Thursday, December 19, 2019

Waiting for Summer: The Detrimental Effects of Putting Work Before Yourself

I wrote a while back about my struggle with PMDD. Untreated, I spiral into depressions, anxiety, and panic attacks. I have trouble believing myself likable; I tend to think most friendships based on pity or a need to avoid an awkward conversation.

A couple of years ago I was put on seizure medicine, and, as per usual, my body took on many of the more rare side-effects. Most of these have been allayed by adjusting the dosage, but one that I did not realize at the time was interference with my birth control, which I was taking to control my PMDD.

I mean, I was unusually stressed in November, but that could be explained by outside factors. I didn't fully recover over winter break, but maybe that was because break was shorter last year and I didn't really get a lot of downtime, so it made sense that I was feeling a little defeated. I had lots of reasons to tell myself that my feelings made sense and weren't out of the ordinary considering all of the factors I could point out to myself. I just needed to keep going and when summer came, I could rest.

Until February. February 2019 was not a special month at all. Nothing happened that I could point to. I just started spiraling out of control. Crying on the way to work and sometimes in my empty classroom. Crying on my way home--basically whenever I was alone.

I finally decided to talk to my doctor. That summer.

I was way too busy to go right then.

March brought with it a new level of depression and anxiety, and with it, a sensation I hadn't experienced since I was in fifth grade: the wish to die. If you haven't experienced that level of depression, you will mistake it for being suicidal. There is a difference. I didn't wish to take my own life. I was just okay with my life ending, and not having to face the world anymore. The line between these two things seems thin, but it's large and important. Still, it's not healthy, and I let my husband know I was in a bad place and that I was definitely going to see my doctor because I was pretty sure the hormones were not working anymore.

As soon as I could get in to see her that summer.

March is a very busy month.

I somehow stumbled through April and May, crying, wishing to die, and being possibly the worst teacher I have been in my life--I had trouble making myself go to work, so trying to do much more some days was almost beyond me--and finally made it to the summer.

I saw my doctor. She was aghast that I'd waited. She could tell by my demeanor that I was not myself.

I got a new prescription that I had to wait to start.

I had to go be professional before I got to start my prescription and had a depressive attack publicly. I think mostly only good friends realized it happened. I still feel ashamed that it happened and that I lost control in that setting.

I am ashamed of the teacher I was last year. I feel like I let students and my teammates down. I definitely let myself down.

The Moral of the Story

Luckily, once I started my new prescription, things changed. To a huge degree. I have since realized that my depression had started even before November. This school year I missed half of pre-planning and expected to start school even more exhausted and unmotivated than last year. Last year I missed no pre-planning, I just got back to the state right before pre-planning and I was uninspired. I liked my students--that has remained unchanged throughout all of this, thank goodness--but I could not get excited about any aspect of teaching.

This year I was excited. I wrote stories and plans and created things to share with the other teachers in my department. I have finished another unit for Stepping Into CI and am thinking about finally finishing a novella I started a year and a half ago. I have been inventing games again. I am slowly becoming my old self again.

And I compare that to where I started the school year last August and I realize that I was already sinking. I was already viewing things negatively.

I waited almost a year to get help for myself.

I waited until summer.

And that was so very dangerous.

We are trained as teachers to put our jobs, our careers, ahead of ourselves. And I am an especially driven teacher; at least half of my identity is wrapped up in being a teacher (a good part of what remains is being a mother, with some little bit left over for being a wife--my poor husband). It feels wrong to me to give up time to almost anything, including doctor's visits, when I've scheduled things like board meetings, or I need to grade, or plan, and I am almost unable to take a day off for that purpose (the one exception being to take my son to the doctor).

Yet imagine if I had gone at the first sign of danger in November, or when I really realized things were wrong in February. Imagine how much better my classes would have been if I had gone to get help in March when things were irrefutably wrong.

Who else out there should be getting help now, but is waiting for winter break? spring break?

Who else out there is waiting for summer?


  1. Oh Rachel, I'm so sorry. I pictured you having a great year, when it was actually horrible. I think keeping in touch might be a part of self-care, don't you? I miss you, and I am here for you. It doesn't matter how long since we talked. Never hesitate to call. I think you're amazing!

    1. I am sorry I am just now seeing this! I was juggling many things last year and am starting to look at comments now. All the hugs and love. I will try to call soon.

  2. Thank you for being so open about this! Sometimes it feels really lonely as a teacher with mental health issues and this encourages me to reach out and get help.

    1. Please do. It is so hard to talk about mental health when you are responsible for the well-being of students! I am trying very hard to normalize talking about this so we can feel safer discussing these things.