Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Teaching Through Depression

Disclaimer: This ended up being a much more personal blog to write than I expected, since this is something I'm struggling with a lot lately. As a result, I'm not sure it's helpful or coherent, it might just be personal rambling. But for what it's worth... here ya go.

In an effort to start blogging again, I asked folks to anonymously suggest a few things they'd like to see me blog about. Today we'll be tackling this suggestion: "Blog idea: teaching through depression. How to balance the mental health issues with a profession that requires a lot of energy." This is especially fun to tackle right now because I am in the midst of a VERY intense depressive/anxiety period as I'm also preparing to jump with both feet into a new semester of teaching... so some of this is me talking it out to myself and figuring out my answers because some days I just don't know.

Let me start by saying that I feel very fortunate in that my job is people heavy but is also something I really love doing. I truly feel I am called to teach. That love of what I do gives me extra reserves of energy when I am feeling low than I would have if I was doing something I loved a little less. Many of the teachers I know feel the same way, and it's something I just had to trust would be true when I went into this profession in the first place.

My teaching job is also a little bit different from a traditional classroom teacher. Some weeks my schedule is "lesson plan for 6 hours, then drive to a school and teach a 2-hour class," while other weeks it may be more like "teach at one school from 8-2, drive to another school to teach an after-school class for 45 minutes, then drive to the theater to teach a conservatory class for an hour and a half." This means I have both advantages and disadvantages that classroom teachers usually don't, so the advice I give here can only be specific to me and may not apply to any teachers reading this. Sorry if it is ultimately unhelpful, but I'll definitely share what I can.

A couple of things that I use to make teaching easier when depression is not.

I take advantage of breaks as much as possible. Really, this is a pretty typical piece of introvert advice, but it is also super helpful for depression stuff. Bathroom breaks, lunch breaks, the 2 minutes before students come flooding into your room, whatever you can take. When I'm on an all-day teaching schedule, I always try to eat lunch in my car. Shutting myself out for that 30 minutes gives me the strength I need to come back and be my best for the kids again later. Speaking of which...

Don't feel guilty about taking that time. One of the most useful tactics I've found for communicating to people that I need to disappear or take some time to myself is explaining that it's not just about what I feel like doing, it's that I am not at my best when I am stretched or overpeopled. You aren't being selfish if you take care of yourself. If I don't take the alone time I need, I become a worse teacher. I get irritable and impatient. My words aren't as clear as I want them to be. Your quest of self-care is not just about making sure you feel great, it can be just as much about making sure you can be great for others. Teachers are sometimes expected to just give and give and give, and so many of the best teachers feel guilty about not being able to give more. It is 100% okay to tell yourself, "This week, to be able to give, I have to say no to every other non-essential request that comes my way." Ignoring your self-care helps nobody.

I'm careful about criticism. This is one of those things that sometimes gets mocked in the realm of self-care, but I know when I'm in my worse depression times, my brain is ready to twist all the criticism it hears into a scathing indictment of my core identity. It's not rational, it's not reasonable, but a simple "I disagree" can turn into something horrific in my head. Since it's not reasonable to ask others to tiptoe around me when I'm in this state, I do my best to counteract it myself. I put myself out there a little less until I'm feeling better. I hide social media posts and comments I'm not ready to read. (If all my friends weren't online, I'd probably stay off social media altogether.) Just for a little while, just so I can get my thoughts together and react to it all in a way that is helpful and good for everyone involved.

Plan ahead. I'm a teacher. I have depression. Those two things are likely to be true together for sometime, so that means I can plan for when depression gets worse by setting up routines that will make my life easier when it hits hard. For example, I plan lessons out as far in advance as I can when I'm feeling good because when depression hits and I find myself staring blankly at a computer screen for hours, I have a little bit of leeway. While I'm usually comfortable with a little organized chaos in my classrooms, I try to establish set routines and enforce them consistently so that on days when I'm teeming with anxiety, I can relax a little bit and know things won't fall apart entirely. This may look a little different for everyone, as their depression and teaching won't be identical to mine, but the general idea is, I think, widely applicable.

Final thing to note, just one more time: I am not particularly good at this. I say some of this as if I actually have answers, but really these are just a few things I've latched onto that seem to be working right now. Writing this blog during a week when depression has been especially tough and I feel like it's completely robbing me of my ability to teach well has just heightened this for me. So this week I've been trying to hold onto the truth I know about myself: I am a pretty decent teacher. I won't feel this crappy forever. I've managed so far to find enough spoons to give to my students even when I don't have enough to give to myself, and most likely I'll be able to continue.

I feel like this blog has bounced wildly between optimism and pessimism. That's because I'm currently fighting that battle within myself, and I have no idea how much that is going to come across to anyone else.

I will close with this, I guess. Teaching is awesome and great and I'm so lucky to be able to do it and to know that every day I work I have the opportunity to do something really meaningful. And that's nice to remember when I feel stuck in "everything I do is awful" mode as I have been lately.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

My Favorite Fictional Relationships

In an effort to start blogging again, I asked folks to anonymously suggest a few things they'd like to see me blog about. Today we'll be tackling this suggestion: "Discuss your favorite fictional relationships (romantic or otherwise) and what makes them so." While I don't think I can say this is a definitive list, I can at least offer a couple of my favorites. I find that most of these are from TV because you really don't get as much of a chance to see the ins and outs of a relationship in a movie or a play.

1. Leslie and Ben from Parks and Recreation. Honorable mention to April and Andy, but Leslie and Ben's is a little bit more grounded in reality. I like how they problem solve and listen to each other and appreciate each other's strengths and differences. I like how they're different from each other but not along stereotypical male/female lines. And I LOVE watching them support each other's goals.

2. Darryl and White Josh from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. In a show where a lot of people who have zero idea how to relationship, these two are so refreshing. We get to see them deal with their insecurities and, ultimately, talk through them and come out stronger. When they eventually hit an issue that is a dealbreaker from them, we see them realize they're both dealing with it badly and break up in a surprisingly mature way, but not one that downplays the pain of it. They're just such a fantastic pair, and I love watching their trajectory.

3. Tracy and Link from Hairspray. This might just be because the overweight girl never ever ever ever gets the hot guy, and it's so delightful to see it happen. But I love them together. I love how she gets so passionate about righting wrongs and how it challenges him to step out of his own bubble.

1. Daria and Jane from Daria. The two of them against the world is always fun, but I also like that they aren't carbon copies of each other, and it's a little jarring for them when they realize that because they think of each other as so similar in so many ways. This means we get some really interesting disagreements and moments where one wants to move forward and the other doesn't, and they don't quite know how to deal with that. But mostly it just makes me thankful for the snarky friends I've had throughout the years

2. Troy and Abed from Community. What I love about this relationship is how fully they love and support each other's quirks. There are a lot of ways in which they are different (though Troy's faux-cool-guy routine from season one makes way for his much deeper seated true geekery as the show goes on) but they find a way to connect and learn to understand and appreciate each other's differences. This is basically me and all my friends, and I love it.