I ended my last post with this very serious message:
“On another note, if YOU are struggling with mental illness of any kind, talk to your doctor. Everyone is different and handles things differently. I will always have anxiety but I don’t feel like I’m drowning anymore and it is 100% because I sought some much needed help. Asking for help is one of the MOST terrifying things I have done in my life but it was worth it!”
And I meant every word of it! My mental health is more important than my job, going the extra mile, someone else’s expectations, etc. I learned this the hard way – I am important.
I wasn’t aware of the concept, “mental health,” until college. Freshman year, I was diagnosed with Anxiety, something I had my entire life, unknowingly. And, yes, I DID capitalize Anxiety for impact. It is the name of a very real monster.
Back to the idea of mental health. Mental HEALTH… doesn’t it sound like an oxymoron? Something that is supposed to be about health and safe to talk about but makes us crazy (or sound crazy)!?
Not to mention ironic! The idea of mental health should be a positive. Trying to get help for a very real problem? But since it isn’t always as visible as a wheelchair or limp, it’s been stigmatized.
Anxiety? Can’t you just stop thinking about it? Don’t you know you’re being irrational? That’s dumb, not true, ridiculous! Can’t you just calm down? Chill out! Why are you so irritable? Why don’t you want to hang out?! You just need to get out more. (And my personal favorite) why don’t you want to talk about it?
It looks different for each person but, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” right? It doesn’t matter if it looks like panic attacks, blank stares, spacing out, feeling irritable, forgetfulness, acting out, avoiding activities including being social, being quiet, and so. Much. More. It’s REAL! It can’t be fixed by kind words, irrational statements, or pointing out we’re “wrong” when we think irrational things!
It was really bad my sophomore year. I had a full on panic attack in psychology class because the professor DESCRIBED A PANIC ATTACK! Literally, the only reason. It then got worse when I, irrationally, thought the professor would call on me to describe the feeling, which I couldn’t because it was taking incredible concentration to hyperventilate without being noticed. 15 minutes later, I felt it was safe to retreat to the bathroom without looking suspicious.
Fast forward to junior/senior year, more changes came my way: marriage, teaching at private school with a full college load, negative teaching placements, and more. So, in short, I felt like a flippin’ roller coaster.
Fast forward AGAIN, to teaching at charter school as a licensed teacher, anxiety begins to impact my work and relationships. I wish I was the kind of person that was like, “oh no! My stress levels are higher and difficult to deal with… I should see my doctor.” But I’m not. I waited until all of that happened plus a major health decline – sick more often, difficulty taking deep breaths, falling asleep, psoriasis flaring, and heart palpitations. Death warmed over… a fire pit.
At this point, I found just enough courage to speak to my doctor. Which is SO hard! … because I had MORE anxiety about the appointment! Maybe there’s nothing actually wrong with me. Maybe the doctor will think I’m over exaggerating. Maybe I made it all up. Seriously, my anxiety takes all forms. Obviously untrue thoughts are one of those forms.
The doctor sees fit to put me on anti-anxiety medicine. Literally, it gave me anxiety thinking about picking up my prescription, taking it, getting “found out” that I needed medical help… etc.
All the while, I’m almost homeless, in a soul-sucking job, and at my wits end. Oh, and not to mention that I was told NOT to mention this to my admin at the time as it could be seen as a weakness. (Hi! Please add ten more pounds of pressure to the emotionally damaged sinking girl!!! Thanks!)
The doctor also suggested I see a therapist. I won’t begin to tell you the thoughts and anxiety that idea caused me!
The medicine helped mellow me out enough to deal with some of my issues like making it through the rest of the school year (already knowing that my contract isn’t being renewed) without a major mental break down. I continue through the summer where I have four interviews, all very far apart, and continue going to soul-sucking summer school. I finally get hired in LATE August at my dream school and decide… its time.
It was time I faced my fears and talked to a therapist. This was several months after I started the medicine and a month after starting my dream job. I went twice a week and cried on the couch (yes, a literal couch which I found iconic and ironic) no less than twice a week. I was unnerved and unready when she asked me a two months later to move down to once a week because of my improvement.
I find it ironic that my therapist telling me how much I’d improved gave me anxiety. We moved down to once a week and started talking about getting off my medicine.
I told her, “I don’t feel like I have to have it to be productive. Of course, it would help! But I don’t feel like it’s necessary anymore.” This was a HUGE step for me to openly say.
Although, I almost wish I hadn’t. Almost. She had me speak with my doctor about getting off and we came up with a plan that I later found didn’t work. But we did it anyway.
I was to reduce my HABIT FORMING medicine (something I must have tuned out when I started) by taking it every other day, then once I felt comfortable, every three days and once I got to four days to just stop.
Well……………….. the medicine I was taking was time released so it made everything AMPLIFIED by a gazillion when”weaning” off. At my night job (to make ends meet between therapy and medicine), I literally lost my ever lovin’ mind. My manager, thankfully a friend, would see my “crazy eyes” and make me take a break. Somehow she figured out that my big eyes were a precursor to a full melt down. Every. Single. Time.
Eventually, it all subsided and my next attack had nothing to do with medicine. My therapist wanted me to move to every other week. I broke down and told her I wasn’t ready. And she… LISTENED to me! It was almost a new concept! To get what I asked for when it was in my best interest?! BREAKTHROUGH!
I eventually stopped seeing her, on a positive and mutual break-up. I was fully off medicine and down from multiple weekly attacks to maybe a few a month that lasted minutes, not thirty or more.
Even with all the growth, I still have to mentally occupy myself or excuse myself during PD when we talk about what anxiety looks like or why students may be experiencing trauma and how they express it in the classroom. If I don’t, I have a full panic attack.
I wouldn’t be working in the school I am, with my amazing team, in the wonderful land of pre-teens if I had never gone on medicine or seen a therapist.
Long story short, ask for help when you need it. When you’re ready to ask, you’re halfway there. (Literally, I had to take medicine until my brain could chill out enough to accept the help of a therapist).
Teaching In Public