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.

Depression turmoil

My head is spinning it’s turning me in and out,

I don’t know whether to hide, cry, scream or shout,

Even writing is hard right now a desperate release,

I would love to escape it all, forever or for just one day please let it cease.

I’ve been poorly for weeks now laryngitis, chest infection and now my ear is sore,

It’s left me tired and broken, I’m not sure I can take much more,

The pain is now increasing, but when to fit in a doctors visit I can’t think,

Life is too full, too busy there is no time even to blink.

Being poorly has stopped the exercise my way to stay sane,

The weight is piling on again, all I seem to do is gain,

The pounds increasing are making me low,

Every time I try to crack the weight something sends another blow.

Work is exhausting, especially when feeling ill,

I’m not sure how much longer I can hold on till,

Each day anxiety is there, the self doubt creeping in,

In front of 30 students anxiety can quickly mean the lesson should be thrown in the bin.

Outside of work other things are playing on my mind,

I’m worried about my eldest boy at school I don’t want him to be behind ,

What can I do to help him, being a mum is a constant worry

I don’t want the lines between loving mum and teacher to be blurry.

Other things are hurting me more than I can express,

Alzheimer’s is the cruelest disease it’s hard I confess,

Watching parts of my Dad disappear before my very eyes,

Hard to be the rock for my mum and hear her cries.

Right now life is really overwhelming me,

I’ve come off the antidepressants leaving me alone and free,

No counselling for 4 weeks my lifeline missing at this time

I think a new strategy shall come to play … bedtime!

Unexpected positives

Recovery is possible. Life can be good again. Positives really exist.

1. I love my job:

At times it causes me stress. It exhausts me. It challenges me in the most unexpected ways. But I absolutely love it. For those who are new to my blog I teach religious education to children aged 11-18 in a secondary school in England.

Term has only just begun and it’s hard to have full days of teaching back to back. But this week I have thrived in front of a class. When depression was at its worse I couldn’t even walk into the building!

I love inspiring them! I love explaining new things. I love being honest with them. I love talking to them. I love engaging with them. I love making the most difficult topics understandable.

2. Unexpected praise makes me feel great:

This week I had someone link to my blog and my book from their blog post. So I clicked the link and followed to read a lovely blog post they had written about the book I wrote. I published Be there for me on kindle back in November. It hasn’t had much of an audience and over the last few months I have stopped looking to see if anyone had even looked at it.

So it was very unexpected when a complete stranger had taken the time to read my book and even more had written a lovely review on their own blog. I was deeply touched. Thank you.

3. Counselling is still needed.

I have been feeling significantly better for a couple of months now. Many times recently I have considered giving up the counselling. Mainly because it can be hard to go out at 6:30pm on a Friday evening after a long week. Especially when my 2 year old cries and shouts I want to come with you and my 5 yr old asks millions of questions about my “meeting”.

I know I’m not fully recovered. (I truly wonder whether I ever will be). The self harm is ever present. The self esteem and anxiety not great still. But I’m coping.

But this weeks counselling session was a revelation. I have so so so much still to be resolved. Essentially my in ability to express my emotions is still deeply affecting me. In particular my self esteem and confidence. It’s ok though I’m making progress slowly.

4. Running isn’t that bad!

I have now done 11 runs since starting 4 weeks ago. I honestly hate running. I used to be extremely sporty but it was always the competition element I liked. Running is just boring. Relentlessly tiring.

But I’m learning to love it a bit. It’s getting easier. I’m making progress. I’m following the couch to 5k app. The feeling after a run is glorious. I have more energy. I honestly believe exercise is helping keep my mood good. I’m determined to get healthier and lose some weight too.

Please whatever is positive in your life try and grab it. If you are in the thick of depression I have been there. It will get better. It will get better. It will get better.

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.

What’s going on in my head?

I’ve been very distant recently. Distant from family. Distant from friends. Distant from colleagues. Distant from my blog. I’ve been living in my own bubble of depression.

Things have got really bad the last few weeks. Progressively worse. Going downhill. Whatever you like to call it.

For the first time in quite a while work seems to be the trigger. There is an awful lot going on. It’s a stressful time of year what with exams for the students coming up. But it is more than that.

Essentially work becomes the problem when I feel like I’m not doing a good enough job. As soon as I feel questioned. As soon as I have to justify myself. As soon as relationships become strained. As soon as there are problems that can’t be solved.

One of the problem areas for me at the moment is exam results driven. Personally I have/am doing everything in my power to help the students achieve the top grades. For many reasons my department is struggling to meet their targets at the moment. I feel judged. I feel inadequate. I feel like leaders want more.

There is no more I can do! Revision every night. Intervention sessions at lunchtimes. Revision materials. Carefully planned lessons. Contact with parents. Practise questions. Additional mock exams.I even wrote a whole 150 page revision guide myself!

Yet I feel seriously under appreciated. I feel like I am expected to do more. I feel like there are so many factors out of my control that no one is prepared to accept.

Last year when I was off work for 6months I promised myself I wouldn’t start thinking like this again. I promised myself that I would keep doing my best and not care what anyone else thought. I promised myself I wouldn’t care about being judged for what is out of my control.

But it’s hard when judgement seems to have become a part of the main stay in many schools. It’s hard when my whole personality is about pleasing people. About making others happy. About doing my best.

It’s catch 22. I feel like I’m completely stuck in an endless loop. I try my best but my best just isn’t good enough.

So yes work is a major factor of what is going on in my head. This week:

  • I can’t sleep
  • When I do sleep I have anxiety led dreams which mean I wake up panicked
  • The self harm is out of control
  • The suicidal thoughts are back
  • The isolating myself is a problem
  • The deep self loathing is there
  • There is a lack of energy
  • There is over eating
  • I can’t concentrate for long
  • I lack enthusiasm or energy
  • I’m snappy and rude.

What’s going on in my head?

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.

Students

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.

Staff

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.

What I gained from taking the biggest risk of my life (so far) part 3 of 3

So both back at our old school as teachers. Two friends. We hadn’t been in contact much over the past few years. The early months I was in complete denial that there was anything between us. A feeling of I’ve been there done that arose. He had asked me out 3 times in sixth form and each time I had turned him down.

Then it all started to change. Yes I have to admit it was his obvious love and affection for his nephew that did it. A family man he was. 5 months after we started going out we were engaged. A year later married. 2 years after that two children! The biggest risk of my life was worth it…I found love.

So reflecting back am I still happy about taking that risk? Going into the unknown was scary. I was always certain I would go back to primary. But after the latest bought of major depression I am not sure.

Whilst unwell and off work I went for and was offered 3 different teaching positions back in the primary classroom. I was drawn to those happy times in my memory. I am so glad I did because it made me realise I don’t want to go back at the moment. Never say never but it’s not an option right now.

Never make major decisions when you are ill with depression. I always advocate that. I was about to do that when my wise friend offered me some amazing advice. Go back to work first. See how it is before you make a decision to leave.

It wasn’t a smooth ride going back. The anxiety was through the roof but I knew I shouldn’t rush into another career move. I was too poorly.

I had always planned to go back to primary at some point. I certainly couldn’t see myself in leadership in a secondary school. I also couldn’t see me doing my current job much longer I needed a new challenge. But another wise friend said stop planning too far ahead and enjoy the now.

So where does the risk I took 9 years ago leave me now? I currently love my job. I love the people I work with. It’s stressful and hard work but it’s rewarding too. And it has taken nine years but for the first time I’ve come to accept I might even like it enough to stay longer. There may even be options to progress or look at new avenues in this job. But for now I’m just going to accept the present.

So think through every risk. But don’t be too afraid to give it a go. The rewards are unknown but they could be amazing!

What I gained from taking the biggest risk of my life (so far). Part 1 of 3

So by nature I’m not a risk taker! I hate the unknown. It scares me. I hate being out of control. I am very much one for planning for everything. Therefore I can only think of one really big risk I have taken in life so far.

I can remember at the time everyone thought I was crazy. Colleagues were shocked. Many people were worried for me. Family and friends questioned my decision. To be honest so did I! And this questioning went on for many years!

I had always wanted to be a secondary PE teacher until in sixth form I complete a catechetics course and did some work with year 1’s at a local school. This changed the direction of my focus. I trained as a primary school teacher and spent 3 years teaching year 2 children.

I absolutely loved it. I have always seemed to be able to connect with children and going to work every day surrounded by 6 and 7 year olds inspired by the world was special.

I have so many happy memories of this time I don’t know where to start. Reading stories outside in the garden, doing art work, creating Christmas plays, coming up with assemblies, designing displays, leading swimming lessons, playing football with them at lunchtimes, leading the football team to county triumph. These just a few that come to mind.

I loved the school I worked in. My colleagues and friends were an amazing bunch. Supportive, creative, fun, it was a good atmosphere. I felt valued and believed I could work there forever.

So what changed? Several things. It wasn’t one huge event but a build up which made me feel like I was desperate to leave. After two years there my third was to be not quite as happy.

The headteacher retired. The head that had given me my start, had always completely trusted and believed in me and now is one of my closest and valued friends even though she is nearly as old as my Mum!

I broke up with my boyfriend. We had been going out for four years. It wasn’t what I wanted. I was devastated. It rocked my confidence and my morale.

The school changed. I struggled to get on with the head who took over the job. I found myself internally questioning his decisions and hating the way the school was going. It made me sad to see it change.

A colleague of mine who was also a friend was relying on me for advice and support with a personal matter. At the time I was happy to try and help but I realise now it had a very negative impact on how I was feeling. I worried about the consequences for those involved if what I had been told was ever revealed. I was only 24 and this was a complex issue for someone double my age.

Lastly the final straw. When I found out my friend and colleague who always supported me was looking to leave I knew it was time. I had just started thinking about other primary jobs when I got this weird message one day.

The receptionist thrust a post it in my hand. She said this lady called, this is her home number can you call her back. What was weird was this was my ex teacher. Why on earth did she want me to call her? Why give me her home number.

I hate phones so this and the not knowing what message I was going to receive when I called, meant it took several days to pluck up the courage to call. That phone call changed my life.

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

positive.

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.

Depressed teacher 4 – what a week!

If there was ever a week where I felt the full range of the human emotions it was this one. From start to finish it threw challenges at me.

Logistics

My first challenge this week was sorting out lifts. Not being able to drive due to my wrist has been very difficult. It has taken away my independence and affected my mood. This week was going to be even more difficult as my husband was away on a school trip Monday to Wednesday evening.

So how do you get a 1 year old to a nanny’s house? A 4 year old to school? A mum (aka me) to work when you can’t drive? Luckily all the locations are no more than a 10 minute drive away.

Friends and family have come to my aid. I have had lifts from a range of sources! My mum has turned into my personal chauffeur many times this week.

All of this has left me feeling like a burden. I hate asking for favours. I hate having to rely on others.

Monday night just one day of these logistics after a day at work and solo parenting at home I was feeling very low. Desperate even. I went to bed at 8pm in an effort to push the depression back.

Broken arm

So on Tuesday I was hopeful my cast would come off. I had an appointment at the hospital. The doctor seemed hopeful to start with. I started talking about driving and began thinking about exercising my withered arm. Then the worst of news it was healing but needed to have the cast on for

at least 2 weeks longer.

I underestimated how this news would get to me. The thought of the complications of getting the children and me out every morning stressing me. The thought of the independence that was still out of reach making me uptight.

Lack of sleep

The thing that affects my depression most is a lack of sleep. When tired I can’t seem to handle the daily war with the illness. My boys always sense when daddy is away. Monday and Tuesday night the youngest was up for hours coughing and generally unsettled! It’s so hard to function with little sleep. Let alone when I’m struggling to manage an illness.

Work

There have been highs and lows here too this week. From positive meetings to lessons I have been disappointed in. From enjoying teaching to feeling like the worst teacher in the world. Why do I take it all to heart? Why does one bad experience knock me for 6 but a good makes no impact on my mood?

I had a meeting today at work to check all was ok. It has actually been fine. Probably better than expected especially considering the broken arm. But today I could have cried. Why? I have absolutely no idea! I just felt tired. Emotional and low. That’s the thing with mental health there is not always an answer. And no I didn’t share this in the meeting because at the moment I’m hoping it is just a blip, like the one on Monday that I survived.

Tonight

So I’m much better than earlier. Currently lounging on the sofa. Just ate pizza. Watching the new Star Trek and now designated survivor on Netflix. Unfortunately my counsellor is away this week so where it would have been good to talk i can’t today. But hopefully rest is all that is needed to survive this topsy turvy week!