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.




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Victory or Failure?

So today I taught my first lesson for 6 months. I’m a secondary school RE teacher. I have been teaching for 12 years. I have always loved teaching. Loved the buzz. Loved how every lesson is different. Loved how inspiring it is to work with young people.

But in November 2016 that all changed. Money troubles. My Dad’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. My husbands post-natal depression. Returning to work after my second child. Job sharing my role for the first time. There were lots of changes, worries and stresses. It all became too much and it came to a head the day I reversed off my drive into a parked car.

An event that now bails into insignificance at the time was a disaster. I cried. I had a panic attack. I was out of control of my emotions in the aftermath. Doctors visits. Anti-depressants. Counselling sessions. All were meant to help but it just got worse. I last taught on 10th January 2017. Depression struck me down completely for the second time in my life.

The anxiety crippled me. I would literally shake. At times of stress my breathing became rapid and shallow. My shoulders ached. My chest was sore. I started to worry there was something wrong with my heart. Physical symptoms of the anxiety.

The depression bowled me over. I would spend whole days in bed unable to move partly from exhaustion but from a haze that descended over me. It was like my mind had become a fog. Nothing was clear. Nothing was like it had been. I was confused. I was unable to make decisions.

The overthinking was the worst. I could analyse a glance all day. One day I dropped my boys off at nursery and ran into a friend there. She hardly spoke to me. She gave me a cursory  acknowledgment. I spent hours trying to work out what I had done wrong. Why she was upset with me. Why she no longer wanted to be my friend. In reality she was probably just in a rush.

So back to today. I have been back at work on a phased return for a few weeks but today was D day. Or T day as I have been calling it. That T has been over hanging me since this was arranged a few weeks ago. It has been like a cloud of dread. A rain cloud that followed me around insistently. T for teaching.

Teaching is what I do. It’s been my life for the last 12 years and before that if you consider I have always wanted to be a teacher.  This illness has torn away any self confidence I have ever had. I have lost all belief in myself. I feel like a failure. A burden. This illness has stolen my career.

Yesterday I was so ill about the prospect of today. I cried and cried. I slept the day away at times. I had many suicidal thoughts. I didn’t believe I could do it. I know I am still unwell. Every ounce of my body and mind were rebelling against teaching.

This morning the anxiety was extreme. The physical effects on my body were clear. I couldn’t handle seeing anyone. I had to deal with the impending disaster myself. I walked into that classroom like I owned it. I didn’t settle or feel comfortable but I showed no fear.

I followed my plan. I taught with a confidence that I have no idea where it appeared from. My job share supported me in the room and she praised the lesson. It was outstanding. It was brilliant. Please share it with me she said.

Afterwards I had a sense of relief. I had done it. I can still teach. I still have my career ahead of me. I have achieved a great victory. I have won a war. But this didn’t last more than a few minutes.

You see I am still unwell. Currently on no antidepressants as I wean off one that I had an allergic reaction to. Waiting to start the fourth in 6 months! I know my head isn’t in a good place. I am still self harming daily and the suicidal thoughts haven’t disappeared. So instead of taking the victory my mind started to see the lesson as a failure.

Instead of you did this. You managed this. My mind has been beating me up in the hours since. You didn’t challenge this student about their behaviour. You didn’t ask this student to move. Not many of them actually completed the task. You could have got more discussion. The pace of the lesson was a little slow. All I can see are the failings.

This is the illness talking. This is depression. I know today was a big step. It was a massive hurdle that I managed to overcome. I need to try and accept this. I need to listens to my friends and my family who tell me so. I will try. I promise.

Well here goes nothing….

I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. Ok that really makes you want to read on right? As per normal I am overthinking everything. Questioning every single decision. Should I write a blog? Is there any point? Would people even bother to read it? Millions of questions and never any answers.

So this is me. I have an illness called depression. It plagues me every day of my life and at the moment it is majorly out of control. I am desperately trying to get well but the harder I try the worse it seems to get. Every day I fight a war, but this is an invisible war to all but me because this war is in my head.

So why write a blog? What is the purpose? To shatter the stigma of mental health. I have personally suffered from judgement, misunderstanding and misconceptions from people who have never experienced a mental health issue. How can I ensure others don’t have to experience the same?

Talk about it. Share my own experiences. People can only get a better understanding of mental health if they hear about what it is like first hand. They need to know that I may look ok on the outside but that doesn’t mean I am on the inside. Every day depression cripples me. Overthinking. Feeling like a failure. Exhaustion. Confusion. Numbness. To name a few of the symptoms.

Depression is like being held back by a tonne weight. It is like my head is full of jelly. There are so many analogies that I can use. I hope to use common every day images to explain to people who have no experience so that they may enter my world for just one moment.

I want to shatter the stigma of self harm. Self harm is not isolated to teenagers. Yes I’m a 33 year old mother of two boys who self harms every single day. I hide it from the world because I am ashamed. I do it as a release of my feelings. I do it to put the mental pain into physical pain. I  do it to punish myself.

I want to shatter the stigma of suicide. I want people to know that it is not the easy option. Suicidal thoughts are serious and shouldn’t be belittled or overlooked. I want people to be more confident of knowing how to help.

For those living with someone who has severe depression I want to give you a hug. I want to say thank you. I need you to know that its ok when you lose your patience. You are amazing. Maybe you pick up the burden by doing more around the house. Perhaps you listen. Perhaps you stay quiet when you are desperate to speak out. Perhaps you smile when you want to cry.

How can I help? What if I say the wrong thing? The blog posts will also give advice for those who want to help a friend or family member. I would also love employers to read so that they too could support rather than hinder those who are ill. Essentially please listen. Be there. Don’t give up. Don’t judge me. Believe in me.

For those suffering like me. You are not alone. There are people who understand. There are people who are experiencing similar to you. Talk, share your story and ask for help whenever you can. Whether online, at home, friends, doctors, counsellors …. share how you are feeling, it will help you process your own thoughts.

I promise to be open and honest. I will bare my soul on this blog. I want you to know what depression is like. I want better help and support for sufferers. I want the stigma to be shattered.