One in ten teachers, according to a Union survey last year, are currently taking antidepressants to deal with the lifestyle and workload. I never thought that I would be making up part of those statistics. But now here I am, signed off work with mixed depression and anxiety, medicated for my depression and facing a 6 week wait for therapy.
I have always prided myself on doing a good job but have always struggled to keep up with all the work. The marking pile was never empty. As soon as I finished one cycle of books I had to start all over again. Managing classroom behaviour was exhausting. I was at the point where behaviour wasn’t terrible or dangerous but it wasn’t meeting the expectations I had previously held. Fed up of having to lower my expectations to just “make it through” the lesson I made the decision to hand my notice in and get out of teaching. Then I had the added pressure of feeling like I was letting everyone down. When would I do it? How would my colleagues react? What would they say?
I’d always managed to put the brave face on; to keep smiling. My colleagues were always threatening to walk out. Teaching has not been a very positive environment in any school I have worked in for the past 8 years. Instead of joining in with the moaning and adding to the concern my Head of Department probably had that she was going to lose more of her department, I just withdrew and started keeping more and more to myself.
Then I had my first panic attack. I dreamt about school, about being left by all my colleagues to deal with 6 classes of children all by myself. My throat closed in; I couldn’t swallow; I couldn’t breathe. Except now I know I could. My body had gone into fight or flight mode. A reflex historically saved for fleeing from danger; except in my head the danger was hundreds of teenagers (and in reality they aren’t a real threat). I went to the doctors that day and I haven’t been back to work since. They signed me off after I spent twenty minutes crying through explanations of what was going on.
I will be going back in (I hope) to serve out my notice period as I have since handed my notice in. Spending evenings and weekends with my husband enjoying life and not feeling guilty is more important than my pride. I feel weak for leaving a profession I spent years trying to be successful in. I feel weak because my colleagues and thousands of other teachers all over the country are battling the same workload, the same behaviour issues, the same stresses, and yet I’m the one that cracked. But my health is too important to let my pride dictate my life.
The only thing keeping me going is that I know I’m not alone. People are leaving their professions more frequently now due to mental health issues. Particularly in teaching we are exiting in droves. I want to take the positives from it though. We are talking about mental health. We are dealing with depression, anxiety and panic disorders more openly. The taboo is being broken and that removes it’s power (some of it anyway).
I don’t know what my next job will be yet; there are lots of things I enjoy doing. Maybe it doesn’t even matter, as long as I don’t ignore the warning signs in future and make time to do things I enjoy. What does matter is that we keep talking about Mental Health even after the month of May is over and Mental Health Awareness Month memes stop filling up our social media threads.