Goodbye, old friend

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Up until recently, my life has only been affected by suicide through other people’s losses.  In high school, a good friend’s mother took her own life.  I was young enough to understand the tragic impact, but was far enough removed from the long lasting effects.  As a teacher, I have had students whose parents or siblings have committed suicide. That is very difficult because I always want to be sensitive to their emotions with the literature I teach.  All of these untimely deaths affected me in that I felt sympathy for the families and tried to support my friend and students the best I could at the time.
A good friend of mine, who was also a colleague, recently committed suicide.  He and I were VERY close about ten years ago.  I considered him one of my best friends at that time and we joked that I was his “work wife”.  After my divorce, we had a very short-lived romantic affair, but ultimately decided we were better off as friends.  Over the years, he got married and I got involved in a long-term relationship.  He was moved to another classroom on the other side of the school and we just gradually grew apart.  But, it was always fun to run into him in the hallway from time to time (we have a VERY large school building).  We always maintained a funny, flirty friendship.  He was the most self-deprecating person I ever met.  He was by far the most hilarious person I have ever known.  He also had a very sweet side.  After getting divorced, I was crying to him about never going on a date again because I didn’t know “how” to date.  He said, “I will pick you up tomorrow at 7:00pm”.  He arrived at my house, all dressed up, with flowers, and took me out to dinner.  He opened the car door for me, he treated me to a meal and then he drove me home.  Afterwards, he walked me to my front door, kissed my cheek like a gentleman and said, “now you don’t need to be nervous because you know what a date is like.”  This will always be my favorite memory of him.
A few months ago he was out of work for several weeks.  At first I didn’t even know because I do not see him at school regularly.  Then other teachers started asking me if he was okay.  I texted him and got no response.  Overlapping his absence, I was out for three weeks on FMLA when my boyfriend was in ICU.  During my last week out of work, he returned to school and texted me.  He said he heard I was out and asked if I needed anything.  This led to a lengthy text conversation about what we both had been going through.  Looking back on it now, I realize he was lying to me about why the reason he was out, but it doesn’t matter because I will always be grateful for that last communication we had.  Once I returned to work, I was so busy getting caught up, I never had an opportunity to go see him in his classroom.
I awoke on a Sunday morning to a mass email to all of the teachers from our principal.  He stated we had suddenly and tragically lost a member of our staff and I had to read it over and over to make sure that I was seeing the name correctly.  I immediately felt sick to my stomach.  How? How could he be gone? The email was very vague and did not mention the cause of death, but I just instinctively knew it was suicide.  I contacted his best friend, another colleague, who confirmed this to be true.
The loss was overwhelming.  He was so full of life.  But he was always a sad clown…he used humor to cover up anything that hurt him.  When he got divorced years after I did, he even acted like it was a joke.  I tried to get him to talk seriously about it, but it was his form of a coping mechanism.
I think when someone commits suicide, the first thing people do is think about what they “could have done”.  I know that there was probably nothing I could have done to save him.  I didn’t even really know how bad things were for him.  I just wish I had seen him one more time.  One more hug.  One more joke.
Something weird has been happening to me.  I will be walking in the hall and I will think I see him out of the corner of my eye.  I will jerk my head to look and instead it is a tall, lanky student.  Or I will be pulling out of the parking lot and will see a small, white car and will glance at the driver to see if it’s him.  I am just so heartbroken- for myself and his other friends and colleagues, for his family, for his exwife and current fiancee, and for his students.  We had a memorial at school and it was so nice to hear former students explain how much he impacted their lives.  I wish there was a way for him to have known how much he would be missed and how many people would grieve for him.  I know he must have been in so much pain- that’s the most heartbreaking part of it.  His particular method of suicide was so devastating…I just cannot imagine how hopeless and helpless he must have felt.
I still feel frightened that my exboyfriend could make the same tragic, horrible decision.  My world was turned upside down when my friend died- I did not see it coming at all.  Everyone, including my therapist, tells me that I am not responsible for what my ex does, but that is easy for people to say.  If he ever did something to hurt himself, I don’t know what I would do.

Atelophobia

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I just recently turned 40 and am currently in my 19th year of teaching.  It just struck me that I have now been an educator for almost half of my life!  I knew I wanted to be a teacher since I was a little girl and every decision I made about my future was a step towards achieving that dream.  I never even considered any other career and I have never regretted it for a minute.  There have been amazing moments and really, really difficult days, but I truly have a passion for my job and consider myself so lucky to love what I do.

On Friday, my principal came to see me personally to tell me I was nominated for a very prestigious award.  I was so in shock, so honored, so flattered, so overwhelmed.  But, I didn’t want to tell anyone, even though the majority of my best friends are teachers at my same school.  I was almost embarrassed and didn’t want to seem like I was bragging.  I called my mom (who acted like I won an Academy Award- she was so excited) and she told me I was being silly not to share the good news with my friends.  I am also not the type to shout good (or bad) news from the mountaintop.  I did end up sending a group text and they all congratulated me, which was very sweet.

I have felt like a failure a lot in my personal life, from my dysfunctional childhood to my strained relationship with my dad to my struggles with anxiety to my marriage and subsequent divorce, I feel like I suck at life sometimes.  The one area where I have always succeeded and felt confident is in my career.  I have won other local teaching awards and I know I am respected in my school.  But honestly, underneath all the excitement of this amazing nomination, there was a thought in the back of my mind..”why me?”…”I don’t deserve that”…”I won’t win that”.  I know I work hard and I care SO much about teaching, but I still felt…undeserving.

I wrote a blog around the time of my 40th birthday where I reflected on my fear that no one would come to my birthday party (which of course they all did).  I shared that fear with my sister and she said to me, “you do nice things for everyone else and are so thoughtful and generous, why do you think no one wants to do that for you?” and it is because I felt…undeserving. Why would anyone want to celebrate ME? I don’t have really low self-esteem, but I think there is some aspect of my childhood that is tucked deep into my brain that makes me feel like I am not good enough.  I guess that is common for children of alcoholics.  Maybe my 12 year old self felt like if I was good enough maybe my dad wouldn’t drink?

I am very excited and honored about this nomination and I am going to really try to push those negative feelings away and focus on being happy about it, because deep down under those thoughts of not being good enough, I KNOW I am a good teacher who truly cares about her students.

 

Those who can…

 

I am a really, really good teacher. I can say that without feeling like I am being conceited because I often think it is really the only thing I’m good at. It’s certainly the one area of my life where I have been the most successful. Anything I have set out to achieve in my career, I have done with drive and passion. I teach high school and college English and am very proud of my profession. It isn’t always easy, but it is beyond rewarding. This sounds cliche, but I think teaching was a calling for me. It feels natural and satisfying. 

The other areas of my life…not so much. Teaching has always been a bit of a salvation. When I was dealing with my crazy family and alcoholic father during my teenage years, my goal of being a teacher drove me. I knew better days were ahead…I dreamt of being 30 and immersed in my career. My desire to be a teacher bonded me with my mother and grandmother, who had also been successful teachers. 

When I was suffering from anxiety and agoraphobia, my doctor suggested me going on disability. Even though going to the grocery store had become hard, going to work was still a safe place. My job saved me during that time- it forced me out of the house and made me focus on people other than myself. At that point I needed my students more than they needed me. 

Getting divorced was the hardest thing I ever did. I literally cried hours and hours every day for almost a year. I was a mess. Teaching became not just a vocation, but a vacation from my life outside of school. Once I stepped into my classroom, I was free for a few hours. The sadness was always there, but my kids made me laugh and I was able to forget for a while. My coworkers were wonderful and supportive, too. I am a private person, so people didn’t know exactly what was going on, but still stopped me to say a kind word in the hallway. 

My best friends are teachers I met at my school. I sometimes feel like I don’t really fit in in some social situations. I’m lucky enough to have met really special people where I work. 

It makes me proud that I have accomplished so much in my career, but I worry sometimes that I feel like a failure in other areas. I wish my confidence as a teacher translated into other parts of my life. I would fight tooth and nail if I felt I was being treated unfairly or badly at my job, yet I don’t do that in my social life. I have a tendency to be a doormat, yet I feel like a leader in my work environment. I know I am respected by my colleagues, yet I don’t always get treated with respect by the people who love me. 

I would not change anything about the choices I have made in my career…I wish I felt the same way about everything else in my life.