Seeing the positives of a relapse

photo of woman basking in the sun

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I’ve been struggling with anxiety. I hit rock bottom during a panic attack that occurred whilst I was driving in my car. Since then I’ve driven as normal, even on the motorway again and have had waves of small panic but always managed to control it, breathe through it and continue on my way.  I was proud of myself; I’d got my anxiety levels down.  It was still there bubbling away under the surface most mornings, but during the day I was remaining focused, in the moment and confident that I had a hold on it.

Last night, I relapsed.  I was driving my partner to a show we were looking forward to see in Manchester. It was a nightmare journey.  Rush hour traffic, driving rain, no lights on the carriageway and it took us three hours to get there.  I took the first half with no problems at all; if I’m honest, I didn’t even think about the terrifying episode three weeks ago where I’d had to be rescued from the middle of nowhere after nearly passing out in my car.  We saw the show – shocked when it was only an hour long and not as good as we were hoping and headed back to the car with the dread that it was a long way home, on a weeknight. It was a silly thing to do really, but it was something booked a long time ago and I thought it would be fun.  This was enough to set off my anxiety.  I felt stressed, frustrated, upset that we hadn’t had the great time I’d planned in my head.  I got back in the car ready to take the first half of the journey.

Conditions were the same.  It was dark, busy and the imposing lorries were switching lanes and indicating late as they swerved into the lanes.

That’s when it jogged my memory of that night; it was all it took.

I felt ‘unreal’, like I wasn’t really in my body anymore and my senses were numbed. I recognised the signs immediately but not wanting to scare my partner, I wound down the window and lent forward in my seat hoping I could breathe through it. It was worse knowing he was in the car with me. He was chatting away oblivious whilst the beads of sweat were running down my back and my hands tingled.  I kept stretching my neck and moving my head just to prove to myself that I could; I was still there and in control.  This was when the traffic crawled to a stop and we realised they were closing the motorway.  We didn’t know another way home and from here the trembling began.  My partner had noticed by this point and shouted at me to get a hold of myself.  I was internally telling myself the same thing.  ‘You have our lives in your hands!’ he said as I was breathing, breathing, breathing, wishing I wasn’t this pathetic and I could drive like a normal person…like I had been doing for 8 years without any problem at all.  Luckily, as we were stationary we were able to make the decision to switch places and he took over the driving.

I felt awful.  He drives an hour each way for work and he was having to take over yet more driving because I couldn’t get a grip on myself. Once in the passenger seat, I burst into tears, feeling ashamed and sorry for myself.  My partner took my hand and told me it was okay – he apologised for getting angry and explained that he was just scared for me and us.  We agreed that I work on my anxiety again and try meditation each night.  I’m going to get stronger, again. We’re going to do small practice motorway drives in a few weeks when I feel strong enough because I refuse to let this become a phobia.  I read an article this morning about how fears can become phobias if you actively avoid that thing.  It grows and grows in your mind until you convince yourself you can’t do it.  I can, though.  Before 3 weeks ago I’d driven thousands of miles up and down motorways without a care in the world.  I am not scared.

I just have to accept, that right now, my nerves aren’t great.  That doesn’t mean it’ll be this way forever.  I wouldn’t get a cold and freak out that I’ll never recover – so why should I do the same about the anxiety?  Just like with any illness.  Rest, rejuvenate, recover.

WWW Wednesdays! 7th Nov

I’m jumping on the bandwagon on this one as I love the idea. This post is hosted by Sam at Taking On A World of Words.

Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Let’s do this!

 

Currently Reading

Image result for dark matter by blake crouch book cover

I started this on Sunday night and I’ve just hit the half way mark, not bad considering I worked a 14 hr day yesterday.  Its so addictive and fascinating that I’m literally reading this late into the night.  I have a feeling this is going to get even more indepth so I may be doing it an injustice by writing about it before it’s finished but at the moment it’s dealing with the idea that our world is made up of a series of realities that ‘branch’ every time a decision is made.  So essentially there are infinite ‘yous’ that are all living simultaneous lives that are sometimes very similar and sometimes very different to your one reality.  I can’t say anything much about the character here as it will give away the story if I begin discussing how he discovers these multiple dimensions but I will say that it’s a really thought provoking read.

 

Recently Finished

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After a horrible experience with anxiety (as found here), my Mum lent me a copy of this book in the hope it would help me to see how I was following the wrong path.  Hoff uses the characters from Winnie the Pooh to metaphorically discuss Taoism and Buddhist lifestyles.  It’s all about how Pooh lives in the moment and is the ‘uncarved block’, therefore, able to adapt to changes and problems in a much better way than some of the more intelligent characters such as Owl.  It prompts you to reevaluate your own life and how you react and deal with things.  One of those books that came to me just as I needed it.

 

What will I read next?

I’m currently moving out of a pretty brutal reading slump.  During the anxiety I lost all interest in reading – which really ruined my chances of completing my Goodreads’ Reading Challenge (cry me a river) – so I don’t have anything lined up.  Dark Matter has really fired me straight back into reading though so I’m open to any suggestions about what to read next!

My first time: poor mental health.

 

alone man person sadness

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I have an apology to make.  It’s to all of those people who have ever mentioned the word ‘anxiety’ or ‘depression’ around me.  To me, those words were something I scoffed at.  I didn’t understand and thought, in my total ignorance, that anxiety was a word that was used as an excuse.  At the time, I was living in the same area I’d always lived.  It was home; my family were just 20 minutes away; yes, I had a stressful job but I was successful.  I’d never had any experience of ‘depression’ or ‘anxiety’ and I’m ashamed to say, would look down at those who did and saw it as a kind of weakness.

My God.  How wrong and ignorant I was, and lucky that nothing in life had ever sparked a deterioration in my own mental health.  It’s that classic thing of ‘well I’ve never experienced it so, therefore, it doesn’t exist.’  Then, everything changed.  I moved my home, my job and my entire life 200 miles away.  It isn’t that far in the grand scheme of it all, in fact, I can be back where I consider ‘home’ in around 3 hours.  So, in the world of life moves, this is small fry.

But I didn’t cope with it well.

I hate change; I have always hated change.  It doesn’t matter what it is; it could be the most wonderful job, house, life and I will hate it because it’s different.  I knew this about myself before we left, but, as I explained in a previous post, our finances weren’t working out for us and this was the logical option – move somewhere cheaper, and get paid more.  I wanted to make this move.

8 weeks of absolutely wracking anxiety, morning, noon and night.  It completely took over.  I was nervous all of the time.  I was jumpy, my nerves were frayed, I couldn’t cope with small changes or information.  Everything to me was huge, unbearable and I felt like I was falling apart at the seems.  I hid it all.

I told people I was nervous – I’d started a brand new job, of course I was.  People would think it was only natural that meeting all new classes, pupils, staff and in an area I didn’t know at all would cause a bit of nerves.  The bit I didn’t say was the stark reality: I wasn’t sleeping at night, I struggled to eat, I lost almost a stone and (a bit grim but true), I suffered horrendous diarrhoea, all day, every day.  I was pushing through every day with this forced smile on my face, pretending I was coping whilst swallowing rising feelings of panic, desperately trying to slow my breathing in the middle of meetings where I felt overwhelmed to the point of wanting to pass out.

On week 8 I decided I wanted to go home.  I was homesick and needed a break.  At this point, though, I was exhausted – I was purple under the eyes, thinking of work and classes all day, every day, even at weekends and I just didn’t realise the impact this had had on me. My hiding it from others I was also hiding it from myself.  I didn’t want to admit that I had a problem. I was the girl who’d never struggled with her mental health before, I’d always had ‘my ducks in a row’ as my Dad would say.  I was organised, confident, in charge of everything.  So I got in the car and I began to drive.

About an hour into my journey I realised my hands were numb, within seconds my face was numb, my heart was racing and I realised that I was going to pass out.  I pulled off at the exit to the motorway that (luckily) I was just passing and veered onto a grass verge with my hazard lights on.  It was 10pm.  It was dark.  I was completely alone.  And I was having a panic attack and a breakdown.

I rang my family, who drove over an hour to come and collect me and drive me home.  I cried all weekend.  I was embarrassed and mortified to even admit to my family that I wasn’t well.  I couldn’t feel anything.  No happiness, excitement, enjoyment.  Nothing at all.  I cried and cried without really knowing why.  I just felt the blackness swallowing me up and the crippling swirl of anxiety in my stomach that had become the norm.

It took all weekend to even talk about it.  And luckily, for me, I made a very quick recovery.  I’d lost my confidence and spent hours with my Mum talking about who I was.  I’d forgotten.  I am a great teacher.  I lead classes with passion and strength.  But I couldn’t during those 8 weeks.  I took everything the kids said to heart.  They laughed at me and I believed I was the joke.  There is no way any of that would have bothered me before.  She spoke my confidence back into me and made me realise that I was taking everything too personally.  I was allowing myself to feel bullied by teenagers and forgetting that kids are kids and, actually, it wasn’t personal.  I was just new and an easy target.

3 weeks after that date and I feel better.  I’m still always teetering on the edge of that anxiety, but I’m making steps everyday to keep things in perspective.  I had a week off.  I recharged and listened to my body.  I started exercising again and took a walk, focusing only on what I could see in front of me.  I paid attention to everything in the moment.  I noticed the beauty that I was ‘too busy’ to see before.  Now, I’m back at work and I feel more confident.  I’m focusing on each hour at a time and although I’m still having to plan in advance, as that’s the nature of the job, I’m also being less hard on myself.  My mental health hit rock bottom and I know I’m going to have good and bad days but I feel confident about the future and that I can make the changes to get back to where I was before.  Most importantly, I’ve learnt that suffering with ‘anxiety’ doesn’t make you weak.  It’s made me stronger.

Relocation, Relocation, Relocation.

 

woman in grey shirt holding brown cardboard box

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Trying to relocate across the UK is harder than I realised.  This, I know, to many is going to sound like a really stupid statement; of course moving your entire life, job, family and concept of ‘home’ 200 miles isn’t going to be easy.  I must have been quite naïve, but I got the offer of a job relatively easily – the one time the teaching crisis is actually useful – and I was offered a pay rise, whilst also moving to a much cheaper area.

Right now, we live in Kent in the South East of England and my partner and I are classic ‘first time buyer’ victims.  We’re both teachers, we both earn what is, and should, be considered to be a ‘good wage’ but, we cannot afford to buy a houseEffectively, we’re trapped.  We’re caught in a never ending cycle of renting.  Where we live, a small three up, two down house in a reasonable area is currently setting us back nearly £1200 a month.  Our boiler has been broken for three months and the landlord has taken forever to agree to fix it, our carpets are stained from previous tenants and two of our ‘bedrooms’ aren’t actually big enough to fit a bed in.  It’s a miserable feeling to realise that your hard earned money is being wasted.  We’re gaining nothing from our housing situation, and ultimately , we’re not benefitting financially from our jobs.  When you’re a hard working teacher, working on average, 11 hour days every week, at least one day at a weekend and through most of your holidays, the least you expect is to be able to have your own home to raise your kids in.  But, tragically, this just isn’t the case.  Our rent is so high that we just cannot save, so we’re left with no other choice but to move 200 miles away from London into a very similar property, but for half the price.

midlandsmapWe want to move to the Midlands. It’s perfect.  It still has good motorway access back to the South East where my parents live, we can get to the South West in 2 hours and up to Manchester, where my partner grew up, in a similar time, maybe even a little less.  However, despite the fact that I have been able to get a job, my partner has really struggled.  The Arts are being cut and life for a drama teacher is tough.  Ironically, more experience doesn’t get you better jobs and when you have 22 years experience – you become a victim of your own success.  Schools are willing to pay more for core subjects, and being an English teacher, you are always in demand because there just isn’t that many people who want to do the job for any longer than around 5 years.  Schools want to cut corners with ‘smaller’ or ‘softer’ subjects, choosing to employ less experienced and cheaper NQTs over more expensive and experienced teachers.  Its tough and now, on top of the stress of the realisation that staying where we are will mean that we will never own our own home, we now have to consider the fact that we may have to survive on one wage in a cheaper area.

All of this juggling and circular discussion I have had with my partner over the last few weeks has made me realise one thing.  This country needs to do something to help those caught in the greed of the renting system.  Earlier this year the government voted to ban agency fees, yet they are still being charged.  In March, we had to pay £100 to our agent just for the privilege of signing a new contract to stay in our current overpriced house for another year – this was on top of a 5% rent increase, although we only received a 2% ‘inflationary raise’ in pay.  When we moved out of our previous property, we were charged a £90 cleaning fee from our deposit to remove a cobweb on a curtain, despite the fact we had cleaned the place top to toe and offered to remove the cobweb ourselves.  It feels like we’re powerless.  There is nowhere to go and nobody to talk to.  The power lies with agents and hard working people just trying to feel at home somewhere, are losing out.  It makes me so angry.

So watch this space.  As a teacher, you must resign before May 31st if you wish to leave during this academic year.  That gives us 5 days to decide whether to remain in two jobs, working hours and hours just to stand still, or whether to gamble and move on one wage and hope that we find a school willing to pay a decent wage to someone who has given up 22 years of their working life to educate our country’s children.  As of yet, we don’t have an answer.

What’s on my Non-Existent Bookshelf?

It would have been really cool to actually post pictures of my real, actual, physical bookshelf here…but here’s the deal:  I’ve moved house twice in the last 2 and 1/2 years…and I’m possibly about to move again in around 3 months time…so, my physical bookshelf just doesn’t really exist, in fact, it has shoes on it.

So, in the spirit of perseverance, I shall do a tour of what is currently on the floor in various rooms, in the bottom of my wardrobe, chilling digitally on my Kindle and those that I’ve read, got physical copies of, but may tragically be lost forever in the vortex where lost things go when you move home too many times.

So, here we go:

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Book Brag

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You must read this book!  It really is not what I was expecting when I bought it as a ‘spur of the moment’ thing from Amazon.  It’s written by Adam Kay, now a TV script writer and comedian, but initially a Junior Doctor.

IT IS HILARIOUS.

“The contractions of the womb make its neck, or cervix, go from being closed before labour to full (10cm) dilation at the end of labour, at which point baby can make its grand entrance.  The first few centimetres can take an extremely long time, so women aren’t generally admitted to labour ward until they’re at least 3cm dilated – like a strange nightclub you can’t get into until you’ve had two gloved fingers in you vagina.  Actually, there’s probably one of those in Soho already.”

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Brace Face

 

INVISALIGN

I got Invisalign!

After years of complaining and whinging about my crooked teeth, I finally bit the bullet and decided to actually do something about it. Having braces as an adult is a minefield – and one that is often quite embarrassing. This is made all the more awkward when you’re a high school teacher and want to do everything you can to avoid looking like the metal mouthed adolescents sat in your classroom! I didn’t even know Invisalign existed until I saw a friend’s post pop up on Facebook. She had one slightly crooked tooth that she’d had corrected. I was intrigued and looked into it more and more, whilst also being very aware that mine were not what you would call slightly crooked, instead, picture old tombstones in a graveyard and that’s where I’m at.

The Backstory
So, for those wondering why I didn’t just get my teeth fixed when I was a teenager on the NHS, the answer lies in an enormous fear of the dentist. I was referred to an Ortho when I was around 14, had all the moulds done, only to be told that if I wanted to proceed with traditional train track braces, then I’d need to have all four of my pre-molars removed. That, was a no. There was no way I was going to put myself through four teeth removals given that I couldn’t even have a filling without uncontrollable shaking and crawling up the chair like an out of control monkey. And that was the end of the braces journey for teenage me. I got on with life, ignored the fact my teeth weren’t straight and tried to pass it off and a cute ‘quirk’ that made me unique.

What Changed?
I did. Like most decisions you make as a kid, I soon regretted not pulling myself together, getting the teeth pulled and the metal train tracks on. As an adult, my teeth looked more and more unpleasant and I found myself noticing them more in photos. It also become apparent that due to significant overcrowding, my teeth were also getting cavities much quicker than teeth that were straight, just because cleaning around them was tricky. My teeth were so wonky that I struggled to get floss down between them without cutting into my gums, and as a result, I just didn’t bother. When the #invisalign advert popped up, I knew that it was something I had to try and booked myself in for a consultation at a local practice.

The Consultation

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When I booked in my consultation, I knew very little about what #invisalign actually is. Whilst I was there, my Ortho explained to me that many people choose this route as the aligners are as close to invisible as you can get. As you can see from the picture to the left, the ‘braces’ are in fact clear trays or aligners that you clip onto your teeth. You change these trays every 7, 10 or 14 days depending on your plan and they gradually straighten your teeth. The consultation consisted of the dentist looking at my teeth to check that they were eligible for #invisalign treatment. He told me that they would require ‘quite a bit’ of movement, and as a result, I would need #invisalignfull treatment. There are three bands of treatment programmes, this being for the more complex and lengthy treatments. He picked out a few fillings that needed to be replaced before I could begin treatment and also recommended that I had my impacted wisdom teeth removed. At this point, I very nearly walked away. All the horror stories I’d heard about wisdom teeth removals flooded into my mind and all I could think about was how I couldn’t possibly go through that. As it happened, I plucked up the courage to go to the oral surgeon consultation appointment and was actually told that I wasn’t a good candidate to have my wisdom teeth taken out just for cosmetic reasons as they were very close to my nerves and there was, therefore, a higher than average risk of nerve damage to have them removed. My Ortho was content with this information and agreed to go through with the treatment with my wisdom teeth still chilling awkwardly under my gums. I was relieved.

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Top 10 Tips to Survive as a Teacher

Teaching is tough! It doesn’t matter the age of the pupils you’re teaching or the type of school you are in, the job is hard. It’s really difficult to communicate to a non-teacher just how all-consuming the job is, or why you can’t switch off from it when you get home. It’s also difficult for others to comprehend just how many problems, questions, demands and stresses you deal with in the average lesson, let alone the full school day or a year! So, here are my top ten tips for keeping your sanity whilst teaching the future Einsteins of today!

1) For anyone starting off as a new teacher its important to realise that things do get better. Everything gets easier and quicker and you’ll soon discover that something that used to take multiple hours, now only takes you a few minutes. This is especially true for planning. I remember scrutinising each individual lesson plan and writing them all up with every possible differentiation technique I could squeeze in and each with their own individualised resources. I would run the lesson over and over again in my head before I taught it and would, in some cases, even dream about it the night before! This all passes. Planning takes minutes, not hours and no, differentiation and individualising work never goes away, but it no longer requires the same amount of brain space anymore. You can begin to reuse things you’ve done before and you can remember ideas and lessons that have worked well in the past and execute them quickly and simply. Push through the initial planning – hang in there!

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