Wow, has this been a month. I feel like I've been put through a ringer, squeezed back out, twisted a few times, then thrown into the street to get run over by a steamroller and a herd of wild Tijuanan donkeys. (Although I hear the Tijuana donkeys are pretty tame. I wouldn't know. Ahem.)
I think I've started and stopped this entry about 857 times - in my head, on paper, and on the computer. I'm not really sure how to put my feelings out there while they're so raw, yet still give voice to my wry, inappropriate sense of humor. But I digress, and let's just get down to it, dammit.
Depression sucks balls.
I had to take a leave of absence from my job. I've been off work for a month now. I don't want to go back. I don't ever want to teach again. I want to avoid the classroom like a plague of chittering, hairy locusts. (No, I'm not referring to the kids as locusts.) I just happen to feel that the bloom is off the teaching rose.
Let me back up for a minute, though, to about three years ago. I've written about this on this blog. I had been teaching at a school that had a very high poverty rate and was a tough school in which to teach. I was doing ok - I loved the kids, I made connections with the kids, and people would put difficult kids in my class, NOT (as some people assume) because the principal or other staff didn't like me, but because I made a difference and a connection with those kids that translated into better behavior in my class. Then we got a new principal, and in a school such as this, you can not only survive, but thrive, so long as you have drive, a love for the profession and the kids, and support from leadership. To avoid burning bridges, let's just say that leadership was less than supportive. And I burned out. After 8 years of teaching at this school, I left, found a new job at another school, and started over (kind of).
I started teaching at this new school and had an amazing, incredible, fulfilling and HAPPY year. Then the bomb dropped - my dad left my mom. My mom, one of the nicest, sweetest, most unassuming women you will ever meet, who never hurt a fly in her life, and who was dealing with not one, but SIX major health issues including Parkinson's disease. They had been married 37 years.
This past year has been a bitch. I have been completely overwhelmed by not only the responsibility of caring for and nurturing my family, but also my profession, which has become more and more of a numbers game (we teachers aren't worth much if we don't get those kids to pass a test!). Add in the fact that my mom's biggest support system during her health crisis - my dad - suddenly up and quit on her, which meant that I became her touchstone. By which I mean that I became the one who started getting calls at 11 p.m., my mom so distraught she couldn't even speak and she just sobbed into my ear for an hour. She can't drive, so I started transporting her to appointments. My brother moved into her house and became verbally abusive to her.
Fast forward to this past September. We bought a house and moved 20 miles south of the town in which I grew up. The school year started, and my son started first grade at a new school (the school where I teach). I got my mom to move out of her house (the one I grew up in) and move to a townhouse two blocks from our house. I got her taken care of, my family settled, and all transitions taken care of.
And I couldn't pretend anymore. I lost it. I started having panic attacks at school. I started taking half days because the stress was making it so hard to do my job, much less do it to my (admittedly ridiculously high) expectations. I started thinking that it would be better if I just took myself out of the equation.
A wonderful friend stepped in and told me I needed to get myself some help. She said that she could appreciate how hard it was for me because she doesn't have kids - she gets some down time when she gets home. I don't. She marched me down to my principal and told him (I couldn't do it myself) that I needed time off. He said, "How much?" I came home that day, grabbed a bag, and left for the ocean with another wonderful friend. I had two blissful days of not caring about anything, and not having to do anything for anyone but myself.
I got home and it was like all of the pent-up anger, frustration, depression, guilt and self-hatred pooled into one gigantic black cloud that exploded over me. I came home and had a long talk with my husband (in which he told me he felt like a roommate, not a husband, because I wasn't talking to him about everything going on in my head). I collapsed, sobbing, shaking, and hyperventilating in his arms.
That started the release - or, should I say, the slow leak. My anxiety attacks got worse, and I started cutting. I only did it a few times, but it seemed to make me feel better when all I could do was tremble in my bed while stuck in an anxiety attack that almost felt like a seizure. Hubby stayed home with me for almost two weeks, mostly to make sure that I wasn't going to off myself. I started seeing a counselor and I've had almost weekly doctor's visits to monitor a change in my medication and my condition.
I've been teaching for almost 10 years. I'm good at it, I love those kids, I put 1,892% of myself into my job and most of the people I work with seem to regard me rather highly. And I really feel like I'm whining when I say that I'm so tired. But everything that I've gone through in the past year has made me wonder if it's worth it. The time I have had with my children the past few weeks has been so incredibly fulfilling. I've been able to relax enough to enjoy little things, like brushing my daughter's hair back from her face and telling her how beautiful she is. Like listening to my son read his sister a story. Like spending an hour and a half doing workbook pages with my daughter because she just wanted to do one more (again and again). Like making pancakes in the morning instead of rushing out the door after grabbing a granola bar.
At one point, during my worst time, I was lying in bed, hardly functional, and four words kept repeating in my head. Beautiful. Symmetrical. Continuous. Perfect. I couldn't get those words out of my head, and I started searching for an image that represented them. I never did find one, but those four words did give me something to search for, something that might help balance my life, my family, my mind. I haven't found it yet, but they say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Those four words were my first step out of the darkness that I've been stuck in for so long. I'll share more about how I have begun searching for their meaning in the next few weeks. Maybe my journey will be helpful to someone out there. Or maybe this blog will just be my own therapy. Either way, I've certainly started something new. You're welcome to share this experience with me.
Just try to avoid the Tijuana donkeys. They kick. (Or so I hear. Ahem.)