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.