I’ve always considered 13 a lucky number. I guess it is the one small rebellion I allow myself in a life where I otherwise seek to comply with every norm and rule. Anyway – it is delightful to be publishing the thirteenth anonymous mental health post, and we’re sticking with last week’s theme of teaching. It’s a bloody stressful job, and so it should be of no surprise that it can lead to mental health problems. But this blog also talks about what we think we will achieve with our lives – something I’ve struggled with as well.
Four quick one sentence thoughts before the blog. Firstly, since the last anonymous post I got all my hair shaved off for charity and it’s not to late to donate and support https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/antonyjcbutcher. Secondly, I want to thank everyone who has been lovely and supportive after I posted my most personal blog ever last Friday – A good week to reflect on a bad week. Thirdly, next week I’m super excited to be attending the Mind Media Awards. I’ve been working on some exciting developments for this blog – if you enjoy reading it please do like posts, subscribe, or even write your own experiences! Finally, this week’s post is from a person who wrote me the most wonderful leaving card I’ve ever received. To this day I sometimes draw on the positivity it contained. Next time you get a chance, why not do something lovely for someone else?
“More than this?”
I really thought I’d amount to more than this. Yes, when I was seven I wanted to be an astronaut and a police officer and a hairdresser and the prime minister, all at once. But I mean really. Even now, I really do think I’m capable of a more extraordinary life. I think a childhood of being told I was smart, and an early career where I was told I was ‘so confident,’ or ‘really organised,’ or ‘a role model,’ and never failing an interview gave me a massively over-inflated ego, and dare I say it, a sense of entitlement. Or does everyone else think they’re going to change the world too?
At age twenty-four I was working full time in a pretty respectable graduate job, in a beautiful area of the world, with a solid friend base. I was, by all accounts, doing quite well, but it felt like something was missing. I didn’t feel like I was living my most full self, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on why, and so I quit everything, moved to London and joined Teach First to retrain as a teacher.
It was going to be tough, they said. You’ll need heaps of resilience, excellent leadership skills and the sheer determination to Change Lives. You’ll be working with the poorest children in the UK, in the toughest schools, and you’ll be working every hour under the sun. Tough? Leader? Change Lives? “Let’s have it then,” my over-inflated ego cheered. “I’m capable of anything me.” So off I went to London, even though I’m not a city girl, to teach (unqualified at this point, might I add) five year olds in an inner-city school.
Fast forward three years and here I am. I take an anti-depressant daily. Last Easter I had to take two weeks off work because of work-related stress and anxiety. My symptoms vary day to day but can include a racing heart, the shakes, cold sweats, tightening in my chest, headaches, nightmares, insomnia and what can only be described as a very real feeling that I’m going to actually drop to the floor right now and die. Not suicidal thoughts; just the very real awareness that everything is about to be too much for my body to continue to manage to breathe and pump blood around my veins.
Yes, the newspapers and online blogs are right; teaching is really fucking hard. The paperwork is a mare, behaviour is tough, it’s an emotional black hole, the staffroom politics is draining, blah blah blah. But it’s also really amazing; today I took my class on a school trip to Canary Wharf and they stood and stared at the skyscrapers and jumped as hard as they could on the bouncy bridge over the docks and squealed as they placed their hands in the big water fountain, and isn’t that just wonderful?
Also, as my northern friends and family keep telling me, London is hard. It’s expensive, it’s noisy, people get stabbed a lot, it can be really lonely. But it’s also unlike anywhere else; my friends come from every continent, I get to go to a church for people who don’t believe in God and sing pop songs, I can get my hair done at 4am in the morning if I desire. And when I walk here, I feel most like me. I can wear what I want, I feel less self-conscious about my body and I can speak my mind.
So no, I don’t think the answer is to just quit teaching, or to just leave London. But what is the solution?
I’ve given my everything to this new life. And honestly? The fact that my everything simply amounts to me being a single, house-sharing, ‘quite good’ teacher and not some kind of revolutionary game-changer is sometimes more than I can bare, and I think that might be the root of my problem. Of course there are many things it could stem from, no person is one dimensional, but maybe writing and sharing this blog will bring me one step closer to feeling well. And maybe, it will help someone else to come a little closer to feeling well too.
If you’d like to share your experiences, I’d love to hear from you. You can contact me at antonyjcbutcher (@) gmail.com