New year, old stigma? Why I hate January.

It’s probably too late to write a #nurture1415 post now, 4 days into the new year and I’m already hypothesising about what could possibly come next in my professional life. 2014 was mixed for me, I signed up to Twitter and attended 2 TeachMeets, both have stimulated my practice no end. On the other hand I was unsuccessful in 2 job interviews. The first rejection was a relief, I knew that I was not a suitable candidate for the position, and it would have meant moving to a different school. The 2nd rejection hit me hard, it was for an internal position, one that I thought I could really put my stamp on. It left me rather adrift, like a visceral wound. It seemed that my introversion, my ability to get on with the job quietly had been a curse. In September I decided to carry on regardless, keep fighting the good fight and remember why I’m a teacher. Education is about children after all.

I loathe January with a passion, you see I’m heading for an anniversary, 5 years ago I suffered an anxiety-related breakdown. I was launched headlong into a dark, empty place. Depression and anxiety. Medicated, online cognitive behavioural therapy and time away from ‘work’. Apart from it still haunted my waking hours, worrying about other people’s children, that I was letting down by being absent. Being a psychologist didn’t help, I couldn’t rationalise myself out of this one.

I got ‘better’, I scored lower on the questionnaire they give you, my dots of the ‘well-being’ graph all moved in the right direction. I returned to work. Too early, but I returned to school, as I didn’t want to ‘let anybody down’. I want to say that there is a moral to this story, this confession. I wondered long and hard about whether I should share this, but I think that it’s important that mental health is discussed openly. The idea that January should mean everyone should discuss what they are going to do differently, or ‘better’ is alien to me, I’m just looking to get through it. Bring on February 1st!

 

Being an introverted educator.

For the last 10 years I have been an educator. Many would call me a teacher, or more specifically a teacher of Psychology. I would argue that the term educator fits my personality and experiences much more accurately.

I enjoyed my primary years, a whirlwind of carpet time, playing ‘elastic’ in the playground, making dens in the dirt between the 50 feet high fir trees and unconditional positive regard from my early teachers. I also met my closest friend, my rock throughout the difficult and awkward teenage years.  These people who educated me in my early years still speak to me and ask of my journey when they see me in our rural Cotswold town. I felt deeply rooted to my local community. 

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That somehow all changed when I progressed to ‘top school’. Secondary education was an eye opener for me, painfully shy and conscientious, barely 11 (August birthday) as I walked through the bottle-green gates that first day, a cornucopia of information thrown at you in that ‘welcome’ assembly. I still enjoyed school, but it was so different. I felt that no-one, not my personal tutor, or any of my teachers really knew me. I don’t blame them, they had hundreds of names to remember and curricula to deliver. My reports were always the same, ‘Sarah is a conscientious pupil….’. They may as well have written ‘who is this child?’ on my report. I was not an exceptional child, nor was I one of the 3 children in my year whose parents were teachers there, my behaviour was good and I made good progress. I must have been one of the forgotten middle kids. 

As a educator, I don’t want any of my students to feel like I did then,the teacher not knowing their name, feeling that the teacher underestimated their ability or their effort. An anonymous child. I want to be someone that a student can see as an unchanging feature in their 6th form education. A lighthouse, someone you come to when you are stuck on rough seas, and need a bit of light to see the journey ahead. They still sail their own boat, but I help to light their way.  

Teaching involves delivering a syllabus to the best of your capacity, with the time and resources you have. These resources may be physical, financial, or emotional. My two golden rules are very simple, know your subject, know your kids. That’s a very basic teaching philosophy. It’s seen me right so far, and I’m a decade into this crazy game we call education. 

Being an educator involves something more; being someone different outside of the classroom walls. Pastoral care for students has always been my forte, I seem to have an ability to intuit unrest. Many tears have been spilled in my presence over A level choices, health issues, relationship breakups, and other teenage mishaps. 

Introversion has helped me to develop as an educator, needing to process everything internally before speaking or writing about it has led to deeper understanding. I still get frustrated now,as an educator in a secondary environment, that I am not listened to. I don’t vocalise my thought process straight away like extroverts do during meetings, I have opinions and points of view to get across, but I prefer to do that in a smaller less-invasive setting. ‘The squeaky wheel gets the most grease’ is the saying my mum espouses to me. The efficient wheel bearings never get any credit, silently allowing those squeaky wheels to spin freely. 

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I’d still be an introvert though, quietly working away, in the background to make sure my students achieve the very best they can. I understand that I need extroverts in my professional life to really thrive, I just wish I had their self-belief and self-confidence. 

Self-criticism – useful or not?

I am of the ilk that reflect on not just what someone says to me, but how they say it, why they say it, where they say it and so on. This is pretty exhausting. Like anyone else, I try to second-guess, or mind-read (not in a psychic way) what the other person or persons are thinking. What is the thought process behind those words, why are they touching their face/hair in that way. Is their eye contact really sincere? 

I have really no clue at all whether other people are doing the same to me when I’m speaking to them, are they intently watching to see if I will give away some key behavioural tell? It is worrying to think that they perhaps might be, as I am acutely aware of every little error I make, in my speech, in my manner, in my dress. I am my very own worst critic. I assume that everyone else is much more efficient than me, funnier than me, prettier than me and so on. This is not healthy, and I know this. Why then do I still hold onto these beliefs? Or is it what everyone else does? Does everyone think that everyone else is doing a better job? Does this then lead to everyone becoming false selves, or acting their way through their lives? The mind trips over its own existentialism.

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Do I have to learn to silence this self-critic in order to get to where I want to be? Or does she serve a necessary function? The answer lies in balance, listening to the critic when I need to be grounded, and ignoring her when she is being acutely negative. 

Having suffered with depression, both as a teenager and as an adult, I am mindful that self-criticism allowed to run away with itself can manifest itself in very ugly ways. This is not a place I want to keep visiting, the attractions (or lack of) are all too familiar and dull. A day at the seaside of my mind, rather than a deep dark forest, is what will keep the darkness at bay.

Measuring the impact of your own self-critic (as I assume everyone bar psychopaths has one), is tricky indeed, as it is a subjective measure. How much are you crippled by a nagging self-doubt? Is it more evident in women? Why could this be the case?  Are introverts more likely to be victims of self-criticism, and therefore more likely to suffer with depression? All valid questions, where could we find the answers? 

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Letting go and leaving it at the stream

Someone who knows me has introduced a new phrase into my armoury of protective quipery. ‘Leave it at the stream’. I’ve tried hard to adhere to the philosophy, but sometimes your disappointments won’t erase easily. It is akin to them being on a repetitive loop, like the film ‘Groundhog day’.

Failure is okay, in fact it’s the only way you grow. If you are constantly successful, how do you know that you’re not being surrounded by sycophants? It’s a way of thinking that I encourage in the people I work with each day, that mistakes are great, only when you let your mistakes control you or you give up do you become defined by them.

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So, I must pick myself up, dust myself off and gracefully let go and leave it at the stream. I refuse to carry something heavy, I will not be defined by my failures. I will be measured in the difference I make to other people’s lives. The most important person in my life is only little, and still needs lots of nurturing to grow. Family always comes first. My decisions up to now have been guided by him, and that was always the right thing to do.

When I shuffle off this mortal coil, my epitaph will read wife, mother, daughter, sister and I would do well to remember that. So I will hold my head up to the sky, look around the world about me and leave it at the stream. The cool waters can carry off my worries, and they will soon be adrift in the sea, lost to me forever. It never bothered me anyway.

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Brain overloaded

I’m an introvert in an extrovert’s world. At the very least, I have to pretend to be someone I’m not, I do this most days. It’s like I put on a metaphorical coat to face the ebb and flow of my day.

As the day begins, my brain races. Ticking off task, after task, never quite reaching the end. I have had to accept that my life is impossible. There’s always something else to do, somewhere else to be, something else to see. When did this happen? When did my world, indeed, everyone’s world, become so much more complicated? When did we become so overwhelmed with choices and responsibilities?

I am fortunate, I have made choices in the past that have brought me a long way from where I started, and for this I should be proud.  But my choices have meant that I have had to mould my psyche to fit in.

 

 

IMG_2011When the day finishes I can become myself again, in the safe confines of my own home. Does this mean that I am not a ‘real’ person? Or worse, that I am faking a persona?

I hope not, it just means that in order to survive in my world I have to transform myself to a temporary extrovert or a convincing ambivert.

People may be surprised by my confessions, but I am a difficult person to really know.      I feel guarded, much like I cannot share my true inner self. I listen more than I talk, this does not mean that I do not have views. It means that I prefer to fully form my views in my mind before vocalising them. I am not a social butterfly, the thought of small talk with many people fills me with dread.  I do not need many people around me, so by the end of my day I am exhausted.

It’s almost like I do not really understand, or can even comprehend the amount of information that my brain is bombarded with every day. Which is why the title of the blogpost is… brain overloaded!

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