The Mystery of the Missing Sparkle sounds quite intriguing, right? Is it an Agatha Christie style whodunnit? Is it a Christmas fable? Well no…it’s my on-going anxiety crisis.
I qualified as an English teacher in February 2013 after working my way through various roles in the educational field since 2006. After qualifying as an NQT (newly qualified teacher) I taught Secondary English for 2 years then transitioned to teach Primary for another 2 years. Alongside full time teaching I worked for an exam board marking GCSE scripts annually too.
I have now been officially unemployed for two days. By choice. A Tweet I stumbled across recently perfectly explains why:
“You cannot heal in the same environment that made you sick. When a plant is dying you give it water and move it so it can get more sun. People are the same way. You must remove yourself from what is causing you to wilt.”
As a teacher, I’d had the niggling feeling things weren’t right for A LONG TIME. I wasn’t happy. I was constantly anxious. I was perpetually run-down. I was plagued by Imposter Syndrome which impacted really negatively on my (already low) confidence. But I cracked on/powered through/didn’t make a fuss/started a Masters in Education(!?!)* (insert martyred reactions which are the exact opposite to caring for/about myself) regardless. As @thegoodquote pointed out: “You’re killing yourself for a job that would replace you within a week if you dropped dead.”
And then my dad was diagnosed with cancer. And my priorities realigned.
I stopped full time teaching in favour of supply teaching/tutoring because I wanted to be available for Dad’s chemotherapy sessions and to travel to Dad’s house whenever necessary, and I knew that with my history of anxiety this was maybe something I would struggle to cope with unless I thought about what I needed too. And I really wanted to be there for my dad. So something had to change. I secured a 5 month part-time supply teaching contract in a school out in the sticks working mornings, and tutored two looked after brothers two afternoons a week. It was tough at times (as supply teaching is) but it served its purpose: flexible working.
Dad deteriorated quickly and within the 5 months the chemo sadly wasn’t working anymore so he returned home for good after a scary spell in hospital. By now it was May, I had finished my long term supply contract and I informed my teaching agency I would not be taking on any more work for the remainder of the academic year. Throughout everything, my teaching agency were so kind, considerate and understanding which gave me ONE less thing to worry about!
Dad died on Sunday 25th June. And I am so grateful I got to spend as much time with him as I did. I’ll never forget sharing memories and laughing about Mum during one of his chemo sessions, teaching him how to use WhatsApp to message us all, how touching it was to see family, friends and colleagues visit him in hospital, how utterly respectful all the doctors, nurses and homecare workers were to him, and he to them, how he held his head up and walked determinedly, smiling and unaided, along hospital corridors despite the pain, still managing to crack jokes with fellow patients and hospital staff.
July passed in a blur then it was the school holidays anyway so I had much needed time to grieve without any teaching commitments whatsoever. But September loomed like it always did – the Sunday night blues magnified and intensified for teachers everywhere. Thankfully I had a bit of leeway due to two trips we had booked previously – Budapest at the end of August and Paris in mid-September.
After Paris, despite not feeling quite ‘right’, I agreed to tutoring again, progressing to 1:1 support in a school. Big mistake. I had a terrible panic attack/melt down after just a few days. Thankfully not in the school but in the car on the way home and had to pull into a lay-by and ring my husband. All I could think about was how inadequate I was, how useless I felt, how stupid others must think I am. I was convinced all the worst things I think about myself were completely transparent to everyone and I was so pathetically mediocre that I didn’t even deserve a job.
At the suggestion of my amazingly understanding husband, I contacted www.letstalkhull.org.uk who organised a mental health assessment before referring me to a counsellor for 6 sessions of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). I attended counselling for 4 weeks and began to feel better so (stupidly in hindsight) I agreed to be discharged. By this time I had enrolled on a Counselling Skills evening course, which I hoped would aid my understanding of what I felt, and equip me with some tools to counsel myself effectively, as well as gain a useful qualificiation. Alongside this, my doctor had increased the dosage of my anxiety medication so I felt (again stupidly in hindsight) that I was in some semblance of control.
And then, just to test my coping skills further, I moved house!
Now, 4 weeks later, I’ve crashed. My sparkle is in splintered smithereens. Externally, my life is good: new house, solid marriage, adorable animals, financial security and physical health. Internally, I’m struggling: guilt (because externally things appear great so why do I feel like this???), grief, doubt, anxiety, confusion, insecurity and an overwhelming panicky frustration at not being able to make any right decisions. So, I’m giving myself until January to THINK. To get help. To grieve properly. To research career options. To let my medication settle (things get worse before they get better apparently). To try to enjoy my birthday and Christmas. To search for my missing and elusive sparkle.
In the words of @veronicadearly: Do what makes you happy. Otherwise WTF is the point of it all?