Teaching a different kind of lesson

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I shared an article on my personal Facebook page the other day that really resonated with me (I will include the link below).  It was about how having schools closed right now for the purpose of social distancing is not a “vacation” for teachers.  Throughout my 20 year career teaching English, I have faced many difficult situations, but nothing prepared me- or any of us- for this.

Yes, I am home in the comfort of my own house, wearing pajamas for most of the day.  I do not have children of my own and I live by myself.  It does give me flexibility in my day to binge watch a show for a couple of hours or take a short nap, but I sincerely wish I was at work instead.  I miss my school, my colleagues, the routine and my classroom.  I truly miss my kids.  I have 120 11th graders that I am responsible for every day, not to mention my “formers” (the students I had last year, many of whom I see daily).

I work in a very diverse school district.  This means that many of my students struggle in many different ways- some financially, some with social anxieties or other mental health disorders, some with language barriers, some with difficult family situations, some with learning disabilities, some with food insecurity, etc.  My school is using distance learning and luckily our students were provided with Chromebooks before the virus began to spread and I have been in touch with the majority of them, whether through our class website or email.

This is not a vacation for me.  I am worried about my students- now and in the future.  Are they nervous, scared, anxious, worried, confused, alone, eating, sleeping, healthy…?  I am a junior class advisor and planned the prom for April.  I am waiting for the directive to cancel that.  It makes me sad that students will miss out on milestone events in their high school experience.  I know a school dance is not important at all right now in the bigger scope of things going on in the world, but to a 16 year old, it kind of still is.

There is so much uncertainty right now and as an adult, I am overwhelmed by the fears and anxieties and stress I feel.  I can’t imagine being a child right now.  For some of my students, school is the only stability they have in their lives.  I worry what kind of lasting effect this will have on their mental health, their future economy, the world moving forward.

Yesterday, we found out the gender of my sister’s baby- a girl!  It was so wonderful for ten minutes to celebrate something, to forget about all of the urgent news alerts constantly lighting up our phones.  But then it was back to reality…my sister is twelve weeks pregnant during a pandemic and my niece is only two and a half and my father has compromised health and my mother is over 70 and my brother in law was laid off yesterday and I am struggling with agoraphobia and there’s no toilet paper and *deep breath*….

Every opportunity I have to interact with my students I am trying to be as positive as possible.  I made funny memes to make them laugh (or at least roll their eyes).  I sent a picture of my niece opening the box with bright pink balloons popping out at the gender reveal.  I tell them how I am doing with my new “coworkers”, who sometimes annoy me and step on my computer (aka my two cats).  I tell them I am here for them…anytime. I reassure them that we are all doing the best we can do right now and that things will be okay.  I am doing this for them, but also for myself.  I also need to be reminded that this “new norm” will not last forever, that things will go back to the way they were, that we will be okay.  It is much harder to convince myself, though.

Here is the article I mentioned above: boredteachers.com/…/covid-19-quarantine-isnt-a-vacation-for-teachers

 

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.

You may never know…

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My love,

It’s been ten days that you have been in a coma.  Ten days that I haven’t heard your voice, that we haven’t slept together in our bed.  Ten days that I have had a broken heart with so many unanswered questions.  The doctors keep telling me YOU won’t remember this.  I am glad for that, there has been so much suffering.  However, I will not ever forget this and it has changed me permanently and forever.

Let me start from the beginning.  I knew since you got laid off, you have been drinking more.  I know you gave yourself permission to do so and I really tried to understand how hard it was for you.  I also knew the problems you have had with alcohol that have affected our relationship were going on far before you lost your job.  I gave you time.  I tried to give you space.  Finally, it became too much for me.  I never knew what I was coming home to…would you be drunk? sleeping all day? going to a meeting? I was scared to come home, anxious all the time.

Once I told you I couldn’t do it anymore, you made more promises.  I asked you about rehab.  You said no.  You could do it on your own.  I told you that you couldn’t.  You said you would go to more meetings.  I know you wanted to stop, I believed you, I believed IN you.  You did start going to more meetings.  I encouraged them and the relationships you created there.  I felt the more sober people in your network, the better.  You had met Mary and she became your unofficial sponsor.  You would pick her up and take her to meetings.  I thought that was a good thing- it gave you someone else to be responsible for getting to them.

I know you were drunk Tuesday, but I do believe you that you stopped on Wednesday.  But you started acting so strangely- you were disoriented, shaking.  I told you it was withdrawal.  You said no, something else had to be wrong.  You had a physical appointment on Friday.  I was so relieved you were finally going to the doctor for a check up.

Friday, 8th period. I got a call from the doctor’s office.  I stepped out of my classroom to answer it.  They said you were VERY ill and that they tried to convince you to go to the emergency room in an ambulance.  You pushed the doctor out of the way and ran out of the office barefoot.  I panicked.  I called you and you answered as if nothing was wrong. I told you if you didn’t go to the emergency room, we were finished forever.  You finally agreed, reluctantly.

When we got to the ER, you were confused, sweating, couldn’t follow directions.  They right away knew it was withdrawal.  You told the doctor you drank up to two pints of vodka a day.  You told him you would try to drink in the morning and vomit.  How did I not know how bad it was? Was I in denial? Did I not want to know? Were you just that good of a liar?  You started to become incoherent.  You began hallucinating.  I was so scared.

They got you admitted into a room.  They said it would be a couple of days and they would help you go through withdrawal safely.  At first you did not want to stay, thank god you did.  Within an hour, you were trying to pull out the IVs they put in your arms.  You were talking and making no sense.  An alarm would go off in the hospital and you thought you were at a high school sports game.  Once in a while you would seem normal, but then the hallucinations would begin again.  They tried to get you to stop touching your IVs, you started to shake uncontrollably and the nurse yelled you were having a seizure.  The rapid response team was called and within minutes 15 nurses and doctors were crammed into your small hospital room.  In the hall, I watched with disbelief that this was happening.  I was so terrified.

They rushed you to ICU, just down the hall.  I ran after you, but the doctor said to wait in the waiting room.  Thankfully, your best friend was there and my sister was about to arrive. I felt so helpless.  The doctor finally called me out into the hall.  He said they gauge alcohol withdrawal on a scale called CIWA.  6 is uncomfortable, 12 needs medical attention, 20 can be life threatening.  You were a 45.  The doctor looked at me and said that I saved your life.  I broke down.  He said you would have most likely had a major seizure if they didn’t start you on the medications when they did.  Then, we heard security being paged and guards running to your room.  You had to be strapped down, restrained so they could put the IVs in to save your life.  The doctor said he would be back to talk to us.

He did.  He said they put you in a medically induced coma.  No other patient had ever needed more sedatives before.  The inserted a breathing tube and you were on a ventilator.  Life support one doctor called it.  The first time I saw you strapped down with all of those machines, my heart broke into 100 pieces.  I couldn’t stop crying, we called your parents.  At first it didn’t seem like they were going to come.  I wanted to scream, “YOUR SON IS IN A COMA”. I let your friend talk to them.  They said they would “decide” in the morning.

I sat next to you and cried and cried.  How could it have gotten this bad? We were supposed to go to the mall and get dinner.  How could you be in a coma?  Finally, after being at the hospital for nine hours, the nurses told us to all go home.  You were sedated and I had to come home and take care of the dog.  You had accidentally left her outside.  You’ve never done that before.

At 1 am, I got into the guest room bed.  I couldn’t sleep without you in our bed.  I still haven’t.  I took your phone to look up some phone numbers of people to contact in the morning.  The first person I though of was Mary.  You two had become so close and she was such a support system for you, almost like a mother figure, considering she was almost 20 years older than you.

NOTHING could have prepared me for the texts I saw.  I read them over and over.  I felt like vomiting.  I was shaking so hard, I could hardly hold the phone.  I called my sister and read them all to her.  She said she was going to be sick.  I kept saying, “how could he do this to me? how could he do this to me?” I never ever suspected you of being unfaithful.  I never doubted you.  I trusted you with every fiber of my being.  I thought we were in love, even with the problems we have been having.  I devoted almost 10 years of my life to our relationship.  Besides all of the very sexually explicit texts, you told her SHE was the reason you were staying sober (which you weren’t), that SHE was the most interesting person you ever met, that HER support was helping you, that you thought about her A LOT.  I felt my already broken heart splinter into 1,000 more pieces.  I felt like a fool.  I encouraged you to see her, thinking she was helping you.  You told me Wednesday night you would go to a meeting with her and then come get in bed with me.  You never did- you slept in the basement.  How could I have been so blind.  I was texting you that I loved you and believed in you and on the same day you were texting her about wanting to fuck her.  I will never know if you did.  It doesn’t even matter.

The next morning I went to see you in the hospital with my sister.  I kissed you 20 times.  I held your hand for an hour.  I told you I loved you over and over and over. I cried and cried and cried.  I left the hospital and went directly to a storage unit and rented one.  By the end of the day Saturday, all of your belongings were in it.  While taking your furniture out of the basement, we found 21 pints of vodka.  I told your parents the truth.  That regardless of what happened to you in the hospital, you no longer lived with me.  Part of that was pure betrayal and if you were not sick, our relationship would have ended anyway due to your infidelity.  The other, bigger, part was that I could not have you come back here and act like you didn’t almost die and just continue drinking.  I did it for me, but for you too.  Rehab had to be the only option.

For the past ten days, I have woken up and gone to the hospital.  I have kissed your face next to your breathing tube.  I have held your hand, still bound to the bed.  When you have opened your eyes, I have reassured you I am there and I love you.  I hung up a collage of pictures of the dog and our nieces and nephew.  I made a playlist on my phone of your favorite songs and I sit next to you and play them.  When your parents arrived, I still was the one who had to tell the doctors everything about you.  In some ways, I know you inside and out.  In other ways, I feel like you have lied about everything. I spoke with your therapist and meeting facilitator, both of whom thought you were maintaining sobriety with “occasional” relapses.  You even lied to them.  You must have been lying to yourself.  I did your unemployment paperwork, your COBRA, paid your bills.  You will probably never even know these things.  I have done everything I can to help you and support you and love you and take care of you during this time.

I get home late at night and I get in bed and I read, over and over, the text messages you sent to her.  I cry myself to sleep, wiping my eyes on your sweatshirt.  I sleep with your deodorant open on the pillow next to me to smell you.  I feel so alone.

But then the next day I wake up, and I go to the hospital and do it all again.  The nurses tell me I am strong.  They are shocked at your parent’s disconnect.  You will most likely never know, or believe, how truly and deeply I love you.  You are still in a coma, there have been a lot of setbacks.  Your kidneys weren’t working, to the point they were talking about dialysis.  You had a 103 fever for 60 hours.  You have pneumonia and two other infections.  I thought at one point you would die.  I agonize over the last thing I said to you.  Did we sleep together on Thursday night?  Did I kiss you goodbye when I left for work on Friday?

I took FMLA at work- I have missed more day of school in these two weeks than I did the whole school year last year.  Your dad introduced me at first as your girlfriend to each new doctor who came in to see you.  I was the only one who could answer their questions about your history and your health.  By midweek, he casually nodded towards me and said we “live together”…I was downgraded to just being your roommate.  Today, he didn’t even bother to even introduce me.  I sat on the couch by myself, huddled in the corner, feeling like I didn’t belong there.  But I refuse to leave.  I don’t care how awkward it is.  While you are in the coma, you still feel like mine.  Once you wake up, everything is going to change.  I don’t know how you will react.  I don’t know if you will agree to rehab or if you will refuse.  Your parents want you to go down by them.  My body physically aches when I think of what you will go through and knowing I will most likely not be a part of it.

I feel like I have lost so much.  Sometimes I am so angry, other times I feel so sad it’s overwhelming.  I have lost weight because I can’t eat.  I do laundry and organize closets at 3 am because I can’t sleep.  My friends and family and coworkers and students have all been so incredibly supportive.  I appreciate it more than I will ever be able to express to them.

But right now, all I want is you,

and I will always love you,

and you may never know any of this.

 

From Meh to Ugh.

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I have been hanging on by a thread in my relationship.  Our dog has been very sick and I think her time left is limited.  She was originally my boyfriend’s dog and she was four years old when we got together.  She was eight years old when they moved in with me and she’s twelve now.  My boyfriend has been a complete mess over it, which I understand because I have two cats that are the loves of my life and obviously I feel like the dog is mine as well (I have been her mom for eight years).  My boyfriend has been using her illness as an excuse to drink more…because, you know, alcoholics look for ANY excuse to drink.  In the back of my mind, I have been biding my time and plotting that once she is gone (my heart hurts to write that) and some time has passed to let him mourn, I was going to ask him to move out.  I just can’t live with him anymore if he is going to continue to drink.  He has been working on himself and going to a therapist and a meeting a week, but it isn’t fixing the problem.  I love him, but not enough to continue sacrificing my happiness.  But, I decided to be patient and wait for the right time.

And then he got fired yesterday.  Fuck.  Me.

Now I feel really trapped and I don’t know what is going to happen.  I suppose miracles happen and he might actually use this time to work on himself, his health, his problems and our relationship.  I don’t expect him to turn things around overnight and I am still willing to be patient, because I truly do care about his well-being.  However, if he spirals downwards and drinks more and sleeps more, I think I need to set a time and then give him an ultimatum of rehab or moving out (pretty much being certain he will not choose to go to rehab).

I don’t mean to make this about me, but well, I guess this blog IS about me…I understand he is going through a hard time with the dog and I have heard from other people how traumatic it is to be fired and I have anxiety, so I know him having depression is not his fault.  He truly is such a good person, but I am not sure how much longer I can wait for him to be a good person for ME.

 

Meh.

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We had parent conferences at my high school last night.  Of the parents who came, there was a common reason as to why all of their children are failing my class: apathy.  Unfortunately, I have a lot of students who just don’t care about their grades.  Ten or fifteen years ago, if a student did not complete an assignment, there would be begging, pleading, tears, etc. for them to make it up.  Now, even in my honors classes, if a student gets a zero, they have little to no reaction.  They just accept it.  They do not seem to care.  Luckily, most of my students really do want to do well, but it is a recurring problem I have experienced and it is increasing each year.

I am experiencing a form of this in my own life right now when it comes to my relationship.  My therapist mentioned it a few weeks ago as an observation.  She said that I am in a “state of apathy” and I have thought about it a lot since then.  And I agree.  When I was getting divorced, I cried and cried and cried.  I cried until I literally could not cry anymore.  I was pure emotion and very little logic.  I lived in fear, uncertainty, sadness.

My boyfriend has been struggling with work, his alcoholism, his depression and it has been affecting our relationship and me more than I have really been willing to admit.  It is really hard to watch the person you love just self-destruct.  I feel helpless and oftentimes I feel like his caretaker, not his girlfriend.  I feel like because I don’t know what to do (even though deep down I know what I need to do), I have just gotten to a place where I feel like I don’t care.  He sleeps all day…whatever.  He drinks…I just leave the room and watch tv by myself.  I don’t cry, I don’t even really get mad anymore.  I just feel…nothing a lot of the time.  I don’t know if it is a self-defense mechanism to help me cope with it or if my feelings have truly changed.  Naively, like most other people, I keep  thinking (hoping, waiting) that things will get better.  But it has literally been years and I think I have sort of given up.

I don’t know what’s worse, being upset all the time or just putting a wall around my heart to not feel anything?

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.