Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Posts tagged ‘stress’

Hollow and hopeless

I admit it – I’m struggling. I’ve not written about my mental health for a while because I’ve seemed stable on the medication I take and it felt like I was coping ok. But I’m starting to realise that I’ve been fooling myself and using too many crutches to get through each day.

This last week has been an eye-opener. 2yo DS had surgery on Monday; it was only a minor operation but involved general anaesthetic and that pushed all my anxiety buttons. Then he developed a stomach bug the same night and the next 3 days were filled with more vomit than a high street on Saturday night. After a few days DH and DD got it too. Everyone’s pretty much recovered now but I’m still struggling. I feel like I’m constantly full of adrenaline, buzzing and unable to sit still, but at the same time lethargic and morose.

I hadn’t realised until recently just how much I rely on DH to take the strain when I’m having a hard time. We’ve always done equal shares when it comes to parenting and running a home (especially while he’s unemployed), but there are times when I just cannot cope and he takes over for a bit so that I can be alone or whatever it is that I need at the time. However, just before Christmas he was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder and is now on new regimens of drugs and therapy while the doctors explore what works. I think this has prompted him to be far more open with me about his mental health than before and it seems that he’s been hiding a lot from me. Now that I know how he feels, how he’s been fighting his own battles, I no longer feel that I can rely on him as much as before. Not because he’s suddenly unreliable but because it seems unfair to give him sole responsibility for the children when he’s having as hard a time of it as I am. I feel guilty and selfish that I didn’t realise before.

I’ve been trying my hardest to put on a bright and smiley face for everyone, particularly the children, but the mask is cracking. I am cracking. I have a very short temper atm and the slightest thing makes me rage (internally, thankfully). The children’s chatter is like fingernails on a blackboard. Their bickering makes me want to break things. Their simplest request, for a toy or a hug or help turning on the light, is infuriating because I just want to be left alone.

I try to hide how I’m feeling and be their kind, playful, loving mother but I think I’m failing. I think they’re starting to realise that I’m hollow – fake happiness on the outside, a yawning chasm of despair inside. They don’t deserve this. They don’t deserve a mother who has to bully herself into playing with them, who counts down the hours and minutes until bedtime. They deserve better, the best.

I’m not entirely sure if there’s anything in particular that’s prompted my plummeting back into darkness but it has been a stressful time lately. If I’m completely honest there’s a part of me, a very small part, that is angry with DH for being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. How ridiculous is that? It’s hardly his fault. But in the past I’ve always been comforted by the thought that when things became too much to cope with and I eventually killed myself (I’ve come dangerously close to this several times) the children would have a strong, stable parent to take care of them. But I can’t do that to DH when he’s having his own problems. I feel as though my safety net has vanished. I’m not saying that I’m suicidal at the moment, I’m not. But it was always reassuring to know that if things ever became that bad again, I had an escape route. Now I don’t and there’s no hope of oblivion for me any more. I’m stuck in this defective body, in this tormented mind, until age, infirmity or an accident carries me off.

I really don’t know what I want this post to say, I’ve rambled a long way from my first paragraph. I’ve been far too honest and I’m not sure whether I should even publish it. But this is who I am and how I am. Bright on the outside, black as pitch on the inside and utterly without hope of escape.

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“There has never been a better time to be a teacher.” Really?!

This guest post is written by two friends who are primary school teachers. Both wish to remain anonymous to protect the confidentiality of their students, colleagues and schools.

 
TEACHER #1
Teachers should stop portraying themselves as “victims” says Sir Michael Wilshaw. I am not a victim, sir, but I am angry.

At the age of 21 I realised I had always been destined to be a teacher. I couldn’t wait to start school as a child, always loved learning (as well as helping others to learn new things) and would play ‘schools’ with dolls and teddies and anything else I could get my hands on. I also think children are far more fun to work with than adults.
 
For 7 years now I have worked very hard at my job, always working many hours over the 32½ hours a week I am paid for (often to the detriment of my relationships with family and friends) and often doing school work 6 or 7 days a week. I love my job, I really do. According to Sir Michael Wilshaw, though, I should be revelling in the joys of being a teacher. So why is it that over the last year I have spent a lot of time looking into several other career options? Why are 40% of new teachers leaving the profession within the first five years?
 
In my opinion, there are two faces to this problem. Firstly there is Michael Gove, the man in charge of the education of the children who will become our country’s future. He was privately educated and has never worked in a school environment. I do not understand how he is at all qualified for the job he has been given. He has effectively privatised education, pushing all schools towards becoming ‘academies’. He is introducing a new curriculum when even some of the very knowledgeable advisors disagree with what has been written. Education and teaching strategies must evolve and develop, I agree with this. However, these changes are being forced on schools who are powerless to object because the Government refuses to listen.
 
The second name which is considered almost an expletive in any school I know of is that of Sir Michael Wilshaw himself. The Ofsted chief occasionally pokes his head out to give some inflammatory quote about how awful teachers are, and then disappears again to watch the reaction from a safe distance.
 
I invite both Michael Gove and Sir Michael Wilshaw to spend a week in a school that is expecting an Ofsted inspection. Let them feel the tense atmosphere, the sense of fear and anticipation, the incredibly low morale that comes from waiting for a group of people, who you have never met before, to spend two days in your school, criticising every little step that you take on the road to educating these wonderful children that we teach. That was the case in my school last year, even though we went on to be judged very well in the inspection. Being a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ school does not relieve this tension at all.
 
Then, of course, there are the ever-moving goalposts provided for us to aim for. ‘Satisfactory’ is not good enough any more. It is now called ‘Requires improvement’. If it requires improvement then it was never satisfactory, surely? Teachers never know what is expected of them because Ofsted and the Government cannot make their minds up as to what we should be doing.
 
I completely understand why 40% of new teachers leave the profession. The ridiculous amount of paperwork and bureaucracy behind the scenes, the long relentless hours, the angry parents who think nothing of shouting in your face, the children with complex educational, physical and emotional needs in a school that is not given enough money to fund the help they so desperately need, the teacher-bashing in the media and the constant scrutiny of everything you do. It’s all gets to you eventually, and there are many days where you feel like crying, giving up and going home. I’ve had two days like that so far this week and it’s only Wednesday!
 
The other 60% of teachers are too stubborn to give up, though. Some because they enjoy enabling children to discover new concepts and find the wonder of learning (and are determined to keep doing so even though the new curriculum seems equally determined to stamp it out). Some stay because it was their dream to do this job and they refuse to let the Government win. I will remain a teacher for one simple reason: I would do absolutely anything for my class. Anything. I adore them. I work harder than I ever thought I could because I want to give them the best chance of a good education and to help them become decent human beings. Every child I have taught over the last 7 years means the world to me, and I want to give them the skills to overcome obstacles and barriers, because with a Government like this one, future generations are going to need all the help they can get.

TEACHER #2
Having read the report on the BBC I find myself somewhat confused, Not by what I read but by the odd mix of feelings it invoked in me.

Most strangely, I found myself agreeing with his comments about providing better training for student-teachers and new teachers to better prepare them for the increasing behavioural problems we now see in school. After all, how can you teach someone about the problems children have that provoke many such behaviours and the myriad strategies they will need to deal with these in just a few short months? Post-graduate teachers begin their training late September and complete it in June; it took me 4 years to train as a teacher and I’m still learning about behaviour management strategies. Of course a good teacher is one that has been able to learn and practise their craft before being subjected to and held responsible for the pressures and problems of the classroom situation.

However, I was infuriated that Sir Michael Wilshaw dare to warn teachers to stop complaining and thinking of themselves as victims. Of course teachers feel they are being victimised; have you read the press recently? Have you read any OfSTED reports? 

The reason so many teachers and schools are supposedly ‘failing’ is that OfSTED keep moving the goal posts. Just as we begin to achieve our targets, up go the requirements and we are all failing again. The Government expect to see children’s progress as a beautiful continuous line on a graph. Ask any child psychologist or Educational expert (but please, not Mr Gove!) and they will tell you, as all teachers know, that children have a time of learning and progress, sometimes rapid, sometimes more slowly, followed by plateaus of consolidation. So a truthful graph of progress should look more like steps. This is what we know happens. To be told constantly that we ‘have to play the game’ and show a specified number of children making progress at any time, so that OfSTED will see their desired smooth graph of progression, is demoralising and dishonest.  

I love teaching. I have always wanted to teach and was determined to inspire children to want to learn. I have taught for almost 20 years and have seen brilliant teachers break down under the pressure, strong people become depressed and leave. I myself am unsure whether this is what I want any more. In my own school, almost half the teachers have been prescribed antidepressants in the last few years, several others have developed stress-induced conditions.  

Teaching used to be a noble profession. Yes, a profession, not just a job. Teachers, like doctors and judges, were among the most respected people and were looked up to and trusted. We are trained, we choose to work with children to educate them and skill them for their future lives. We all give far more hours than anyone outside realises : 45 – 60 hours a week are common (remembering that many teachers are also parents themselves). We run clubs, booster classes, give 1:1 coaching, all in our own time, unpaid. We take children to quizzes, sports competitions, music events. All in our own time and unpaid. What would happen if we didn’t give the children this time freely?

This country needs good teachers. If Sir Michael Wilshaw wants teachers to stop complaining, maybe he should listen to what we are saying. We deserve his trust, his respect and his support. OfSTED should be encouraging schools and celebrating their successes. Of course they need to point out areas where we can improve and be even better at our chosen careers. But try using a carrot, Sir Wilshaw, not a sledgehammer.

Back to life, back to reality

Before I start please let me apologise for that earworm; if you’re anything like me you’ll now be humming Soul II Soul all evening. 😉

Anyway. Today is the last day of our week-long visit to my in-laws. I’m very fortunate to have married into such a great family – they’re all lovely people and when we come to stay we’re thoroughly spoilt. The food is amazing, the company is excellent, the house and garden are spotless and spacious and the children get to spend proper quality time with family members that we don’t see as often as we’d like to.

But best of all is the relaxed atmosphere. While we’re here we don’t have to worry about bills or shopping, we don’t need to fret about how we’ll manage to give the children healthy food this week. I don’t have to aggravate my back by doing too much housework. I don’t have to look around our small, cramped, cluttered flat and despair of ever getting it presentable enough to have visitors.

In short, staying with the in-laws means abdicating most of our responsibilities. Obviously we look after the children but even that’s better here – I can be Fun Mummy instead of Stressed And Constantly Needing To Do Something Else Mummy. But tomorrow it comes to an end and we’ll go home.

You know how it feels when you’ve been swimming and buoyed up by the water? And as you walk out of the water you suddenly feel heavy and can feel gravity dragging you down? That’s how I feel at the moment. It’ll be good to see my family and I expect we’ll do some fun things this week while DD is still on holiday from preschool. But I can already feel the stress returning, I can feel my mood being dragged down by our imminent return to reality and responsibility.

I don’t want to go home. I want to stay here in this wonderful cocoon where I’m cushioned and protected from life’s stresses and strains and worries. I wonder if my in-laws would mind some lodgers…

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