling apart completely.

So the end of the day it’s all over! Relief is my major emotion right now. But I’m also so proud of myself! Yes I know that’s a miracle coming from my head! I have no idea what the lesson was graded I haven’t had any feedback yet but wow I was shocked at how well it went. My very difficult, loud and challenging year 11 group spent an hour on task. They really engaged in the carousel activities I set up. They worked as a team. They even drew in those who don’t engage well.

More than anything I loved teaching them. I can really see improvements being made. On a feedback sheet some of them were asked to fill in they were so


In the car on the way home (I still can’t drive so my husband picked me up) it was great to hear how happy he was for me too! He also put it all into perspective when he said think about this time last year. We agreed I was in a completely different place then. Things were spiralling out of control. It was the beginning of the deep depression that would consume me for most part of a year. Right now things are good. Yes I’m having lots of blips. Lots of lows. Lots of depression or anxiety points. But they are not continuous or deep. Mostly I’m managing them well. Mostly I’m keeping the illness in check.

So thank you for anyone who has stuck with me. Thank you for taking the time to ask if I am ok. I am sorry I am not always honest with my response but all I can say is it means the world to me that you took the time to ask and care. Thank you to my amazing department for putting up with me! You make me laugh everyday which really helps especially the chair episode today! Thanks to my friends and husband who reassure me through my constant self doubt. And finally thanks to the students I teach who inspire me to be a better teacher everyday.

Physical health taking its toll on mental health.

This is a hard one to write and share. My instinct is to bury my head in the sand. My head is telling me not to let anyone else in. Don’t drag anyone down. Don’t burden them. Don’t be honest.

I’m fine is certainly the stock response today. I’m far from fine. It’s hard to open up. Hard to talk. I feel like a let down. I feel like a failure. I feel like I have to prove myself.

But I committed to sharing what depression is like. Therefore I have to share what it’s like when it’s bad as well as good.

So what’s happening in my brain. Talking to my husband last night he said you are going around in circles. And that’s quite an accurate description of how I feel. Confused. Tangled. Overthinking everything. Questioning everything. And then repeat.

A few posts ago I said that for me I prefer the broken arm to the depression mainly because it can be fixed and there is an end in site. I stand by that but I had underestimated how much it would affect my mental health.

I’ve had the best summer. Surrounded by my favourite people I had begun to conquer depression. However as going back to work edged closer I could feel the anxiety levels increasing. How would I be at work? Would I manage it? Would the stress bring the depression on again?

Then to make matters worse I broke my arm. This has left me unable to do the simplest of tasks. I have never used my teeth so much, my handwriting looks like a 4 year olds and I can’t even change my youngest’s nappy. Hence feeling like a failure at home.

This has also increased the impending work anxiety. So as I said I was already worried but now I can’t even do my job properly because of my wrist. I can’t write, I can type very slowly and I’m going to have to adapt to the situation.

Will I manage? Will I cope? Will people understand there are certain tasks I just can’t do e.g. Marking! When my wrist is healed will I cope with the back log that will build up?

So many questions. So many unknowns. My head really doesn’t cope very well not being in control. My counsellor said just go in see how you feel and if you can’t cope or they expect too much just use the sick note the hospital doctor gave you. But even having that thought in my head fills me with guilt.

Good old catholic guilt. A friend of mine text me saying you definitely shouldn’t be going to work with a broken arm. But I can’t think like that. The guilt that I was off so long last academic year is too much. The fact that other people have coped with a broken arm make me feel I have to too.

My friend tried to say it doesn’t make any difference you were off before. The two are completely unrelated. She also said it doesn’t matter what others have done. The broken arm is affecting your mental health never mind if they managed. Plus they didn’t have two young children to look after at the same time.

This is what my brain is like. Never a moments rest. A constant war. A constant battle. Overthinking at its best.

So what am I doing? I’m going to work this week. I’ll give it a go. I’m going to pray my youngest doesn’t do a poo when I have him two days on my own (I can’t stop him rolling when I change his nappy one handed) and I’m going to try and take one step at a time like I promised my counsellor.

And thumb typing with my left hand is so slow!

Depressed Teacher 2- I am trying!

I have been back at work for nearly 6 weeks. It hasn’t completely gone to plan. I went back unwell. I’ve been trying so hard. I hope people can see it. I hope people know that I am not quite myself. I hope people know that I am trying to do my job whilst still feeling quite ill.

There have been some positives about returning. I certainly have more purpose back in my life. My self-confidence is certainly improving. I don’t feel like a complete failure all the time (just some of the time). I have actually enjoyed interacting with people a little more. I have actually rediscovered my passion for the job.

Teaching requires so much passion these days. It is not a job for the feint hearted. The hours can be long. The pressure immense. The expectations from others burdensome. The behaviour of the students a challenge. It is relentless. Planning, teaching, marking, preparing, assessing to name just a few of the roles I undertake on a daily basis. You have to love it to be committed to stay.

Teachers work so hard. I remember when I was younger my Dad used to wind up my elder cousins who were teachers by saying they only worked 9-3pm, they had long holidays and an easy life. I lived at home for 3 years after university whilst I working as a year 2 teacher. My Mum said your Dad quickly changed his mind about teachers when he saw how much work you did, especially in the evenings and the holidays. It wasn’t quite the easy profession he had believed.

So what has gone well at work in the last 5 weeks? What am I happy with?

  • I rediscovered my love of teaching. At its basics I like children/teenagers. I have always enjoyed interacting with them. Trying to understand them. Challenging them. Teaching them something new still gives me a buzz.
  • I have a fantastic group of close colleagues who I work with every day who I really get on with. They have been amazing since I have got back. They have reassured me. Listened to me. Understood me. Been there for me.
  • Planning lessons is actually something I am good at. The RE curriculum might have changed. The ethical stance may have become less. The content may not appeal to the students as it used to. But I can still do it. I can still turn something that appears “boring” to a teenager into “wow Miss I actually get that”.
  • I like being busy with work. I am on a phased return and at times found the classroom daunting, scary and the students intimidating. But there are other parts I have thrived getting involved in. I love the complexities of the timetable. I love resourcing new schemes of work. I love organising groupings for next year. I was right not to give up the HOD role. So much of it inspires me!


I am trying to hold onto these glimmers of light. Much of work still feels very uncomfortable. I certainly don’t feel at home with it again yet. I am certainly putting on a mask most days. I am certainly pretending to be ok when I am not. So what am I finding difficult.

  • As with any job you return and everyone expects you to be back to normal. The other factor is do people know why you have been off? Do people know you are phasing back slowly? Today in a very stressful and anxiety induced situation for me somebody made me feel 100 times worse. Their words and comments hurt. They are still there hours on. It wasn’t that persons fault they probably have no idea what they did. They were only doing their job. And in their eyes I should have been doing mine more effectively but right now I can’t. I felt like running after that. Leaving there and then but my rational brain kicked in luckily.
  • Teaching is hard. Teenagers don’t give you much room for mistakes. Today I had two groups that challenged me with their behaviour. Me on top form would have sorted them out. Me, currently far from top form didn’t deal with it effectively. I rather utilised the support in the room with me (kindly provided by my employer) to help. Being honest the lessons were fine. The students were just a bit chatty that’s all but the depressed me now over plays this. The anxious me now translates this into worry for the next lesson.
  • The depression and the anxiety mean that I am not in control of my emotions. This means I don’t react very well to small changes or things that I am unhappy with. I become enraged (all internally) and tend to make rash judgements. I tend to rush decisions and jump in feet first. The calm wait and see, take one step at a time type person is absent from class right now.

So overall it’s going ok. I was meant to be up to my full timetable of three days a week by now but I’m not there. I have beaten myself up a lot about this. I have questioned this. I have thought I am going to get sacked over and over again. My brain is still very poorly. It is just about coping with what has been thrown at it.

It was a huge thing to go back so unwell. I have just about made a success of it I think. I am hoping and praying I can survive a few more lessons now, a couple more days and then it is the six week holidays. I am seeing that as a chance for the medication to start working. I am seeing that as a chance to spend quality time (the best time) with my husband and children. I am seeing September as the time I will be fully well and back to being the teacher I wish to be.

And still my friends say stop. Take one step at a time. Don’t rush your recovery. You will be well in your own time. Don’t put a time limit on it. It’s hard to accept but I think they are right.IMG_3874

The Depressed Teacher

Itching from head to toe. Swollen lips. Hives all over my body. This is what the latest round of anti-depressants has done to me. I’m tired. On no medication. Feeling extremely low but at the same time forcing myself to get back into work.

At times I have wanted to scream today. I want to shout from the roof tops “I’m still unwell, I’m not better yet”. I understand in any job when you return after absence people think you are fine. In my own role if you can teach a class you must be fine now, your illness must have been conquered, your mental health must be good. How wrong people are.

For me I returned because I felt I had no choice for my family. I’m sad to say that money ruled my decision to go back when I did. I certainly have high functioning depression and even at my absolute worse I can do my job in some form. However, the effects of the job on my mental health are immense. Work jeopardises my recovery. Did I feel ready to return? No. Did I feel like it would help my recovery? No. Did I think it could set me back? Possibly. But my two boys and their love of their home and their security here meant I returned unwell.

So today I taught my second lesson since returning three weeks ago. It was period 5 the last lesson of the day. This didn’t help the anxiety which escalated as the hours ticked past. Every minute was one closer to when I would have to step into that room and put on an act. Lucky for me I had a fall back, my good friend was in there to support if I needed her to.

I walked in the room and immediately the students were saying “Miss your back”. Others said “good to see you miss”, one even came up to me held out his hand for me to shake and said “missed you miss”. I was perhaps taken aback by this. I stuttered and fumbled my way through the opening minutes of the lesson. My anxiety and nerves were definitely winning.

But for me teaching is like riding a bike. Once you have learnt you never forget how to. I had got back on that saddle and the peddling came automatically. I’m also the best actress in the world. I should win an Oscar for my performances in front of a class. I seem to have a switch inside of me that steps into a room as a teacher and transforms into something unrecognisable to my other self.

I’m confident, know my stuff, enthusiastic and full of energy. I have always tried to make lessons fun and believe my own attitude can inspire them to learn. Today was no different. They were quiet when I talked. Respectful when we discussed the kingdom values shown by people in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks and Grenfell fire. They engaged with the subject and worked well.

They walked out that room with smiles. As I stood by the door they took the time to say bye. What they didn’t see was the real me. I hid that so well. In a game of hide and seek I would never have been found.

What they didn’t know was that I was trembling beneath the surface. I was so scared of what they might say or do. I was overanalysing everything as it occurred. I was beating myself up for stuttering or not doing something quite right. What they didn’t know was that in the hours before I was so anxious I was sick. What they didn’t know was in the hours afterwards I would criticise myself for all that happened.

Just like the students, my colleagues and managers seem oblivious too. I don’t blame them, its an invisible illness and I certainly don’t share it easily. My line manager and others said to me today I heard the lesson you taught yesterday went really well, that’s good. They seem to think I’m well now. It’s all ok. She is back teaching a class. She must be well.

I’m far from well. Tonight I have scratched my breasts and torn at scars and scabs until they have bled and bled. Tonight I haven’t been able to sit still or focus on anything because my mind feels so unwell. Tonight I have contemplated ending it all with suicide because I really hate feeling like this. Tonight I have snapped at my husband because I can’t bear to be in my own skin let alone share a room with him. Tonight I have replayed every second of the day over and over.

What do I do? How do I get this across to people? Do I need to? Everyone thinks great she is getting back to normal. I want to shout. I want to scream. I want people to see the agony that is hidden behind the façade. I am not healed. I am on a journey. I came back to work too soon. I will try and stay at work. I will try my hardest not to let anyone down but please understand I’m still not well. I’m the depressed teacher.