Posted in Mental Health

The Truth about Anxiety

I was diagnosed with anxiety in my early 20s. I wish it had been sooner. It would have saved me a lot of… well, anxiety! Not to mention, depression, self-esteem, and more. Putting a name to this invisible monster actually made me feel validated and normal (my relative normal).

Anxiety is real. Don’t let someone else’s ignorance or lack of understanding diminish your self worth.

You are important. You are worth understanding. What you are experiencing is real!

I talked more about this in my first post but my negative experiences changed my life.

It took college for me to get diagnosed with anxiety. It took two crappy jobs and a terrible principal along with irrationally irate parents (of one of my students) to get me to go back to the doctor. It took heart palpations, daily panic attacks, almost constant eye twitches, lack of appetite, and decreased social interaction to get me to admit and realize how physical anxiety is and to talk to my doctor about medicine. It took a year on medicine and a change of schools to get me to call a therapist. It took me 6 months, my doctor, therapist, and friends to get off the medicine and be released from my therapist.

Sometimes life’s hardest moments are the moments that will change your life. My life is not perfect (I mean, no one is really!) but my life led me to teaching back in my home district and married to a man who loves me with friends who accept me for who I am.

Don’t give up! Allow your experiences to lead you to the best parts of your life even when they feel like the worst.

You are enough. You are important. What you are experiencing is real and yes, there will be people who don’t or won’t understand. Give them time, space, or kick them to the curb. If they’re worth having in your life, they’ll find you worth understanding.

Anxiously yours,

Teaching In Public

Posted in Education, Journey, Mental Health

Reflecting isn’t just for Mirrors

Big news here…. I won Teacher of the Year for my building!!! Woo! I’m honored to have won (especially now that I know I won based on a rubric score and not a popularity contest). In my state, private and charter schools don’t participate in TOY so I couldn’t be nominated until I changed schools.

As honored as I am, and truly I am, I’m not sure I like the attention. I’m not a “toot your own horn” type of person. I’m more of a “you need to prove yourself” kind of person.

I frequently feel like I need to prove my worth as a teacher, or at any job. Having this award shows me I am worthy but also gives me anxiety, irrationally, that they made a mistake and will take it away when they notice.

The truth – They didn’t make a mistake. The award isn’t going away. I have a LOT of work to do for the district level competition. I AM a good teacher and I AM worth the time it takes to do all that work.

When I finally let that sink in, I felt a little relieved and have moments of clarity where I can work on the paperwork required.

Each piece of the paperwork is a different type of reflection. I have to reflect on a lesson, how I connect students, a project I’m involved in, my experience, my message as Teacher of the Year, why I became a teacher, a major problem in education, and more. Not to mention the panel interview and class observation. (Ah!!!!!!!!! Talk about stress!)

I’ve felt a little overwhelmed and anxious about the amount of work. That being said, as I’ve started to dedicate time to each portion, I’ve realized they are all asking me to reflect on what makes me… me.

Each time, I’ve realized that reflecting has actually made me more confident and sure about my ability and next steps in the process. It’s helped me realize how far I’ve come from the teacher I used to be to who I am today.

Reflections help me see things differently, good and bad. It’s something I have been told I’m good at but something I don’t always initiate on my own. Reflecting can be a good thing if you’re using it to inform and improve.

So take a moment and think… how have you changed over the years? What’s something positive in your life? What’s something you could improve? Take the moment to reflect and strengthen your relationship with your self.

Positively yours,

Teaching In Public

Posted in Education, Mental Health

I Give Myself Permission to Feel… Annoyed.

That’s right. Annoyed. Today begins the week from hell. A week of not being allowed to do my job. There will be another week that is just the same in another month.

State testing.

A week of no instruction, just testing. A week of not being allowed to help my students, just testing. A week of practically cruel and unusual babysitting.

“What is this word?” “I’m sorry I can’t answer that. Just do your best.”

“What does this mean?” “I’m sorry I can’t answer that. Just do your best.”

“I don’t understand the question. Can you rephrase it for me?” “I’m sorry I can’t answer that. Just do your best.”

“Did I write enough?” “I’m sorry I can’t answer that. Just do your best.”

And even though the students know to expect the same answer, the still look hurt or surprised every time I say it. It is, by far, the worst and most annoying week of my entire school year. AND I HAVE TO DO IT TWICE (Math and ELA)!

It gets worse! When students are finished they can read (no textbooks), draw, write, color, and put their head down (can’t sleep or snore) BUT anything they write, draw, or color HAS TO BE SHREDDED at the end of the session.

Not only is this a terrible week for me but the following things also irritate me about this week:

  • I have to fake that I don’t hate state testing
  • Students with ADHD or other attention/focus issues have to test for HOURS throughout this week
  • Our lunch was switched to accommodate testing
  • Some of my kids just don’t test well
  • I have to walk around to make sure no one cheats
  • Walking around makes students more likely to ask for help that I CAN’T GIVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • among other things

Some may think, oh test week! It’s like a mini vacation. Yes! It is! A mini vacation where you can’t relax, you can’t waste time on social media or socializing, and you can’t have all you can eat at a breakfast buffet by the beach.

Even though I STRONGLY DISLIKE this week, I need to make it a positive environment for my students so they can feel successful and positive. To help I have purchased cheerios for snacks, gum, mints, and plan to take breaks for the bathroom and maybe one or two outside breaks, if it’s nice out.

As you go about your week, say a prayer for my sanity.

Temporarily sane,

Teaching In Public

Posted in Mental Health

Permission to Feel

I had to learn to give myself permission to feel – stressed, happy, exhausted, etc. My first experience with this, that I remember, is with my doctor.

Years after being officially diagnosed, I went back to the doctor to talk about medicine. This was elaborated on in a previous post. I told her that I finally wanted to talk about medicine because my anxiety was becoming physical with eye twitches and heart palpitations. In my mind, I was downplaying all of my other symptoms as non-physical.

“Anxiety is very physical. You have panic attacks where you feel like you can’t breath. You feel the stress in your body. You have tension because of stress you haven’t let go of. Anxiety is very physical.” this is what my doctor told me and it was enough to start breaking down my walls.

Later, almost a YEAR later, I started seeing a therapist. I remember talking to her about my stress at the time. I told her, I shouldn’t be stressed at that moment. She pointed out positive and negative stress in my life and asked why I couldn’t feel stressed if I had stress in my life. Again, I was downplaying my anxiety. 

When I was a kid, people would tell me, “you’re ____ years-old. You don’t know WHAT stress is!” and other not so nice things that adults still say.

Once I was able to break down that wall it got easier to reflect on how I was feeling and why. I am the only person that has power to make myself feel a particular way. No one can tell me my feelings are not valid. AND I had to learn that even positive changes can be stressful. 

Which brings me to yesterday. I decided not to post anything yesterday and take a day off from almost everything: blogging, housework, schoolwork, etc. I realized that I had been stressed out and hadn’t done much to recharge. Before I could relax, I had to figure out why I was feeling stressed and let myself feel.

Well, I had plenty of reasons once I started thinking (some I hadn’t thought stressed me out until I began thinking about my stress).

  • Stressful situations/circumstances (it’s important to note that these changes don’t have to directly be about me to cause me some level of stress)
    • temporary house guest staying too long and finally moving out
    • nominated for a big award at work
    • house guest now gone but still causing problems
    • best friend visiting for first time in a year
    • wedding anniversary
    • birthdays of multiple family members (think: parties, socializing, buying presents, etc)
    • taking off time at work for a training
    • attending a training
    • taking off time at work for my bff (I literally NEVER take personal days so this was a stressful decision)
    • end of the marking period (work, grades, etc)
    • state testing training
    • a week of state testing
    • working an after-school job and tutoring on the weekends
    • dog-sitting
    • having anxiety
    • menstrual cycle
    • other things I either don’t want to list of have since forgotten (anxiety makes me forget, a lot)

So, what can I do about it? Well, most of those situations are unavoidable like testing, end of marking period, and birthdays. The ones I can control will still stress me out but I can (and did) handle them at the time. BUT even though they are unavoidable or handled already they STILL STRESS ME OUT! Which causes me to have increased anxiety which stresses me out… and the cycle continues.

Yesterday, I decided to do something about it. I played hookie (on a Saturday so not sure if it counts XD ) and went to a close-by city that had plenty of stores and wide-open spaces to avoid people. I shopped and spent some time with myself. I had lunch at a place my hubs doesn’t like much. I shopped at stores we don’t usually go to and I found bargains I didn’t know I was looking for and you know what? I felt better. 

Some of my stress and stressors are still there but spending some time with myself and enjoying it made a huge difference in helping me feel recharged.

My lesson? Allow yourself to feel stressed (or however you are feeling). Like yourself and spend time alone sometimes. Do something you don’t normally get to do or something you’ve been meaning to do but just don’t take the time. There’s something about setting time to yourself and enjoying it that makes a world of difference.

Thankfully yours,

Teaching In Public

Posted in Mental Health

Honesty is the best policy… right?

When I could finally put a name to the irritability, attacks, breathing problems, forgetfulness, and other symptoms, I felt a weight lift from my shoulders. Knowing what it was made me feel more in control and more like it wasn’t all in my head (even though that’s where anxiety usually starts).

Even though, I was a college student when this happened I still felt like I couldn’t tell people. I felt like having a mental illness made me weak or strange. It was such a catch-22. I felt relieved that there was a reason to my symptoms but I felt like I would be judged if other people knew.

For that reason, I didn’t tell my parents until years later. I started with my dad. We happened to be at dinner or lunch, just the two of us. Towards the end, I started to open up. I felt like one of those dramatic scenes where someone is uncovering a deadly disease or that they come out of the closet. I’m not trying to diminish deadly diseases, coming out of the closet, or having a mental illness but my anxiety made me feel overly dramatic like a tense movie scene. AND IT WAS SOOOOOO ANTI-CLIMACTIC! My dad literally looked at me and said, “and… oh, that’s it? Well, that’s not a big deal. Take care of yourself and do what you need to do. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.” Then he said the magic words, “I won’t tell your mom.”

Now, again, I’m a married ADULT who doesn’t live at home, pays her own bills, has a full-time job, etc. And I didn’t want my mom to know I had anxiety. I also didn’t want her to know I was on medication or about to see a therapist.

Months later I opened up to her about the anxiety and medicine piece in hopes that it would help her in a problem she was facing. It didn’t and it kind of back-fired for me. At a holiday dinner, she gave me a book titled, “Overcoming Anxiety…” which I haven’t read because the book gives me anxiety (Isn’t it ironic… ).

She got weird too. If I didn’t post enough on social media, she would call worried. If I didn’t want to go to an event, she would be worried. BUT she would be dismissive if something was going on. For example, “I don’t want to go because I haven’t had any recharge time so I’m staying home.” “You’ll feel better if you get out of the house!” No. No, I won’t.

She did the same when I was growing up. Whenever I had anxiety attacks she would blame school stress, my friends, my over commitment to extra-curriculars, my period, someone at school, or any number of excuses.

I was told at the charter school to not tell my admins for fear of reprimand or judgement.

I told my friend who (I love her to pieces) asks me all the time if she’s stressing me out and tip toes around me.

I was told to be aware who I told at my dream job for fear of judgement and the busy body’s who would turn it into a negative.

I told my husband (before going to the doctor) and although he has a better concept now of how real it is for me, he did not understand at first. “Get over it.” “You’re over exaggerating.”

Honesty is great! IF being honest is constructive and to the right person. I wouldn’t tell my deepest secrets to the town gossip but I should be honest with those in my close circle like my husband. Not everyone needs to know everything.

Select your circle carefully. Who has your best interest at heart and is able to support you? While my mom has my best interest at heart, this is an area she can’t support me in right now. Although she already knows, it isn’t something I bring up if I can help it with her.

Blind honesty has its place like with your doctor, therapist, and people who need to know for safety, medical, or other decision making instances. That doesn’t mean you need to be transparent with everyone you meet.

Who else am I able to be blindly honest with????? My dogs.

This idea of thoughtful honesty is exactly why I have and will remain anonymous as this blog continues. This gives me the freedom to share stories, strategies, and other information that may benefit someone else without fear of embarrassment of myself or others and without violating any privacy codes since all names will be omitted including places of employment. Just like in teaching, if this blog helps even one person, it’s worth it.

Honestly yours,

Teaching In Public

Posted in Mental Health

Self-Care… the New Buzzword

Self-care is great if you figure out what works for you. That being said, please don’t be one of those people who use it as an excuse to be greedy or ignorant.

“Oh, I bought this million dollar burger in the spirit of self-care.” I smell b.s.

Here’s a list of things that work and don’t work for me. Feel free to add what works for you in the comments! You never know who might need your idea.

No way!

    Say yes to everything and everyone.
    Talk it out.
    Scream into a pillow.
    Count to … (any number)

Tried and true (although not every one works every time. It really depends on where it’s stemming from and what my mind needs in that moment.)

    Say no and be okay with it.
    Create: Color, draw, be crafty, reorganize, clean (this helps me take my mind of things)
    Make a list (usually grocery list, meal plan, or to do. This helps me feel in control of something)
    Read a book or watch tv/movies (this doesn’t work when I’m deep in the trenches of stress or anxiety) Comedy is especially effective.
    Relax: take a bath, shower, go to the salon for nails or hair, spa at home (heating pad, nose strips, etc)
    Exercise: walk, go to gym, etc (walking around a local park is effective for me. I like to listen to music or an audiobook while I do this)
    Touch: cuddle puppies (or 80 pound dogs), hug, cuddle a human (always effective), do something with your sense of touch like finding the softest blanket or using kinesthetic sand
    Cook: watch cooking shows and try a new recipe (or anything new)
    Think: imagine something or think of positives in your life.
    Journaling worked well when I was little.

I’m no expert but I think the idea of self-care is to take time to enjoy life and, when dealing with stress or mental illness, take time to regroup so the stress or issues don’t overcome your life.

Creatively yours,

Teaching In Public

Posted in Mental Health

Mental Health… Oxymoron AND Irony in Real Life

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).

Anxiously yours,

Teaching In Public