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.

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

The danger of words.

So today I had good news my broken wrist is healing and my cast could finally come off. It’s great news as it is another step in the road to recovery. But at the same time it now really hurts. I have to wait for physio. I’m not allowed to lift anything than a cup of tea said the consultant. Fun when I have a one year old!

So I was feeling quite upbeat today. It even felt like I had a protective coat on. Nothing could upset me today. Not the lack of sleep last night (thanks Thomas). Not the year 11 assessments that needed marking. Not making small talk with a visitor at work.

I was proud of how I was helping another member of my team. Supporting. Listening to them. Putting stresses into perspective. Trying to help them not get ill like I did last year.

That was until one comment. It is so utterly ridiculous how something so flippant. Something so small brought everything flooding back.

Sitting in the department office at work with two colleagues. One of them was looking for something in her old emails. She stumbled across a lovely email that the team had received after a stressful event. Out loud she remarked how nice an email it was.

It was like being hit by a train. Everything came flooding back. The desperation. The feeling of being a complete failure. The feeling of not being needed by anyone.

Neither of them were to know that the email she briefly referred to was the one that made my suicidal thoughts real. The one that turned the thoughts into plans. The one that one night made me so desperate I wanted to walk out at 10pm to kill my self. The one that resulted in a friend stopping me. The one that meant I hugged my husband so tight that night and cried into him for most of it.

It reminded me that I am still on a road to recovery. For a little while it put me back into the emotions of that day. Neither of the people I was with would have had any idea what was going on in my head at the time. Neither of them would have realised the effect on me.

Of course it wasn’t anyone’s fault. I am happy that the email she was referring to was sent. I am pleased for them. It surprised me that these simple words could have such a powerful affect on me.

Now hours later I’m back wondering how on earth they did. But sometimes it is a smell, a sound or a couple of words that bring back memories. They are still raw for me.

Mental health and the work place.

The results of a recent survey shows the mental health of the uk workforce is in a bad state. “More than three quarters of the 20,000 workers aged 16- to 64 who took part said they had experienced symptoms of poor mental health, and nearly two thirds of those with mental health problems felt work was a factor.” (Guardian: 2017)

#WorldMentalHealthDay falls on the 10th October 2017.This years’ theme is Mental Health in the Workplace.

Over the past week my mental health has once again deteriorated. I have desperately tried to manage it, keep it under control and survive the blip. One of the hardest things about depression is that often there is no apparent external cause to why it gets worse. A problem I fully appreciate this week!

Is it the broken arm? Is it the complicated logistics this involves? Is it tiredness of a lack of sleep due to my 1 year old? Is it pressures from work? What is it? To be honest any trying to work it out has got me no where.

What I do know is when my mental health deteriorates so does my work. My depressed, overthinking mind finds it difficult to concentrate. Depression fuels my lack of confidence and heightens my feelings of being a failure. The job list at work seems insurmountable. The pressure of scrutiny too hard to deal with when feeling as I do.

Employers must start to put the mental health of their employees at the top of their agenda. Henry Stewart, founder of London-based training business Happy, says: “People work best when they feel good about themselves.” It’s not rocket science but people’s productivity and motivation are better when they are happy and healthy. More employers need to put their employees wellbeing first.

So how do they do this? How can it be done?

  • We need workplaces where people feel trusted to do their best and where managers coach not instruct.
  • Senior leaders need to have comprehensive training on mental health and know how to inspire mental wellness.
  • Senior leaders need to consider the implications of the tasks and jobs they require of their employees.
  • Senior leaders need to be supportive and understanding of mental health concerns.
  • We need workplaces where people are truly valued and thanked for doing their job well.
  • Employers need to value mental health on a par with physical health.

Most work places are still failing their employees mental health. Employees are scared and reluctant to raise concerns as they are fearful of discrimination. Managers are still inadequately trained or prepared to deal with the subject. They are often worried that they maybe seen as making matters worse. This all leads to silence.

Silence only makes things much worse! Mental health worsens leading to a fall in productivity and usually sickness. We have to get over this being scared to share. We have to put mental wellbeing on the agenda. Employers need to realise the impact they have on wellbeing.

If you are an employer looking to do more take a look at mind’s Disclosure tools.