Uphill both ways

Last weekend, my teacher friend said to me, “Days off are more trouble than they’re worth. By the time you prepare all of your lessons for that day, you might as well show up and teach them.”

Yesterday, my colleague said to me, “Don’t let yourself get run down. If you need a day off, take it.”

Both of these things are true.

Some of my readers already know that I have a chronic medical condition. I’d rather not say what, since I haven’t decided how open to be about it at work – but the politics of invisible disabilities is a rant for another day. In practice, most days I function perfectly well. Where it gets tricky is when you pile other things on top of it – like a cold, or sleep deprivation, or stress. These things sometimes hit me harder than they would a perfectly healthy person, and I don’t bounce back quite as quickly.

Strategy one for dealing with these circumstances is, basically, to suck it up. Being independent, holding down a job and honouring commitments I’ve made all require me to sometimes drag myself through the day even when I’m feeling crappy. You may recognise this as a condition shared by 99.9% of the human race, so at least I’m in good company!

Strategy two involves looking after myself. Some people can spend their early twenties eating whatever they want and pulling all-nighters without any negative consequences. I’m not one of those people. I don’t do anything special, and god knows I could exercise more, but I have to invest a certain level of self-care into my body if I want it to be working when I need it.

The real trick, I’m finding, is pinpointing the line between strategy one and strategy two. Whenever I’m pushing myself to work through it, I have to ask myself if I’m looking after myself enough.But I also have to recognise that sometimes I want to sleep in, eat pasta and lie around the house when I would be much better off just getting off my posterior and getting things done.

So today I took a day off. Was it a pain putting together lessons for the substitute? Yes. Did I enjoy my sleep in this morning? For sure. Was it the right choice? I don’t know. I’ll be back at school tomorrow, anyway.

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…Gang aft agley

When I accepted my teaching position the first emotion I felt was joy. The second was panic. Luckily I know what to do with panic – sublimate it into plans, schedules and lists (so many lists). I had three weeks in which I planned to drive to the school, do some casual days, find a house, drive back, buy furniture and arrange for delivery, arrange for electricity and gas and internet, get a new phone, help run a training day for ISS volunteers, babysit my cousin’s kids overnight, MC an engineering challenge, take 30 students to Taronga Zoo, pack up my belongings, move house, build all of my flat-pack furniture, and plan all of my lessons for the first week.

Too easy, right?!?

With the help of friends, family and colleagues I actually managed to stay on top of things through the first and second week. My three days teaching at the school were fantastic. I got to meet my future classes, watch the other teachers in action, and get to know the people I’ll be working with. I stayed the the spare room of the head teacher of science, which was brilliant for many reasons, but in particular her husband was the physics teacher at the school before he retired, so the chance to pick his brains was invaluable.

(I’ve just realised that if I’m going to be blogging about these people frequently, it might be worth giving them pseudonyms. Maybe Albert for the physicist and Nettie for the biologist?)

Anyway, the first warning sign that it was all about to go horribly wrong was when my cousin rang and let me know that his two year old daughter (henceforth referred to as “Plaguechild”) had a cough and a fever. Now it should be said that Plaguechild was actually fairly easy to babysit. She took her medicine without a fuss, played nicely with her brother, and went to bed early. She did, however, forget to cover her mouth while coughing about half the time. So when I woke up on Saturday with a sore throat, I knew who was to blame.

giphy

I will spare my readers the grosser details of the last week of my life. I will mention that for several days the only thing I could taste was garlic. And that my temperature regulation was so out of whack that the only way I could tell whether I was freezing cold or dangerously overheated was to stick my hands in my armpits and check. And I went through an entire box of tissues in three days, even though I was taking decongestants every four hours. And I’m still sick a week later. Damn you, Plaguechild.

Thanks to my parents and a family friend driving out here on Friday I am actually set up and unpacked (thank you, thank you, thank you!). The part of the schedule that really went awry was my plan to do a whole bunch of lesson planning in advance. What I have done, instead, is outlined the first day, with a heavy reliance on activities that don’t involve me talking much, just in case my voice is still croaky. Ah well, the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men…

Surprise!

7:15am. The wind howls. The rain pours down. I wake to the sound of a ringing phone.

That’s my overly dramatic way of saying that I got a casual shift today. Woohoo!

I won’t give any details as yet, as I haven’t cleared my blogging with the Powers That Be, but I will say that I had a good day and there is more work in my future.

This is what you get when you google “tired but happy .gif”.

 

Casual Applications and the Wrath of Thor

Today was a pupil-free day in my part of the world. “Aha!” I thought to myself. “All the staff will be at school, but none of the students – this is the perfect time to drop off some resumes.”

I put together a list of local schools, polished my CV, updated my Anaphylaxis and Emergency training, and prepared to leave. There was only one flaw in my perfect plan.

BoM

The picture above gives you some idea of the rain, but fails to capture the extent of the wind. Luckily, I have another handy visual aid.

IMAG0602

IMAG0603

At the third school I ran into someone who had known me since I was a child. She tried to convince me to stay inside and wait it out, but I pressed on and managed to visit a third of the schools on my list. Tomorrow I may have to battle through crowds of students, but hopefully the weather will be kinder.

Gillian Cosgriff and Unfunny Business

The first show of our Melbourne Odyssey was by musical comedian Gillian Cosgriff – “Whelmed”.

Chastity: I know you can be overwhelmed, and you can be underwhelmed, but can you ever just be whelmed?

Bianca: I think you can in Europe.

-10 Thing I Hate About You

According to Gillian,”whelmed” was originally a sailing term for when the waves are almost but not quite breaking over the deck – in other words, you’re 98% of the way to disaster, but not quite there yet. Virtual hands up if you think this describes your life! Gillian Cosgriff can relate.

Gillian was incredibly funny, turning tales of competitiveness, perfectionism and anxiety into self-deprecating and relatable anecdotes and songs. I won’t tell you any more about the show, although I encourage you to go see her if you get the chance. What I would like do is take a turn for the serious, and talk about is the process of bringing up your mental illness in public.

Gillian used her own anxiety as a fuel for her comedy. Other comedians we’ve seen over the years have done the same – I laughed all the way through Matt Okine’s set, but at the end of it I wanted to hand him a pamphlet for Beyond Blue.

I feel like most of my anxiety comes from worrying about whether I remembered to take my anti-depressants that morning.

– Gillian’s Dad

Talking about mental illness is becoming more and more common as the movement to de-stigmatize these problems gains strength. I think this is a good thing, and I hope that you do too. For me the issue is personal, since I have experienced some degree of depression and anxiety since 2010.

At this point in my life, I’m fairly practiced at bringing my illness up in social situations. I do this for activist reasons – I can contribute to the normalisation of mental illness by being open about my own. I also find it very personally rewarding, as opening up about my problems often makes people feel comfortable sharing their own. Realising that you are not alone, that other people you like and admire also deal with mental illness is a great feeling.

What I’m having trouble working out is how my personal and political feelings about mental illness should be expressed in a professional context – in the staff room, the playground, and even the classroom.

When it comes to bringing it up with potential employers, I don’t actually have a choice – I’m required to disclose any disability for WHS reasons, and since my depression/anxiety is chronic it counts as a disability, even though it’s managed and shouldn’t affect my teaching.

During my two practical placements, I took the leap and brought up my illness in staff room conversation. I didn’t have to deal with any direct prejudice, although some teachers made negative comments in my hearing about students who had anxiety-related exam provisions, apparently convinced that they were “gaming the system”. This made talking about my experiences less comfortable, but I believe it also made it more important. After all, if I can use my experiences to build understanding and sympathy for anxiety then this will hopefully have a positive flow-on effect when the other teachers are teaching mentally ill students.

The issue I’m really still struggling with is this: should I talk about my mental illness with my students, and if so, how and when should I do so.

Now I know some teachers would be unequivocally against the idea of revealing such a thing. After all, when you walk into a classroom you’re not showing the students the unfiltered you – you use a persona to create the distance you need to enforce discipline. Talking about your medical conditions could definitely cross that line between personal and professional.

Another problem with talking about mental illness is that students are often a captive audience in a way that friends, co-workers and comedy gig audiences aren’t. If a friend doesn’t want to swap anxiety stories for whatever reason they can change the subject, ask me to stop or simply leave. Due to the power differential between student and teacher the student may not feel comfortable ending the conversation/shutting me up. This is a very serious concern for me.

On the other hand…

Schools in NSW share with families and the community the responsibility for teaching values.

– Values in NSW Public Schools

 According to the DEC, respect is a value of NSW Public Schools. Caring for others is a value. And part of my job as a teacher is to model and explicitly teach these values. As such, fighting the negative stereotypes of mental illness is actually part of my job description. And one of the most powerful ways I know to do this is to be honest about my own problems, while demonstrating that people with mental illnesses can lead meaningful, productive lives.

This is a lot of deep reflection to be prompted by a comedy show that dedicated an entire song to the life cycle of chameleons. In truth this has been on my mind for a while, and I haven’t come up with a solution yet. For the moment I’m keeping my mind and my options open. I’ll be looking to my friends and co-workers can contribute their own experiences and opinions. In the end I hope that this whole problem will become obsolete, as mental illness becomes an ordinary part of life instead of a shameful secret.

Holiday Blogging

For the next week or so I’m going to be on holidays in Melbourne, hanging out with friends and going to some shows for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Some bloggers may see this as a chance to take a break, but not I! I’m planning to write some reviews, and hopefully I will have some funny stories to pass on (after all people involved have approved me telling them, or been given suitably hilarious pseudonyms to disguise their involvement).

No Lessons Learnt

On Saturday I went to help out at a Girl Guide activity. Since I didn’t make it to the Gifted Munchkins this week, I was hoping that this could function as a replacement source of blog inspiration, reflection, and funny stories about children.

What actually happened was that I spent most of the day carrying heavy things and putting on rock-climbing harnesses. I can’t lift my arms higher than 45 degrees, my legs ache, I somehow got sunburned in the shade and I’m most of the way to losing my voice.

At least the kids had fun.

I didn't take any photos on the weekend, so here's me as a Girl Guide in 2003
I didn’t take any photos on the weekend, so here’s me as a Girl Guide in 2003

Keeping Busy – Online Courses

During this time of pre-employment, it’s all too easy to fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way.

But at least Pink Floyd understands me

Thanks to my friend Lisa, I’ve found a way use my time more productively. Lisa introduced me to a website called open2study. This website has a bunch of free online courses on a variety of topics. The courses take 4 weeks and involve watching videos/reading transcripts, multiple choice assessments and online forums.

Online learning is an interesting topic, and something I will probably blog more about in the future. For the moment, let’s just say that I wouldn’t just sign up for any online course, but this website has two things going for it:

  1. A personal recommendation from a friend and fellow teacher
  2. The fact that the material is created by actual lecturers and researchers from Australian universities

At first I signed up for three courses – Mobile Robotics, Concepts in Game Development and Writing for the Web. I then promptly dropped the last one, since a look at the first lesson showed me that the course was focussed on writing for businesses, whereas I am just one person picking up a hobby. As for the other two, I’ve made it through the first week and will hopefully see them through to the end.

In the future I want to talk about why I picked the courses I did, what I’m learning from them, the strengths and weaknesses of the open2study model, and how this learning could carry over to schools. In the meantime I will leave you with this, the most important lesson I have learnt from this course so far: robots are cool and I want one.

Wish you were here

One week review

So there it is: one week of blogging. It was easier than I thought it would be in the first half of the week, harder than I thought near the end. I think my new schedule might be to post twice a week – I’m thinking Wednesday will be for posts that I’ve written ahead and can post any time, while Saturday can be based on what happened during the week. We’ll see.

To everyone who has read my posts over the last week, thank you so much. The feedback I’ve received has been very encouraging. I would also appreciate any criticisms and suggestions for change you might have.

Virtual hugs for everyone!