I work in a tough district, in a tough school. Some of the stories I come home with defy common sense and logic. Some will break your heart or make you so mad that you can't think straight. Sometimes though, something so wonderfully absurd happens and it makes working here seem like the best place in the world.
This morning over the walkie we heard someone call for a teacher who used to be a zookeeper because we had an animal on campus that needed to be attended to. So all of us teachers high tailed it outside to see what it might be. It was the most adorable, scrawny kitten in the world. Apparently she had followed several students up to the building and was itching to get inside.
we spent a fun morning playing on the computer, hanging out with students, eating chicken and playing in the soccer field. The SPCA didn't have room for her, but another teacher was able to have someone come get her to go check for a microchip and after that we had another teacher willing to hang on to her until someone claims her. And if no one claims her then they are willing to keep her forever. So Charlie the Library Cat had an awesome day here and will either go to her home or to a new forever home. Not too shabby.
Yesterday was World Suicide Prevention Day and I had lofty goals of writing a moving post on what living with suicide means to me. It's something that has always been present. A shadow in the corner that can reach out and grab people when you least expect it. Not something I saw on TV or a movie, but a monster that was real, that came for people I knew.
I was going to talk about my first brush with it when I was in Elementary school and a friends father lost his battle and how watching my friends family deal with it was confusing and scary. I can clearly remember standing in my babysitters house (where we all went after school) trying to figure out what exactly was happening
I was going to talk about how, in high school, a classmate was self harming my parents helped to get her help. How that classmate didn't talk to me for a long time because my family had exposed a secret she wasn't ready for people to know about. How I felt like we had done the right thing, but somehow had still betrayed someone. It was a weird and confusing time.
I was going to talk about freshman year of college when my anxiety really reared it's ugly head and I felt the monster creeping up on me for the first time. It hovered on the edges of my mind as I tried to figure out how I would survive a place that I hated with people I didn't like. I was going to talk about driving out to the state park and staring at the waterfall and thinking, "What the hell am I doing here?" and then transferring to a new college that would be the right one for me, where a dance teacher would see my anxiety and get me help finding strategies and coping mechanisms and teach me to relax.
I was going to talk about how my cousin lost his battle a few years ago and how, even though we weren't super close, there are moments when I feel his absence so acutely that it seems like a tangible thing that I could reach out and touch. Like at the ARC race yesterday when watching the awards ceremony I felt my breath leave my body as I remembered that time he won and we cheered so loud for him from the crowd. How running carries a different weight now that he is not off in the distance running somewhere in front of me, leading the way.
I was going to talk about how my husband walked down the stairs last fall to tell me that his mom's boyfriend (who, for all purposes was basically a husband) had lost his battle and that his mom had found him just hours before at the warehouse they ran together. How my mind raced through the what ifs... how I struggled to find the right emotion because it was becoming all too common to see people die.
I was going to talk about how I worry sometimes that my anxiety will morph into something worse and that there might come a time when I will face that battle too... I haven't really yet, any thoughts of suicide have always been fleeting and abstract. A concept that is there, lingering in the shadows but never a real option, there have always been far too many reasons to live, and if we're being honest, my anxiety almost instantly produces a list of all the ways a suicide can go wrong and the idea of actually doing something like that has always been far more terrifying then not doing it ... but my life experiences tell me that the monster can come for you when you don't see it coming and even those people who seem to have it together can fight and still fall.
I was going to talk about all those things yesterday, but couldn't. My brain was not in the right place, work has already taken a toll on my nerves. My resolve to be positive and happy is already waning. I've had to deploy my plans to keep myself balanced way earlier then I thought I would. This weekend I planned a camping trip with friends and bought my autograph package to meet Misha Collins. I tried to write this post probably 5 times yesterday, each time staring at a blank screen, my mind wandering to all the things that can and might go wrong. My anxiety coming alive and taking over, the idea of writing about suicide feeding the beast and sending my brain into overdrive. So I stopped even trying to write, because why do something that causes you pain? Instead we went and played in the creek at the park and tried to catch fish with our bare hands. We went for a bike ride and had a back yard campfire. When insomnia came to visit I watched TV and did homework. And I did what I do best. I researched what other people were saying, and I'll share that below. In the absence of my own words, I'll share theirs.
So it's a new day and even though this isn't the post I had planned, it is the one that I can write today. There are so many more people out there that are writing very honestly and eloquently about suicide and suicide prevention, I'll link to some of the best that I saw below. There are a lot of resources out there if you do need help. Don't forget, if you are feeling lost or alone, if suicide feels like the only option left, remember that there are people out there who will help you. People who will lift you up. Call someone, a friend or a hotline, whatever works for you and get help. Tomorrow will be a new day and you deserve to be there too.
If you need help, the National Suicide Prevention lifeline is always available. You can call their hotline at 1-800-273-TALK or you can visit their website to access additional resources, including a live chat function.
From their website: "When you dial 1-800-273-TALK (8255), you are calling the crisis center in the Lifeline network closest to your location. After you call, you will hear a message saying you have reached the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You will hear hold music while your call is being routed. You will be helped by a skilled, trained crisis worker who will listen to your problems and will tell you about mental health services in your area. Your call is confidential and free"
On leaving summer behind...
Short version: I don't like back to school time. I miss vacation. Vacation is fun.
Longer version: I love being outside and making my own schedule and traveling. I like the fresh air and going on adventures. I like tossing the kayaks up on the top of the car or throwing the bikes on the racks, or filling up the camelbak and setting out for a run with no particular destination in mind. I like taking my kid to places I love and jumping off the rocks into the water of hidden swimming holes and discovering new places. I like driving across the country to Yellowstone and it feels like coming home. I like the ability to be with thousands of people in my favorite place in the world and still have the ability to watch a wolf howl from 20 feet away or see a grizzly bear emerge from the woods and take an early morning swim in the fog with only my family and a few others as company. I like saddling up a horse and getting away from the road and the people for awhile. I feel happy, I feel relaxed and I feel like anything is possible.
This summer we spent 3 weeks in Yellowstone (and driving there and home again) and I had exactly zero panic attacks. Even when I was riding my horse on a very steep cliff my pulse raced and my heart fluttered, but it took just a few deep breaths and a reminder to enjoy this moment to quell the anxiety. I climbed a mountain and made a new friend along the way, chatting amicably for miles as we walked to the top of the world. I ran back down feeling like my legs could carry me forever, a feeling which I lost towards the end of the last school year. I could have stayed in Yellowstone forever. I don't live there, but it is most certainly my home. I've been going there for 34 years (and I'm only 34) and I know its mountains and valleys far better then I know the streets and buildings of my own city. As soon as i get back to NY I begin to think of when we can return again. (hopefully next summer).
So School Started...
I clung to summer as long as I could. I work in a city school and we deal with a lot of issues. We just recently got off the persistently dangerous list and our kids deal with more then I can possibly imagine. Our school can be scary and dangerous Our kids come with baggage that I am not trained to deal with. There are days that I don't think I can manage. There are days that the burdens that come with a job like this weigh me down and make my own luggage to heavy to carry. Still... I love my school, I love my coworkers and I love the kids. For every moment that I feel overwhelmed there is another where I can't imagine living without the place. It's a delicate balance and one that this year I have to work to maintain. Last year I let myself get sucked in and dragged down to the point that I was no longer managing. I tried to compensate in all the wrong ways. I tried to gain back control by doing too much, serving on every committee, saying yes to every thing that was asked of me at work and also tried to keep a hold of friendships by saying yes to everything out of work as well. As noted in other posts I ended up at zero and everything suffered.
This year I am making a concerted effort to not fall into the same traps. We went back to school 2 weeks ago, teachers only for some PD. Some of it was repeats of past years, this is because for the 4th year in a row we have roughly a 50% turnover of staff. So old for me is new for them. We also have done some new stuff, putting a heavy focus on restorative conferences and relationships, something we are practicing with each other as adults. I can say pretty definitively that I have a love-hate relationship with this. It's all about building trust and letting people in, which is good, when it's organic.Sometimes, when it feels forced, it's really stressful. For someone like me, who really struggles with anxiety, this is like asking me to cut myself open and let people pour salt in the wounds. Depending on who is in my group, it can be fun or it can be terrifying. A few people at work know how bad it can get and they can tell when I'm starting to fade. Luckily these are also the same people that I spend most of my time with and who are usually in my group and they already know most of my secrets, so when we have these discussions there's a much lower level of anxiety.
However, there are also people that I work with who I don't like and who I don't trust. I've already made that decision for myself based on my own criteria. Maybe we disagree on work or on how we treat other people. Maybe they've done things that I find abhorrent. Maybe they've hurt someone that I care about. Whatever the case may be, we do not get a long and I do not want to share any bit of myself with them. I'm sure there are people that walk into my circle and think "Oh god. I'm with her. I do not want to share with her" and that's okay. Let me repeat that one: IT'S OKAY. It's okay to not get along with people. It's okay to not want to share yourself with someone else. You are not required to make yourself feel pain in order to meet someone else's expectations. These circles, where you are asked to answer personal questions about yourself often make it seem like it is not okay. You are always allowed to pass and not answer, but there is a stigma to that and one leader actually said that people not participating was disappointing and that we shouldn't accept that from our students when we do it with them. Her assumption was that we weren't opening up because we didn't know each other and were hesitant. What she failed to see was that in this particular case (and for me) we did know each other and didn't want to share because that trust has been lost and there isn't an interest in repairing it. You know what? That's okay too. If you decide that someone isn't worth being in your life anymore that's okay. If you have to work with that person your only obligation is to not cause shit. Be a good coworker. Help out with work stuff without creating drama. Don't try and sabotage that person or try and rip them down. Don't go to your boss and trash them. You don't have to be friends, you just have to coexist peacefully and do your job.
On one particular circle heavy day I crumbled. I answered a question and felt great about it. We had to say if there was a time that you belonged to a certain group that you didn't like it. One person talked about how being an athlete sometimes stunk because it meant people assumed he just one of the good old boys and might not a good friend. I had chosen "woman" as my group and I debated answering. In the end when the facilitator came to me I looked up and said "Being a woman can be a powerful thing and we can do so many amazing things, and yet there are people who try to take our agency away." I said this in a group where there were people I trusted, but there was also a person who I think is emotionally manipulative, who has on many occasion said things like "Why aren't you smiling?", "Why are you grumpy, people don't like you when you are grumpy." and "So you're just going to be a bitch today? You should at least try to smile." (that last one was said about 2 hours after I found out that my cousin died...so yeah.. smiling wasn't in the cards).. This person knew that I struggled with anxiety attacks and yet used comments to make my feelings seem less valid and for a long time I tried to appease him (and others) by not acknowledging my own feelings and instead plastering a smile on and saying "I'm just tired! It's fine." This is a fairly minor example of people taking away someone's agency, we can all think of others that are much more devastating. At any rate, I felt great saying it in that moment because I not only felt like I had to say something to answer the question, but I felt like it was a good answer. However, within minutes I was on the edges of a panic attack. A comment from an administrator a little while later sent me into full blown anxiety attack mode. I made it a whole summer without ever feeling the panic bubble too far up, three days back to work and I was hiding in my office and trying not to hyperventilate.
Then it occurred to me that if I struggle with this then I am sure that some of students will too. They will have classmates they do not trust and do not want to share with. They will have reasons to not answer and when they do answer they might be afraid of what will happen after they share that piece of themselves with their classmates. So I have to work really hard to support them the way I would want to be supported. I have to make sure they know that their feelings are always valid and that we can totally find a way to all work together without making anyone feel uncomfortable. I have to make sure that other adults also understand some of the other ramifications of these circles and that they see that not sharing is not always someone not buying in, it might be that person just not being ready. And that's okay.
On top of that we are using Random Acts (www.randomacts.org) to guide us in getting students to be kind to each other. We'll start with just one kind thing, WEB leader to incoming student, and then we'll have a month of kindness and in the spring we will do a larger service project. My hope is that by starting small we will start to change the mindset of our school and students will start doing kind things without even thinking about it. Trading insults for compliments and helping each other instead of letting people struggle. I'm really looking forward to this years WEB program.
Sometimes you just need to have fun:
I'm also making a huge effort to stave off the anxiety by doing things I really love doing and not necessarily just going along on what other people want to do.
The first week of school I went camping. Like the whole week. Instead of driving to work from home I drove from my campsite. Each night we had a fire, made marshmallows and rode bikes. I slept in my hammock out under the stars and woke up to deer chilling in the fields and beautiful sunrises. With the exception of that minor freak out, the week was awesome and I was missing it almost as soon as I got home. The next weekend I went kayaking and did some driftwood yoga with friends. This past weekend we dusted off our boots and went to a concert, watching a beautiful sunset while we listened to great music. The point is, I left work behind and went out and had fun. I didn't let myself get sucked into doing tons of work on non-work hours (even though I was asked).
It's all there in the name...
So yeah... I'm pretty sure this post is what you would see in the dictionary under the definition of "Rambling". A little bit of a hodgepodge here today, but it works. Get's it all off my mind. I think I can take this whole massive post and sum it up... maybe.
Summer's fun and vacation is too short. Sometimes sharing is good, but sometimes it's terrifying and we should make sure we make everyone feel safe. You don't have to be friends with everyone, just don't cause drama. Going back to school is stressful for everyone, but being kind to one another can go a long way. And a quote from Misha Collins that I found while making the WEB Random Acts board at school... "Be kind to yourself so you will be happy enough to be kind to the world." I'm going to make a huge effort to find that balance this year and make it a great one for everyone I can.
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