Monday, 14 March 2011

On Returning to Life

OK, so maybe the title is SLIGHTLY misleading – I haven’t actually died and then been brought, Lazarus style, back into the world of the living!

However, the way things are going at the moment, it really does feel like I’ve been in some sort of suspended animation for the last couple of years and I’m actually starting to live again!

Those of you who have been regular readers of this blog since it started will know that I am just a bit bonkers, i.e. I have bipolar disorder, and sometimes this affects my life considerably for long periods of time. During 2009 I became very ill, first with depression, then with a manic episode towards the end of the year, and then, at the start of 2010, cycling back into depression.

There were several consequences from all these extreme mood swings. First, I finally sought proper professional help from a psychiatrist for the first time in several years. I took the medication prescribed, ignoring any side effects for the time being. I listened to my Community Psychiatric Nurse from the Community Mental Health team, and I generally did as I was told.

Secondly, I finally accepted that I would have to give up on things that I’d been fiercely hanging onto in a refusal to admit that I was as ill as I was. I withdrew from all the Open University maths courses I was studying. I stopped trying to read, trying to practice my viola, trying to write blogs and so on. And I gave up my job, finally accepting that my life would have to be funded by the benefits system for a spell, and that I would be unemployed.

Thirdly, I realized that if I was going to re-enter “normal” (for want of a better word) life again, I’d have to work at it. I’d have to exercise to get physically fit enough. I’d have to swallow my pride and allow others to do things for me, I’d have to do things I found terribly frightening and uncomfortable, and I’d have to regain my self-confidence, bit by bit.

And so it was that, after a year of hard hard work, a year in which I razed much of my life to the ground, that I began to emerge, over Christmas 2010, back into something approximating real life.

Exactly how I did it is not really what I’m intending to write about here. What I will say is that it was tough, very tough. I made myself eat properly. I used every ounce of willpower to get off the sofa and go for walks rather than reaching for the chocolate. I got in the car feeling very very sick in order to go to events that I really didn’t want to go to. I made myself keep appointments, even ones which frightened me. I made myself talk to people, look them in the eye. I practiced my viola as often as I could. I started reading again – at first, just “easy” things, and now stuff that’s a bit more challenging. I started to live slightly less on the internet and slightly more in the real world. I took my meds (although I firmly believe that medication is only about one quarter of the treatment of my condition, and facing up to it, listening to those around me, exercising when I can, and using CBT techniques on myself are also very very important parts of the treatment). I did every little exercise set by my therapist, even if it felt really stupid at the time, and I talked about it. Poor Wonderspouse was bored to death, stressed out of his mind etc, but I discovered that healing comes much more quickly if the feelings aren’t bottled up and left to fester. I’m lucky in that I have someone who is prepared to listen and sticks by me whatever happens – that is something very valuable, and has certainly helped no end with my recovery.

And so, in December 2010, while we were marooned in our house in the snow, things started to improve. I’d been to play in a concert in Yorkshire, and had to drive home in bad weather and abandon the car several miles from home owing to snow. Once home, we dug ourselves in for Christmas and the New Year.

As the clock ticked over to 2011 I decided that things WOULD be better this year. I would MAKE them better. I re-read John Bird’s “How to Change Your Life in 7 Steps” (look it up, get a copy, and read it – it’s only £1.99 on Amazon and will only take you one bathtime to read). I learnt that there was no point fretting about things I couldn’t do anything about, I stopped hoping for some magical cure, and I started to rebuild my life, bit by bit.

And so, when I went back to see my psychiatrist in January this year, she declared me well and “discharged” me from the clinic. I took up the offer of a support worker from a mental health charity designed to help people with mental health difficulties get back to work. I got out my CV, and started to think about what I could do.

Around mid-January I started to think about teaching, first of adults, then tutoring privately, then, eventually wondering whether I might go back to teaching classrooms full of teenagers, as I used to, 8 years ago before I opted for a “low-key” career in administration.

The Wonderspouse and I had lots of discussions and I did a lot of thinking. I’d left teaching for a couple of reasons. First, I’d decided it was too stressful and thought that if I got a different sort of job I’d no longer suffer from mental illness. This assumption has proved to be untrue – whatever job I’m doing at the time, it seems that if the mind is going to go wrong, it does. My lunacy is caused by something chemical in my brain, which is then fed by learned behaviours, and is not the result of any particular job or career. Secondly, I thought that I’d be more likely to conceive a child if I was less stressed and I wanted to avoid children because the whole issue of them was so painful at the time. As it turns out, we haven’t been able to have children anyway and that is just the way it is. We’ve grieved for our non-existent children, been to counselling and so on, and generally moved on from that phase of our life.

I did think about returning to teaching a few years ago. However, at that time we travelled a lot. And we travelled cheaply, on budget airlines, at antisocial hours on antisocial days. A teaching career certainly wasn’t compatible with that lifestyle!

But now things have changed again. We no longer travel, partly because the cheap fares offered now come with all sorts of “baggage charges” etc these days, and partly because we now have 5 cats, two of whom are on medication, and it really isn’t feasible to ask a neighbour to take on that sort of responsibility while we’re away.

So, towards the end of January, we came to the conclusion that I would return to the classroom. Not, as before, as a music teacher, but as a maths teacher, since I’ve been doing an Open University maths degree for the last few years.

I started off by buying a Times Educational Supplement, and applying for a Return To Teaching course. I also applied for a teaching job that was advertised in the Times Ed. In the end, after much hoo-ha, I was unsuccessful in my application for the Return To Teaching course (they wouldn’t take someone who was changing subject), but, after a full-day job interview (including teaching a 50 minute maths lesson to a year 9 group), the school offered me the job to start after the Easter holidays!

Since then, I’ve been into the school a couple of times and have been communicating with them by e-mail, and life has started to move even faster. It transpires that they could actually do with a maths teacher starting even earlier, and since I’m not working out notice at another job, have offered me three weeks supply teaching before the Easter holidays. I therefore return to work on Friday of this week (I’m going in for a day to prepare and settle in before taking over classes next Monday).

Of course, and this is really the purpose of my writing this blog post, this will all have quite a big impact on my life. Yes, there will be a big impact on our lives at home – earlier mornings, me driving the Wonderspouse into work, me having holidays limited to school holiday times, fewer gigs, fewer concerts, lots of preparation and marking out of school time, lots and lots of hard work, and so on. I’ve also had to go out and get new clothes, smart ones, suitable for the job I’m going to do, although I shall also be well-rewarded – a full-time teacher’s salary is considerably more than either a part-time admin clerk’s one or the benefits I’ve had for the last few months.

But, there are also implications for my online life. I am the sort of person who is open and “out there”. I’ve never felt a need to hide my mental health problems, neither have I felt any need to hide who I am, what I look like (no matter how stout I am, for example), or where I live, etc. etc. (beyond a reasonable sense of not giving out my address on a public forum then announcing I’m going away for a month – I have no desire to be burgled and try to reduce the risks if I can).

However, things are different now I’m going back to school. I have already changed many things in my online life. I am hiding commentaries from my blipfoto account – although these are available elsewhere online now (or will be soon) and if you get in touch with me via the usual channels, I’m happy to say where. I’ve changed my facebook account to my maiden name and opened a new account in my twitter name so that online friends can find me. I’ve changed my profile pictures and “unlinked” things in various places. And now it’s time to deal with my blog.

Given what information there IS on this blog, I’ve come to the conclusion that I have little choice other than to lock it down. This will therefore be the penultimate post, for the time being, on “On Music, Maths and Moggies”. I shall leave it open for as many people to read this as possible, until Sunday 20th March 2011, which is the day before I actually start teaching again.

I hate having to do this. It’s complete anathema to me to hide things away. I spent my teenage years trying to be something “they” wanted me to be, and eventually learned that life was much easier if I was “myself” and people could take me or leave me as I was – if you hate me because my teeth stick out (they did, rather seriously), or because I wear glasses (I do) or because I’m overweight (quite considerably) or my hair is wrong, or my clothes aren’t fashionable or you don’t like my voice, or I’m mentally ill, or whatever it is, then that is your problem, not mine! I only have one life on this planet, which is short enough, and as I get older, I realize it is WAY too short to spend it playing “let’s pretend”!

However, as a teacher I have responsibilities. I am responsible for keeping myself “fit to teach” – teaching is a hard job at the best of times and I’m going to be working in a “challenging” school. I cannot afford to let the kids have access to anything they can use to get to me if I am going to keep myself sane during the difficult times. I am responsible for the children – my mental health problems are not something they should have to cope with, and neither should their parents be able to find out this sort of thing about the person responsible for educating their children. I am also responsible to the school. The school in question have offered me the job even though they know about my history and even though I’m changing subjects. They have offered to mentor me throughout my early time with them, and will do everything they can to make my career a success – they don’t need to be fighting fallout from something I’ve written on the internet.

So, dear readers, it is with a heavy heart that I shall lock this blog down very soon. I thank you all so much for reading and for all your comments over the last couple of years. This is a “farewell” from this PARTICULAR blog site, for now. I shall leave it available for reopening, possibly in the future, if things should change again.

BUT:

I am not giving up blogging. Far from it in fact. Blipfoto continues to be posted every day (albeit under a new username these days – contact me if you need to know what – friend Viola Maths on facebook if you like – facebook.com/ViolaMaths, or follow @ViolaMaths on twitter (but you’ll have to do that before Sunday too, because I’m locking that account then so I can continue to post links to blipfoto and so on up there, can continue to play freely there if I wish, and because my real name used to be linked to that account and still appears in cached searches etc)).

However, I have also set up a completely new internet identity, separate from ViolaMaths, under a name of my choosing (a name which is not random at all and is very significant to me, but is not directly linked with my own name). I have set up a couple of blog sites under that username and will be blogging from there (assuming I have time!!!). I haven’t quite worked out the whole thing yet (this is a VERY busy time at the moment – the fact that I’m writing this on my laptop while in darkest Wales, just before I rehearse for a concert is testament to that), but I’ll disseminate the information via all the usual channels and will post one, last, short post here at the end of this week (probably Saturday, so it’ll be available for about 24 hours). Maybe I’ll even reblog some of the posts from this site under the new identity or on a password-protected blog so that they’re once again available, and I’ll certainly be sorting out my own blog reading activity and following blogs I follow from here too as well as following various ones I have bookmarked, or favourited on twitter and so on!

As usual, I’ve gone on far too long, and I’m afraid I have no time to edit at the moment (ironically, the busier I am, the longer the blog post – typing stuff out in a “stream of consciousness” style is far quicker than crafting elegantly edited text) so you’ll just have to cope!

Thank you and (almost) goodbye!

13 comments:

  1. Best wishes on starting fresh. I hope it all works out for you.

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  2. Well done. It's lovely, and quite encouraging, to read such an upbeat post, and to know that you're making yourself better. I think that's the correct phrase. You're quite an inspiration, really.

    Anyway. Blogging. I'm open and honest and am frequently guilty of roughly shaping some random thoughts and letting them maraud their way across the internet. But I've learned two rules. 1. Never, ever write directly about work things or work people; work is a closed subject. 2. Never write about my marriage. Oh, and 3. (because I can't count) occasionally throw something out there that is *patently* untrue. It's funny and confuses the enemy (whoever that might be).

    I am guilty of having an anonymous blog tucked away where I sometimes write about 2., but that's because I still need the therapeutic outlet, even though I haven't used it for almost a year.

    Anyway. Well done!
    x

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  3. You've had the courage to come back, and I laud you for that. I agree that keeping things to oneself can cause things to fester, so I'm happy you may find alternatives. I will certainly continue to follow.

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  4. Hooray! Well done! What fabulous news! Good luck with the new job! What a fantastic, positive post :-) xx

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  5. Congratulations on your new job, what wonderful news; so happy for you! :)

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  6. You have done so well. Good luck.

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  7. Hooray for you, this is brilliant news - love to you both and your furry family x

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  8. Brilliant inspiring post. You have done so well. I would love to comntinue to follow your blog/twitter/blip

    Good luck with the new job

    xx

    c

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  9. Great news about your job and all your hard work getting where you are now. I wish you great things and also the happiness of small things. Continue to take it steady and congratulate yourself every day too. Best wishes, Alison

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  10. Really pleased for you...Good Luck!

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  11. This is wonderful Ann. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with the world.I am so pleased to hear about what you have achieved. You are very brave and a real inspiration.

    Congratulations and good luck, in your new job and your new life.

    x

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  12. So just a little bit of World Domination then?

    *hug* You rock!

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  13. Ann you have done a wonderful job in transforming your life under difficult circumstances and keeping evrything going in the meantime.

    Congratulations on your new job, much deserved. I hope those children realise what a special teacher they are going to have.

    I will be following your progress on twitter and facebook and wish you all the best for the future x

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