Mental Illness: A Cancer

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So it’s 4:39 am. I am awake. I’ve been awake since 3:50 am. So I thought… maybe I’ll write something. My good buddy, Sam, said to me, you haven’t been blogging lately. What’s up? Nothing is up. Everything is down.

You see I haven’t been writing because I haven’t been feeling the greatest. My anxiety and PNES has swallowed me up like a person trapped in a cove when the high tides of the Bay of Fundy come roaring in. I’m off work again because people have suggested to me that I should be. I didn’t want to leave my classroom. I love teaching; it is who I am. It was a difficult decision to take time off. The worst of it the fear of judgement. I have left the small town I live in and am staying with family in another city. Being in a small town and appearing healthy makes the anxiety worse: If I go grocery shopping, people will think I’m not really sick. If I go to the gym, people will think I’m not sick. But even being with family and friends in another far-away place is difficult. They want to know why- why aren’t you at work? It’s October, how come you have two weeks off? And then the anxiety…what do I tell them? The truth: I’ve gone completely off the rails because I can’t handle the requirements of my job? Or a lie. I have cancer. I do have cancer figuratively. Cancer of the mind. It starts off as a small bit of questioning. Can I do this? And it snowballs like a growing tumor until it takes up all of the space in my brain. Just get through one more day… one more day. All the things you didn’t get done, you can do tomorrow. Except that tomorrow is the same as today. There isn’t enough time to do all the things. Everyone has a breaking point.

So here I sit…trying to think but trying not to think. I need to sort it out, but thinking about all the stuff is exhausting. All of the players in my world have their own ideas of what is “best” for me. Some of the players don’t seem to understand that I am not well. Here are some of the things I have been told/ asked to do:

  • Take two weeks off. Don’t think about work. You’ll be fine in two weeks.
    • Will I? “Don’t think about work.” Asking a teacher not to think about how their students are doing is like asking a person not to breathe. It is in my nature to think about what went wrong. To question, to wonder, to worry.
  • Come up with a plan of how we can support you if you have a seizure in front of your class.
    • Okay, but generally I don’t have seizures due to the students. It’s due to the immense amount of bullshit…er… paperwork, policies, etc.. So what do I do to get out of that? Not check emails so I don’t know about all of the new requirements of my job this year? Don’t talk to anyone who might tell me about things I’m supposed to have done and haven’t because it’s not humanly possible to do all the things required in my job and do my job well?
  • Since you’re off, take this minimum wage job as a housekeeper/nanny.
    • So my mother-in-law thought it would be a good idea to volunteer me to help look after her niece’s house and twins. You know, they put me off work to ease my stress and for me to focus on taking care of and healing myself but why don’t I just go take care of other people for two weeks.
  • Since you’re off, can you input this data into a computer for me? And set up a website?
    • My husband, god love him, is excited at the prospect of me having time to help him with his job. I spent much of the summer doing that at the expense of my own planning for new courses. Maybe if I had been better prepared for the 5 different courses I was teaching, I would not be in this situation right now. I love my husband, and I do want to help. But right now, I have to focus on what to do to heal myself.

I guess I wrote something. It’s not my best work. I’m sorry for being a Debbie Downer. Wha-Whum…

Hopefully, I’ll be in a better place soon. I’ve gone through this before and gotten through it. I have no reason to think I won’t get better this time.

-O.H.

Featured image:

“Debbie Downer.” Wikipedia. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Debbie_Downer&gt;

October   11, 2017.

 

I am a teacher.

I’m a teacher.

It’s a phrase that sometimes makes me proud and sometimes makes me want to keep as a secret. Of course, I live in a small town, so I can’t go anywhere without being recognized. When I go grocery shopping, to the drug store, for a coffee, to the movies, you name it, there is always multiple people who will call out my name. I can tell when I taught them by whether they call me Mrs. Hayward or by my maiden name. Some of them get so excited as if they are experiencing a celebrity sighting. It’s like they don’t realize that teachers are people too. No, I don’t live at the school and yes, I do have shits and have to buy toilet paper.

So when I’m home I can’t go unnoticed. I have tried, of course. Sometimes if I’m feeling lazy or sick, I’ll put on a baseball cap and sunglasses and try to be anonymous. Sometimes I wear a scarf. Sometimes I isolate myself in my home and pull a Greta Garbo just trying to get some privacy. The worst is if the students figure out where I live. I try my best to protect myself from that. You can be the best teacher in the world, everyone’s “favorite teacher,” but it only takes one student with a hate-on for you to result in having your car egged. And yes, my car has been egged before.

I am always a teacher when I’m home and I can’t fly under the radar. But when I leave this town, I have the opportunity to be truly anonymous. In the summers when my husband and I travel, it’s absolute freedom. I have the choice whether or not to disclose my profession.

This leads to very interesting outcomes sometimes. Such as this past summer, when I went to a party with my husband where most of the people did not know me. Overhearing conversations people have about teachers are sometimes the most fascinating things for someone who is a teacher. So it’s time to debunk some myths. Below are some actual things I have overheard while “undercover.”

Heard at the summer party from a lady in the private sector: “Those lazy teachers get paid on snow days, and I have to work for my pay.”

Okay, first of all teachers are not lazy. Anyone who ever says this has no idea what a teacher actually does. If you’ve ever had to give a presentation, you should know how much preparation and effort goes into that. Likely, if you have given a presentation, it was maybe 10 minutes long at the most. I have to prepare for five 1 hour long presentations a day. It’s A LOT of work. However, preparing for the presentation is not even the half of it. I have to make sure that those listening to my “presentations” have actually learned from them. So I have to create assessments, have the students complete them, read all of the completed assessments to ensure understanding, give feedback and I have to do that for 150 students. My day starts before the students even arrive, preparing in the morning, and ends long after they leave, staying late at the school making copies, and going home with bags of marking. I get an hour of paid prep time every other day. I often work through lunch and stay after school giving extra help. And I haven’t even got to the extra-curriculars like sports and teams that teachers volunteer to do on top of all the other things related to their jobs. During the school year, I work days, evenings and weekends. My home turns into a scene from hoarders because I’m so physically and mentally exhausted that I often neglect cleaning. So I get a few snow days off during the school year- I need them. It is one of the few perks that gets me through the school year. It allows me to clean my house, do laundry, and get caught up on school related work too. Furthermore, teachers don’t get “personal days,” because we have March Break, Christmas Break and Summer Break, so we are expected to do anything related to appointments, vacations, etc. during those times. So we get a few snow days here and there where we’re paid to stay home, and that’s only if we’re lucky enough to get a snow storm that’s bad enough to close the schools. We deserve them.

Heard at a restaurant from a parent to a child: “Be a teacher when you grow up. You’ll have the summers off, as well as Christmas and March Break and get paid for them.”

Really? Okay, so technically, no, I don’t have to report for work during the break times. But I do work during those times. The only difference is I can make my own schedule. For example, I don’t get paid time to set up my classroom or clean it up at the beginning or end of the year. These things have to be done, so I go in during the summer to do these things. I also generally get new courses each year, so I spend my summer reading curriculum guides and textbooks so I can plan for September. Yes, I can do that reading on the beach if I want to, so that certainly is a perk. That covers part one of the comment.

Apparently, teachers get paid for the breaks too. Nope. Not true. Teachers get paid for the school days in a year, depending on how many school days there are in the district or region where they are employed. The number of school days are different in every province and/or state- they can range approximately from 185-210. Most places where there are a lot of snowy days tack on about 10 extra days to compensate for days that school closes for snow. But teachers are only paid for the school days worked from September- June. In many places, it may seem that teachers get paid all year because the pay they get for the 185 days (or whatever it is) is prorated to ensure the teacher gets a pay cheque over the breaks. If my gross pay were, say, $45 000, my daily rate of pay would be $243.24 (before taxes.) So let’s just say I win a vacation for 5 days in Mexico during the month of April. There is no April break so if I want to go, I have to take 5 unpaid days if I actually want to go on the trip. Five unpaid days= $1216.22. It wouldn’t even be worth it to go, because that comes off my next pay cheque. So no, we don’t get paid for those breaks.
I could go on a lot more about the so-called “perks” of my job, but I won’t for today. What I will say is this: we all have good and bad aspects about our work. No one has a perfect job. What’s important is to enjoy your job and to have purpose. Even though I work really hard and am exhausted much of the time, I am satisfied with my job because I feel like I make a difference every day. For me the biggest “perk” of being a teacher is that I change kid’s lives every day- I help them read and write, I help them deal with anxiety and depression, I listen to them when it feels to them like no one else understands, I buy them lunch if they don’t have anything to eat, I encourage them to be the best person they can be and to follow their dreams.

I am a teacher.