This series of guest posts come from an educator who wants to share their experiences to highlight and normalise issue around teacher mental health.
I have felt scared before, but finally writing this blog has erupted various feelings and emotions and I am not quite sure I can pinpoint just one. This has been a long time coming, and today, while I sit in isolation from the world (except my family), I have decided that now is the time. This blog will be in several parts. It has taken a lot of courage to write this and revisiting painful experiences can be just as hard as living through them at the time… but this time with some perspective and a clearer mind.
After suffering a massive mental breakdown last year, stepping back into social media was something that I never imagined I would ever do. Strange as it sounds, before making the decision to delete my Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts, I would obsess for hours, trawling through people’s profiles, searching for something, anything that would connect me to the ‘outside’ world. I struggled to accept I was having a breakdown, to accept that my brain was so powerful that it could stop me from doing the simplest of things; getting out of bed; getting dressed; getting into my car and into the school I loved working at. I went from being the life and soul of the party, the laughter in the corridors, the one that ‘fixes’ everything, to being a person I did not recognise. Just think for a minute, I did not recognise who I was! I knew my name, where I lived, the fact that I had a husband and children. But I was vacant, ‘out of order’, no longer working. My brain just said no.
The breakdown happened almost overnight. I had suffered a panic attack the day before and then, the following day, I woke up confused, anxious, afraid and utterly dismayed by the thoughts going through my head. I have suffered from anxiety in the past, but I have always been artful at managing it (or so I thought). When I faced the prospect of being at work, around colleagues and students, I simply could not muster the strength to get out of bed. Aside from the fact that I had symptoms of food poisoning, I felt utterly helpless. I was on a continuous pendulum. Crying, pacing the house, struggling to breathe, sleeping on the sofa, flicking channels on the TV, eating, not eating, and calling my parents in a state, and round in this cycle all day long. By the time my husband would come home from work, I would be exhausted from the days ‘madness’, and yet there was never any let up unless I was asleep (which never lasted more than a few hours).
My frustration and anger towards myself grew daily. Why was I so stupid? What the hell was wrong with me? Why can’t I just ‘get a grip’? JUST GET A GRIP! The more I berated myself, or had these negative thoughts, the more I struggled to do just that… get a grip. I hated myself for allowing this to happen and for being so weak. That is how I felt. Weak. And this weakness ate away at me every minute of every day. I felt like I had let everyone down and that no one would ever forgive me for the pathetic state I found myself in.
Struggling to understand what people were saying to me made day to day life challenging. I knew that the language people spoke was one I too, could talk, but I simply could not understand anything people said. This misunderstanding led to many evenings of me snapping at my husband, children, family and friends. And then the self-hate continued into the night. I’m a rubbish wife, a worthless mother, a terrible daughter and a crap friend. What was the point? And then it happened. What was the point? I clung onto this idea for weeks until one night, I sat alone, contemplating whether my family and friends would be better off without me. Never in all my life, had I ever got to the point where I would ever consider committing suicide— even writing that now, brings a pang to my heart. I knew people who had done so and have seen first-hand what the impact of this has been on the people left behind to pick up the pieces. Yet here I was, thinking about the best way to do it so that my children would be least effected and wouldn’t go on living with the fact that their mother decided enough was enough.
This was the turning point for me. The downturn spiral was fast and if I did not try to seek help, things would only get worse. I took to Facebook and asked my local community for therapists. I was inundated with contacts. A hurdle in itself as going through them all was quite a task. Eventually, I called one and spoke to a wonderful woman who referred me to the person who I now consider to have been one of my ‘life lines’. After a few sessions, Becky was able to sift through my thoughts and decipher my ramblings, getting me to consider why I felt the way I did. It was clear to her that I was self-destructive, always feeling the need to validate my worth and value and that I had suffered colossal trauma in my earlier life which was beginning to come back and haunt me. I had to accept that things had happened to me when I was younger and my reactions, feelings and thoughts when someone would treat me in a particular way only fuelled those same feelings and thoughts at a time when I felt most helpless.
So why have I decided to do this now? Recognising now that I was not alone in my feelings of despair and confusion, I look back and wish that I could have found someone that knew what I was going through. Someone who would tell me I was not alone and that I would get through this awful time. And so for me, I have decided to write this series of blogs for those people suffering in silence, suffering and not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I couldn’t see it for a long time, but I did, and the tunnel is slowly disappearing.
This is so difficult. I know that this is not a completed ‘story’. I promise it does get better and isn’t all doom and gloom, but at this point, I need to take a breath.