Positively “lucky”

The thing about a typical Monday when you’re a teacher, or at least a teacher at my school, I have to submit lesson plans to my principal. She checks over them and then gives us some quick feedback when she returns them. The feedback is usually a hand scrawled note on the paper copies that are turned in, or a response to the e-mail that I send mine in. I’ve been a teacher for 13 years and a teacher under her for 10. It has taken a great deal of time and effort to rise to her expectations and I can honestly say that at this point, I think I have risen high enough to exceed them.

Despite this tooting of my own horn, I know too, that I’m not perfect. She and I had a difficult relationship in the beginning. And it is because of fear of her blunt nature that I often have anxiety before a faculty meeting or before I am to receive feedback from her because I fear her criticism. Certainly nobody likes to be criticized, but I especially want to please her. When she brings prospective parents around to meet the teachers, she always tells them our names and a little bit about our role at the school. I’m always introduced as the person who edits the yearbook, manages the website, mentors beginning teachers, and the list goes on. It’s made me wonder lately if I am only as good as the things I do around the school. Is my way of pleasing her simply the fact that I am in charge of more things than most teachers at my school? Or does she genuinely think I’m a good teacher? After all, she taught the same subject that I do before she became an administrator, am I as effective of a teacher as she was?

Her feedback to me this morning was reassuring to my mind. In part, her feedback said of the students, “They are lucky to have you”. I read this e-mail before the first period of the day was over and it is a good part of the reason that the rest of my day was good. It was a very validating remark and it made me realize too, just how powerful a positive comment can be. It certainly made my day and yet I have such a hard time giving that same positivity to the people I encounter on a daily basis. Why is it so difficult to smile and engage the few people that just get on my nerves? What makes me want to engage in gossip about these same people?

It’s the 2nd week of Lent and I am determined to make my “sacrifice” about being more positive in my relationship with the people I am challenged by. As our priest said on Ash Wednesday, Lent is about “growing up”. For me, growing up will mean being nicer to everybody, while I’m in their presence and when I’m not. To speak kindly of those not favored by all and let them know that they are valued, just as I felt this morning, the positive effect of knowing that I too, am valued.

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Mental Health Set Backs

At the deepest point of my depression, when the dark red razor cuts lined my forearms and I wasn’t sure if there would ever be a time when cutting myself didn’t make me feel temporary relief from the emotional distress I felt on a daily basis, I turned to my psychiatrist. A man who saved my life. Who was the person who knew that I had to take a semester off of school and have ECT treatments (shock therapy) in order to get better. To say that I got better is an understatement. Those treatments changed my life. Four of them altogether plus a combination of three medications, and 15 years later, I am still as stable as I have ever been. That is, until last week.

Since recovering from the two foggiest years of my life, I have looked back only long enough to know that I don’t ever want to go back to how I was then. So when there were three days last week when I could not control my urge to cry, I worried. The anxiety that I felt was of a familiar intensity. There was a feeling of confusion because while I have been stressed at work, it hasn’t been out of the ordinary in the amount of work I had to get done. My husband and I tried to analyze everything in my life that could be causing these crying spells. While we tried to rationalize my depressed and anxious feelings, I attempted some of the mindfulness techniques that my therapist had been teaching me in each session. These meditative strategies only made me cry harder when I tried them now. Fear gripped me. What was happening? How could it be that all of a sudden my medication wasn’t working? It had worked for the past 15 years, despite a minor setback when my psychiatrist, for the 2nd time, tried to take me off of a particular one. With that setback being three weeks prior, what could be going on? This came out of nowhere and with it came the paranoia that the past was going to repeat itself. These were similar distressing feelings that I felt before having my life-changing ECT treatments.

It finally became clear that I couldn’t go on. I had a previously scheduled appointment with my therapist on a Tuesday, so I added an appointment with my psychiatrist for earlier that same day. I left early from work and met with my psychiatrist. It wasn’t a change in medicine that caused this, and he assured me that the fact that I could verbalize my feelings to him was a good sign. He prescribed me an anti-anxiety medication that I took immediately after getting it filled that afternoon. What I discovered in my appointment with my therapist was what truly turned it around for me. The medication calmed me to the point where I could talk to my counselor without emotional hysterics. And while I know without a doubt that no professional will ever compare to Dr. Simpson–the man who knew what was best for me even when I couldn’t comprehend it myself at the time–my current therapist is someone that I now hold in high regard. I have been seeing her for a little more than half of a year and after this last meeting with her, I know that I need her. There was a moment when I thought the 50 dollar co-pay ever three weeks might be an unnecessary expense, but after last week, I won’t ever mind paying that co-pay again.

After my appointment with her, I felt immediately better and haven’t needed the anti-anxiety medication since. She assured me of 3 things during that time: I don’t need to worry about going back to the way I was because I have a much better support system in place now; It is o.k. to feel anxiety–in fact, I should acknowledge the feeling instead of trying to explain it and worry that it’s there; also, while my husband and I tried to dismiss the fact that my parents had gotten re-married only days earlier as a trigger, it was in fact, the thing that set it off.

My parents getting re-married after being divorced for the past 18 years is a story for another post, in fact, it’s a story that I’m pretty sure is still not finished, but what is finished, is my fear of returning to the past. I know that I will never intentionally cut myself again, but now I also know that the same feelings that made me want to do that all those years ago are o.k. to feel now. They are not dangerous, they are real and as long as I turn to my support system, I will survive them. I don’t have to give in to them. In fact, I can’t give in to them, I’m too busy. I’m busy with my job as a teacher, and I’d like to get busy again being a fitness fanatic. Intense anxiety does not make it easy to work up the motivation to get on the elliptical or pull out the weight bench to strength train (which I’ve added to my work out routine). Anxiety is not forever, life goes on and I feel confident in saying that I will go on too.