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being an introvert, deep down, teaching

Confessions of an Introverted Teacher at the Beginning of the School Year

Dear Fellow Staff Members,

 

I know most of us just met and we don’t really know each other THAT well, but I’m going to get down to the hard truth real quick.  Stay with me here.  It’ll make sense at the end.

 

I will disappear in September.

 

The reemergence will happen in October.  I promise I will come back, fresh faced and smiling again.

 

Don’t worry, I won’t abandon you during staff meetings, or shirk on my duties to our team.  I will be a supportive teammate.  I will plan with you and help chase after  any “bolters” we may have.  I will be there, but not completely there.  I will be more quiet than usual.  You may even see me fold up and disappear within myself, but that’s only if you know what to look for.

 

You see, I am a blazing introvert.  September teaching tends to drain my entire store of energy every single day.  The endless trainings, orientations, open houses, meet and greets, all those “extras” suck the life out of me.  Don’t get me wrong, most of them are interesting and necessary, but they do not fill me up.  Rather, they suck me dry and then ask for more.  

 

I do love the beginning of the school year for the blank canvas.  It is a chance to get a new batch of fresh faced beings who I get to inspire, teach and wonder with.  That part is amazing, but it is not easy, especially in September when you spend more time on “how we line up and not tackle each other in the hallway” than on the fun learning to read and other inspirational stuff.

 

In all other months of the school year, I am equal parts, This is so hard!!!! And This is the most amazing thing in the whole world!!!  In September the first thought process tends to take over.  If by chance you pass me in the hall and you sense a little panic leaking out of my ears, you are right.  The monologue most likely occurring in my head probably sounds a little like this:

 

Oh. My. Gosh.  I forgot how to teach!  What am I supposed to do in the first weeks of school?  Did I ever even know how to teach in the first place?  I probably got lucky all those other years.  I always have had good students, good parents and a good school team to back me up.  I am a freaking fraud!!  Who even thought it was a good idea to hire me.  I am in trouble, we are in trouble…..

 

….The kids!!! I am going to let down my precious students.  I will ruin their entire educational career.  Their sad little eyes will look up to me on their first day and I will have nothing for them. I will open my mouth and only silence will escape.  Everything will be dull and blank.   I will ruin them.……

 

Of course, after I get back to my classroom, I will be googling “How do you even teach kindergarten?” and I will realize I really do know what I am doing (and I will probably modify and  tweak that TeachersPayTeachers lesson because it is totally NOT developmentally appropriate for early five year-olds.  Also, my way is way more fun and promotes individual creativity, emotional intelligence and critical thinking.  Shoot, I will rewrite the whole damn thing because I really do know how to teach.  Thank GOD!!!!).

 

The point is not the fact that I actually do know how to teach, the point is that this process rolls around in my brain over and over and over.  It is exhausting.

 

This is why I am giving a disappearance disclaimer for September.  You probably won’t see me most days in the staff room.  Instead, I will close the door of my classroom to soak the quiet into my soul.  I will let the stillness wash over my senses.  I will cash in on 30 minutes of energy refill.  I will also politely refuse your invite to hang out at happy hour after school.  Instead, I will go straight home to take a nap, hang out with Tim and the boys, snuggle my puppies or binge watch Anne with an E.

 

Please don’t be offended when I don’t show up to the extracurriculars.  It’s not that I don’t like you, I do.  It’s just that I need to recharge in the quiet.  I need to refill the hole September digs out.  I need to be functional for Tim and the boys.  I need to replenish so I can love my students and set them up for an amazing year.  I need to take care of myself so I don’t crumple and walk around like a zombie for the rest of the year.

 

Here’s the part where I take a bit of a risk and get even more real with you.  Let me tell you, this is nerve wracking putting it all out there, but I’ve learned that saying it out loud is therapy in and of itself.  I battle with depression.  It is an up and down war in my brain that threatens what I love to do.  I love to teach, but even more, I love to love my people.  When I am depressed I can’t do both well.  When the gray days come I can only give to one.  Can you guess which one I neglect?  Yep, Tim and the boys’ always get that short end of the stick.  

 

You may be asking how being an introvert and depression go together.  Well, I have the same question.  I have no idea if the two are linked.  I’m not a research psychologist, I am a kindergarten teacher, for heaven’s sake.  All I know is that if I don’t pay attention to my introverted tendencies, my energy stores deplete and I can’t use the strategies I know to fight my depression.  Of course, there are times those strategies don’t work and the depression comes anyway.  Those times, I end up giving my all to teaching and Tim waits patiently by my side until my head clears.  He’s a hero, I know, you don’t need to tell me.  

 

Luckily, I am older and wiser than when I first started teaching.  I know how to keep a bit ahead of each battle so I can win the war.  I’ve learned that it helps when I exercise, eat healthy, recharge in the quiet, hang with my people and keep up on my meds.  Thank God for Prozac.  The meds alone wouldn’t do the trick.  It’s the whole combo that works.  Also, I’ve tried the above combo minus the meds, and that doesn’t work either.  I have found the pieces that work for now.  I’ll keep those up until they stop working, then I’ll be looking for the next necessary combo.  

 

I’ve seen that meme go around that says, “This is an antidepressant” on a picture of a forest, then “This is sh*t” on a picture of a pill.  That’s cool if it works for you.  A forest doesn’t cure my serotonin imbalances.  Believe me, I’ve tried all the natural ways for years.  Back then depression took over and it was ugly.  Ask Tim and the boys, they’ll tell you how painful it was.  Of course, my students and coworkers couldn’t tell.  Is functional depression a thing?  If so, that’s me.  In the past I would be all Go Go Smiley at work, then fall apart at home.  

 

I don’t want to do that this year.  That’s why I need to take care of myself so I can function both at work and at home.

 

So when I disappear this September, please don’t take offense.  I really want to be here with you – contributing to our team, our school, our community.  I want to love my students.  I want to breathe life into their little souls.  I want to show them what an amazing tool learning can be.  Their adventure is just starting and I want to be there to watch.  Before I can do all of that, (I know this is totally cliche, but it’s perfect), I need to put the oxygen mask on myself first.

 

So Team, I love you all.  See you in October.

deep down

The Thief

It sneaks in, like a thief in the night.

 

Most of the time I don’t realize it has taken up residence, until it begins to steal bits of my day.  A botched interaction, a snippy, nasty remark, the inevitable, face-staining tears.  By the time I realize it has come to stay a while, I stare at the rubble already caused, the items that are missing.

 

Depression is a thief.

 

It takes away my sense of humor.  My sarcasm decoder is stolen from me, unbalancing my normal interactions.  I don’t understand anymore when someone is just joking around.  Everything is taken personally and seriously to heart.  As a result, I lash out.  How dare you say that.  How. Dare. You.  An institution that normally brings joy and laughter is ripped out of my hands.

 

Depression peels away my already thin skin barrier.  Light touches scrape against me, bruising my soul. Even noises are louder.  The low hum of my family becomes an unbearable screech in my ears.  

 

And when my nerve endings are completely exposed, depression comes in to add a cloud layer that squishes around in my brain and floats into the corner of my view.  I begin to walk in mud.  Every step is an effort.  That’s when I know depression has taken my clarity.

 

My patience is stolen too.  Irritability makes it hard for others to enjoy being around me.  Knowing I’m not enhancing the daily experience of Tim and my boys pushes me to spiral even farther down into the pit.  The guilt comes and I retreat, so as to lessen the impact on the ones I love, but leaving impacts them too.  Lashing out or closing in on myself, both hurt my people.  I don’t see any other positive options, I can’t even think clearly when it gets like this, so despair arrives and I descend down farther.

 

Last Saturday Tim and I knew I was about two days into the spiral downward.  Actually, we’ve figured out that Tim realizes it’s starting about 18 hours before I can wrap my brain around the dark period.  We both know there are certain triggers and we work together to minimize them, but we also know there is no logic when it comes to predicting my depressive episodes.  Some of the triggers were there this time around, but mostly it arrived without the usual prerequisites and during an unpredictable season.  Both of us know the average episode lasts about four days, some have been way longer.  That is also about the time it takes for my meds to kick in.  Medicated or unmedicated, I knew I had about two more days of living in the dark pit.

 

It was the weekend and as a family we always try to jam in some quality family time.  Tim had been traveling, we had been hosting family and friends fairly consistently for the last month or so.  Family and friend time is rejuvenating but, we were in desperate need of just the four of us time.  My depression didn’t get the memo that I needed to be “on” this weekend.  I needed to be an active participant in the quality interactions.  Tim graciously rearranged the weekend activity schedule.  

 

Instead of all of us hopping over to the driving range, he dropped me off at the nail salon and took the boys to the card shop.  While they searched for their next great football card hit, I cracked open my new book.  The massage chair scraped against my back while the kind pedicure lady picked away at my toes.  I couldn’t even jump into the story.  Normally this pedicure/book situation is heaven.  Today it became a frilly torture.  I couldn’t find my normal joy and I knew depression took this away from me too.

 

I wanted to get sucked into a new story so I could forget that I had a minimum of two more days here.  I wanted to be relaxed while I got pampered, getting my nails did.  None of that happened so I dug deeper into the thick mud.

 

The boys knew I wasn’t feeling 100 percent.  I told them I was down, feeling sad, for really no reason at all.  I reassured them it wasn’t anything they did, it was just my body and brain screwing me over for a few days.  They understood, like they always do.  And then I worried how this was affecting them.  Would all their childhood memories be tainted by a mom who just didn’t have the energy to go to the driving range like we planned?  Logically, I know it’s a good thing for me to be honest with them about all this.  They are smart and intuitive.  I couldn’t hide the depression from them, even if I wanted to.  But that still doesn’t stop me from wondering how they will be negatively affected by my episodes.  Again, depression takes it all.  It takes my logic.  It makes me worried about the well being of my own children.  Am I passing this on genetically?  Am I creating an environment that hinders them more than it helps.  Are nature and nurture both against their well-being?  When my intelligent reasoning comes back to me, I can see that there are certain factors beyond my control.  And I know with the ones I can control, the nurture part, I am doing the best I possibly can with their environment.  

 

With the grace approach to life, comes a great covering over of mistakes or mistaken situations.  Even when the chemicals in my brain shift, when I am taken hostage, grace is freedom.  When you weave grace into your environment you can’t go wrong with the nurture aspect.  My boys are evidence of this.  They love me and extend grace to me when depression changes our plans.  They know that this is not something to be fixed, nothing is wrong, it’s just a stupid situation to wait out.  The sadness is not something to be cured, it’s part of who I am.  As Tim always reminds me during these periods, grace is hardest to give to yourself.  And it is.  Starting over in the middle, not holding past blow ups against myself, that’s hard to do.

 

This last weekend, Tim and the boys were totally fine with me being this way.  We were good.  It was me who was having trouble with myself.  I felt sludgy, cloudy.  I couldn’t enjoy all the things that I normally do.  I got irritated with normal everyday occurrences.  During these times I spend a lot of time on the couch.  So we brought the mattresses down to the living room.  We gathered all the blankets and pillows we could find in the house and dumped them onto the mattresses.  Tim brought the little t.v. and gaming system and planted them next to the mattresses.  The boys thought it was brilliant, so did I.  We got up and showered for the couple obligations we had that weekend, but the majority of the weekend was spent covered in cushy, warm blankets together.  

 

Tim is always my voice of reason during these times.  When depression sneaks in to steal my clarity, he gives it back.  He knows I just have to wait it out.  He knows that there isn’t anything that will fix it or solve it.  He knows because we’ve tried everything.  This was before we were both okay with depression visiting every once in awhile.  

 

And this could be the turning point of the essay where I tell you all the things depression gives back.  I could tell you about how it gives you the opportunity for your loved ones to love you and wait it out together.  I could tell you how it gives you the opportunity to practice grace within your own heart.

 

But I don’t want to do that right now.

 

I’m still on the tail end of this current dark episode.  I don’t feel good about it yet.  I don’t want to see the bright side of depression because all of it totally blows.  I don’t want to have to have honest conversations with my boys about why the chemicals in mom’s brain go wonky sometimes.  I don’t want my husband to have to censor his sarcasm because I’m too touchy and peeled open.  I don’t want to have to change plans because it’s really hard for me to get off the couch.  I don’t want to have to write these stupid words every few months looking for the bright side of living in this deep, dark pit for a few days.

 

Depression is a subversive thief.  I hate it.  And I want all my stolen stuff back.

deep down, faith, family, friends

The Next Step

Today is a one step in front of the other kind of day.  Yesterday was a struggle to get off the couch day.  There is progress being made, I know, but it still doesn’t feel like it.

Things have snowballed lately.  The good mixed with the hard.  We went along with Tim on his European business trip.  Then some of our besties came up to visit.  We buried my grandmother.  The woman who I always saw as our quiet matriarch.  As we ended another successful baseball season, I got asked to coach the summer All-Star team.  Then vacation ended, our friends flew home and we went back to normal life, knowing they would be states away and months would go by before we saw them again.  Summer is looming and our daily life will look different.  Jack’s birthday was a month ago and I haven’t even planned his party yet.  We need another car and I hate car shopping.

When the positive stuff gets mixed in with the hard situations, it all seems overwhelming.  I have a hard time compartmentalizing and I tend to overgeneralize so much so that I cannot pick out and appreciate the good.  The responsibilities and to-do lists pile up for even the positive happenings and those begin to turn negative in my mind.

The other day I was thinking of how magical it would be to go live off the grid, on some farm by a lake or river.  But then I realized that I would get so tired of wearing my hippy clothes after a few weeks and would begin to salivate at the thought of ordering a pizza.  There would be gardens to weed and grass to mow and my simple chic cabin to repair.  I threw my magical dream aside and consoled myself with the ease of online shopping.  Off-trail hippy dreams are so exhausting.

Yesterday I tried to do some of the things I know help in times like these.  I sent off some one liner prayers and meditations that St. Annie likes.  Help, please.  Thanks.  Then I opened up my bible and read about how we are all in this together.  There is no us and them, it’s just us.

But today I did the same thing and read about how there is us and them.  I got mad and sent off some more simple prayers.  Why?  I don’t get it.  I thought we are all in the same family.  The whole, us versus them thing hasn’t quite worked out in all of history.  So contradictory and off-message.

I took more baby steps, in hopes of jumping out of the hole.  I folded some laundry and made breakfast.  I went for a run, following the boys as they rode their bikes to school.  I waved and yelled,  “I love you!” as they waved back and pretended they didn’t hear that last part in front of their friends.  They’ve got to keep up appearances, I know that.

Today I am going to keep moving.  Keep breathing and putting one foot in front of the other.  It won’t always be like this.  I won’t always feel like this.  Tomorrow might be better or worse, but all I can accomplish is that next step.

For now, that next step will be to hit publish.  I might try to edit this a bit, but that will probably be too much for today, just a heads up.