It’s my last day off before my school years starts. I have two weeks of staff-development that start Monday, and then the kids start on August 27th. I should be in bed, enjoying my last day that I can sleep til whenever I want before the reality of five am wake-ups and annoying commutes down 288 set in.
Instead, I have the first line of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” repeating over and over in my head, all I can think about is the new school year and having to move classrooms after having breast reduction surgery when I’m still healing, trying to picture the perfect “welcome back to school” bulletin board for my PPCD classroom, wondering about what my new principal will be like, wondering if I’ll have enough room to fit all my classroom stuff in my new classroom, worrying the teacher, who’s moving into my classroom will be thinking horrible things about me because there’s so much shit in my old classroom, shit that isn’t even mine because it was a storage room before it became a classroom, and there were two teachers there before me, and even in two years I couldn’t do that room justice, debating what time to leave for school on Monday because 288 sucks, but I don’t want to get there at 6:30 am like I usually do because I don’t have my classroom key and unless the office staff is there I can’t get my classroom key or key card to get into the school, but if I leave too late, 288 is hell, especially with all the construction, and yes this is a huge run-on sentence, but that’s what is rambling in my head right now, welcome to having anxiety.
I’m exhausted, I’ve been awake since 12 am, not for a lack of wanting to fall asleep, I really wanted to fall asleep, I even tried to fall asleep, I maybe got two hours of sleep before my brain decided that it didn’t want to sleep anymore because there’s way too much to worry about for the upcoming school year. I hate anxiety, and the worst thing is, I have yet to find a way to deal with my anxiety. The other horrible thing is nobody seems to understand how anxiety works. They just want to reassure me that everything’s going to be okay, and I’m overreacting and worry too much, those are nice thoughts, but they don’t stop my anxiety.
People love to give me all sorts of ideas on how to get rid of my anxiety… Maybe you can meditate? That might work for a little while, but eventually the anxiety is just going to come back. What about seeing a therapist and getting drugs? Well maybe the drugs would numb my brain for a little while, but eventually my body would just get immune to them and they’d stop working, and also drugs aren’t a permanent solution. What about those adult coloring books you love? I obsess over making the picture look perfect. Go read a book… I finish books in an hour and then my brain would just start thinking again. I could go on and on.
Then people don’t understand my anxiety. I’ve talked to my dad about my anxiety and how stressed out I get, and he empathizes with me, but tells me that he doesn’t understand anxiety and freaking out because it doesn’t happen to him, so he can’t relate.
My anxiety keeps me up all night. I have horrible insomnia. I’m lucky if I sleep through the night three time a year.
I’ve had insomnia since I was 7. I know that probably sounds absolutely insane. But it’s true. I can even pinpoint my insomnia trigger. I used to be really into the solar system… You know when Pluto was still a planet. I had all these science books in my house about the solar system and outer space, and I’d read them for fun. I read a book the sun. It told me how in 4.6 billion years or so, the sun was going to get bigger and absorb and destroy the inner planets, and the world would end, as we know it. I started obsessing over the death of the sun, and worrying about dying, which led to me worrying about dying in my sleep, which made me not want to sleep because I was afraid I’d never wake up and die in my sleep. Dying in my sleep is still a huge fear of mine, and I’m not 7 anymore. What normal 7 year old obsesses over something that’s going to happen in 4.6 billion years or so? Apparently me, and ever since then… well insomnia is a bitch.
I can pinpoint my anxiety to a few events in my life, which basically gave me a inferiority complex, and made me think I’m not good enough, which led to self-doubt and a lack of self-worth as well as a lack of self-confidence, all which still plague me today and cause me great anxiety.
The first happened when I was in first grade. I’m an excellent reader. I was reading at a 6th grade level in 1st grade, which made 1st grade reading sort of boring. However, I’m really NOT good at math. I was diagnosed with dyscalculia, at a young age, which is basically the math version of dyslexia. So while I was reading books that were well beyond my grade-level, I struggled with basic math. For some reason, my first grade teacher decided that since I couldn’t do math, I wasn’t able to read, and I spent the entire year in the “third reading group” learning sight words, and even though I told her I knew all these words and I wanted to read stories, she refused to let me. My first grade teacher wrote a letter to my parents, or maybe the school board wrote a letter to my parents, either way, there was a letter and I found the letter on the kitchen table that called me retarded. Even in first grade, I knew the word retarded was a bad word. I asked my dad why the school wrote a letter, I didn’t understand, they were calling me stupid, but I wasn’t stupid because I could read really well even though I had problems with math. My dad says that when I started second grade, I was in a special ed class, I have nothing against special ed classes, I mean I’m a special ed teacher, but according to him I was in a special ed class that was aimed at very low-functioning autistic students, I don’t remember this, at all, all I really remember is my second grade teacher and being in a second grade class with the students I was in first grade with because my parents fought to take me out of that class and put me in a regular class.
In sixth grade, I had another math teacher. Again, I have dyscalculia and I struggled with math, but I was amazing at reading and writing. When we took the CAT test in elementary school [think it’s like the STAAR, or whatever state test an elementary school has], my scores were off the chart. Anyhow, I forget what we were doing in math. But my teacher called on me, and I told him I didn’t know the answer, he called me retarded and made me stand in the hallway for the entire period.
In 9th grade, I took Algebra 1. I struggled a lot. But for some reason, I was really good at binomials and trinomials, and I got an A on a test. My teacher told me I copied from somebody because there was no way I could’ve passed a math test like that if I had almost failed every other test and she gave me an F. [Random: I’m also really good at Stats, for some reason]
These three experiences still affect me. I still think I can’t do math. Seeing math causes me great anxiety. I freak out. I think I can’t do it. I blank out. I forget steps. Sometimes I start crying. Being called stupid by teachers when I was growing up has affected my entire life. In college, I thought I was stupid because I’ve been told I was stupid and I didn’t do very well and barely graduated. Why should I even try to do well? I’m stupid. I’ve been called retarded my whole life, so it’s gotta be true, right?
If any teachers read this thing, and you have a student who may struggle in math or reading, please don’t call them stupid. I was probably double-binded GT [some people all call it twice exceptional]. I struggled with math badly, but I was AMAZING at reading and writing, and had I been treated like I was smart and gifted, despite my learning disability, my educational memories might be completely different than they are. As a teacher, you can make or break students, please don’t break them.
There is a flip-side to that story, at least, might as well share it.
I should point out though, that when I decided to be a teacher, I had already graduated from college… the first time. My grades were pretty bad when I decided I wanted to go back to school for special education and I knew I couldn’t get into any graduate program. I had tried to take the GRE, but the math made me have a panic attack and I didn’t do well, at all, though I got an almost perfect score on the writing, and an acceptable score on the Verbal part, and I did exceptional on the Millers Analogy Test, but a lot of graduate schools didn’t accept that over the GRE. So knowing that every single graduate school was going to reject me, I went back as a second undergraduate school with a degree in English [my first was in clinical psychology] and a plan to go into elementary ed/special ed [in NJ, you need a liberal arts major and an acceptable GPA to be accepted into teaching programs]. I had a really good experience at my second college, I went into it pretty much thinking I was just as stupid as I was in my first college and I wasn’t going to be able to graduate or get a high enough GPA to get into the education world, but everything changed in my Critical Writing I class.
My Critical Writing I class was different than any other class I had taken. My professor came in and basically said, if you don’t talk, you don’t pass. He would have us sit around in a circle, and each day, a different student would discuss an article we had been assigned, and as a class we’d have a discussion. You had to talk in the discussion, he would make you talk in the discussion, he made me talk in the discussions… He was the first professor, who made me feel smart, and having somebody tell me I was smart instead of stupid made all the difference, I got back the confidence, I never really had, and I graduated magna cum laude three years later, and it’s all thanks to one person telling me I was smart instead of retarded.
I wish that was a happy ending to my anxiety, but it’s not. I’m still traumatized from math. I still freak out if I have to do math. I still think I’m too stupid to do math.
So that was incident one.
Onto incident two.
I was horribly bullied in middle school and through high school. To be honest, a lot of my college friends, the first time I went weren’t that great either, they treated me like shit and I befriended a lot of the wrong people just because they talked to me [Though I did make a handful of good friends by the time I graduated, I’m still pretty close with about three of them].
The first time I remember being bullied was when I was 9. I was at Hebrew school, waiting in the carpool line to be picked up, and for no reason, a girl called me a lesbian. I didn’t even know what a lesbian was. I asked my dad when he picked me up and he told me what it meant. I really didn’t understand why this girl had called me a lesbian.
Bullying got really bad in middle school and high school. There was this one girl [a different girl then the one above, though they were friends, at the time] who just wanted to make my life a living hell for no reason. I had never met her before, I had never said anything to her before. It could’ve been because she could tell I had no self-confidence or self-worth because I was stupid and retarded thanks to my first grade teacher and sixth grade math teacher, so she knew I wouldn’t put up much of a fight. This girl was rich and popular and it’s not like I was any sort of competition to her in any way or any threat to her. She just decided to make my life a living hell, and so did her friends.
I’ve blocked out a lot of those memories, and I do not wish to undergo hypnosis to regain them. I remember a few of them.
TRIGGER WARNING FOR BULLYING, HARASSMENT, SEXUAL TALK, ETC
I remember she was in my 9th grade physical science class and my 9th grade history class, so were her friends. I remember her asking me if I would give this boy, a blow job, in the middle of class, and I told her no. She started screaming to the entire class that I was a lesbian. My science teacher just ignored her and went on writing his notes on the board.
Later that year in social studies, we were watching some movie on Africa, and there were topless woman in that video, and she started telling everyone in the class that I liked the video because I was a lesbian and wanted to look at other girl’s boobs. Again, my teacher said nothing.
She was in my 10th grade PE class [or gym class as we call it in NJ] and we did this thing called Project Adventure, and basically it’s a high ropes course, and your fellow students belay you. My gym teacher asked this girl to belay me on one of the high rope things. I told her know because I didn’t trust this girl to belay me. My gym teacher assured me it would be okay and forced me to do the high ropes thing. This girl dropped me on purpose, she lied and said she slipped, and my teacher believed her, but I wound up with a broken arm and elbow from that.
My school did nothing to protect me from her. They didn’t care. That girl’s family had money, and money talks more than human decency. This was before social media, thank goodness, I can’t imagine how much more awful my life would’ve been in high school if there was social media like there was today.
I wish the bullying ended in high school, but it didn’t, I got bullied again as an adult.
When I got my first teaching job, I taught first grade. The principal of my school decided to bully me [note: different school than I am at now]. I don’t know why he decided to bully me. I think it’s because I asked for help because as a first year teacher, I had a really tough first grade class [they were amazing kids by the end, and I miss them and I can’t believe they’re going into 7th grade!] and I wanted some advice on classroom management because I wanted to be the best teacher I could be. I still think he saw me asking for help as a weakness, and he spent the entire year harassing me and bullying me and telling me what an awful teacher I was and how I couldn’t do anything right. He would yell at me. He would follow me on my way to the bathroom and yell at me. He would sit in my classroom and stare at me for over an hour, and then tell me I was doing everything wrong. When I tried to transfer schools to another district, and that district called to ask about me, he would make up stories about how I was the worst teacher ever and they’d be stupid to hire me.
I almost got hired in Justin’s district in winter 2015, the interview went great, they were ready to give me papers to sign, but then they called him because they said it was a requirement of the district, and I never heard from that school again. He sabotaged me.
He once stopped me in the hallway, on my way to pick Justin up from emergency dental surgery, and yelled at me because I didn’t know what TEKS we were studying that day by heart and couldn’t recite them verbatim to him. He would tell me I wasn’t dressed appropriately and he was going to write me up because I was wearing sandals and/or jeans, when every other teacher was wearing them too, but it was okay for them to wear them, just not me. When I got cancer and had to go on FMLA to recover from cancer, he didn’t once check on me or see how I was feeling, I realize that he doesn’t have to, but you would think it would just be common decency. He wrote me up when I missed two days of school before spring break because I was getting married.
I could go on and on, but I won’t.
But people like my ex principal and that girl from high school, they’ve fucked with my self-confidence, they’ve caused me anxiety. I still think I’m a shitty teacher and not good enough because of him. I have panic attacks whenever I see administration in the hallway, even in my current school because of him. I’m afraid I’m going to get yelled at because of him. Whenever I’m at a party or really any kind of social situation, I freak the fuck out and panic because of her. Whenever I walk past people I always think they’re talking shit about me and making fun of me because of her. I have trouble getting dressed, wearing clothes, and looking in the mirror because of her. I’m afraid to meet new people and try to make new friends because of her.
There’s no moral to this story.
Anxiety sucks. Insomnia sucks.
I guess what I want to say is… If you experience anxiety, you’re not alone. I don’t have a magic pill to make it better or any useful advice really, but please know, you’re not alone, and if anyone reads this and needs to talk to someone, feel free to comment here or email me. But know, you’re not alone.
To everyone else, think before you do things and think before you say things because you never know how your actions or words may affect another person.