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

 

“It’s not FAIR.”

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How? Why? Already? What the actual fuck? IT’S NOT FAIR.

These were my first thoughts after hearing that my ex-boyfriend has a new girlfriend.  Then I hysterically cried and vomited.  Afterwards, I took time to really think about it and why I had the reaction I did.  I made it very clear to him that we were over.  I have started to move on and have been feeling better lately.  I know he does not have friends or family near him and is probably very lonely.  I know that for him, staying sober includes having to stay busy.  But…a girlfriend? It has only been a few months.  It makes me feel very replaceable.  Yet, that is not what bothered me.  The idea of him being intimate with another woman…that stings for sure, but also I do not think that was the real source of me being upset.  What it finally boiled down to was: it’s not fair.  I just kept saying that over and over.  He literally broke my heart, he destroyed our relationship, he lied and cheated.  I saved his life and he ruined mine.  And he moved on first??? And so soon??? And he is supposed to be focusing on his sobriety?? It’s not fair.

I am rolling my eyes at myself writing that.  I KNOW life is not fair.  And in the bigger scheme of life, my problems with him were minuscule with what other people around the world deal with.  I am not dismissing my pain or heartbreak, but I think saying he “ruined” my life is a little dramatic.  What happened was the most traumatic thing I have ever been through in MY life, but I know by comparison many people struggle with so much more.

A coworker of mine has two adorable little girls.  She is so sweet and kind to everyone.  Her 40 year old husband was just diagnosed with terminal cancer and this will most likely be his last Christmas.  THAT is not fair.

My best friend’s sister suffered a loss this year.  A good friend of hers was estranged from her soon-to-be ex-husband.  He went to her house late at night and shot and killed her…in front of their children.  THAT is not fair.

My friend, former lover, and colleague jumped off the tallest bridge in NYC to his death a few months ago.  He was an amazing person, teacher, friend…the funniest person I have ever known.  No one really knew just how bad his depression was.  When he jumped, he did not hit the water, but the concrete footer of the bridge.  THAT is not fair.

Life isn’t fair.  So many horrible things happen and even though it is upsetting and it hurts and I am surprised, my ex moving on is not really one of them.  I do not begrudge him happiness- I want him to be sober and be in a healthy relationship…someday.  I just don’t feel like he deserves it yet.  It is all still so fresh and painful.  And I think about dumb things, like is he “really” sober and what does he tell this new girl about me and everything that happened with us and his health and his family?  But then I remind myself that absolutely none of that has any effect on my life, except feeling a little emotional about it.

So, as the end of 2019 nears (thank goodness), I am really going to try to put everything that happened behind me.  I cannot dwell and feel indignant and hold on to the pain anymore- it is only hurting myself.  I am not ready to forgive him and I am not sure if I will be ready when he wants to make amends, but I know that I cannot move forward if I am always thinking about the past.  Some things are not fair and everyone feels that way about something in their life.

Steve Maraboli, an inspirational speaker, stated that, “the only thing that makes life unfair is the delusion that it should be fair.” I am not going to say that “it’s not fair” anymore about this situation.  What really is happening actually IS completely fair- that life is going on…for him and for me.

Complicated

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I had my first “date” since breaking up with my exboyfriend.  It felt too soon, but I had to remind myself that the romantic part of the relationship with my ex ended far earlier than our break up.  I had not been intimate with anyone (including him) in well over a year.

It was a guy I knew from high school, but not very well- more like we had mutual friends.  We both agreed we did not want a relationship, rather just a “friends with benefits” situation.  I am not sure why I thought that was a good idea for me because I overthink EVERYTHING.  But, I also knew this guy is not the one for me and I just wanted to put myself out there in an effort to move on from my ex, so I figured I had nothing to lose.

I was very nervous but everything went well and I enjoyed his company.  I was surprised when he continued to call and text me every day- I was not really expecting that kind of communication, but it was really nice.  We made a second date, which he canceled on the same day and then another second date, which he also canceled (one hour before).  Both times he canceled he blamed work (which I believe because he has a demanding job), but he never attempted to choose a different day.  It has been two weeks now and I feel like if he REALLY wanted to see me, he could have carved out some time.  It’s like that movie, “He’s Just Not That Into You”…if a guy wants you, he will find a way.  So, I did what I always do and started asking everyone’s opinion on what I should do- my guy friends, my girl friends and my sister and took their advice (which really ended up not being what I probably would have done) and maturely told him it wasn’t working out.  He was snarky back and said he “gets it, I don’t trust men” and told me he doesn’t “do complicated”.

I think calling me “complicated” was presumptuous on his part.  I mean, let’s be honest, I definitely AM complicated, but I did nothing during the time talking with him for him to be able to fairly make that assessment about me.  I didn’t call or text him and I was totally okay with the first cancellation.  I know I didn’t do anything “wrong”, but yet I feel like I messed up.

My sister asked me why I feel the need to ask SO many people their advice and opinions on what I should do and without even thinking I responded, “because I don’t trust myself.”  My answer caught me off guard, but I realize that it’s true.  I feel like I have made so many bad choices and ignored a lot of red flags in the past and now I am not comfortable trusting myself to make decisions .  She also asked why I was settling for this guy.  Not that he is a bad person or anything, but he does not have the qualities that I want in a partner.  Again, without thinking, I blurted out, “because I have low self-worth”, which I also realized is very true.

I was enjoying talking to someone new because it felt good and I liked the attention and it was a good distraction from everything that happened with my ex.  But then, I just started obsessing and worrying and analyzing and questioning everything about this guy.  I think I just need more time.  And I know that I need to focus on myself more and deal with some unresolved issues.

I don’t know why I think I do not deserve to be happy or to have a wonderful person in my life.  I sadly wonder who would really want to be with me?  I think my exboyfriend accepted me and the problems I have because he also suffered from mental illness and he was so sick himself.  I feel so flawed and damaged and…complicated.

Beyond repair

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After I got divorced, the only communication I ever had with my exhusband was one email he sent a few days after we went to court.  In it, he wrote, “I’m sorry I couldn’t fix you.”  To this day, I think it is the meanest thing anyone has ever said to me.  However, if I really take all of the emotion out of what happened between us, I can kind of understand what he meant (granted it has been ten years since we got divorced, so it is easier to look at things more objectively now).  I had a really bad anxiety disorder, bordering on agoraphobia, and I now I think he did not know how to help me.  He took an entirely “tough love” approach, which was the opposite of what I really needed.  In his mind, he felt like he tried everything to help me (not true AT ALL), but I think he honestly believed that.  Perhaps what he was trying to say is that he was sorry that he was not able to HELP me (or I am giving him too much credit and he really was just that much of a dick).

In my current situation with my exboyfriend, I can sort of relate a little more to the notion of wanting to fix someone.  I can honestly say, and I truly believe most people would agree with me, that I tried everything to help him.  I learned the hard way that you cannot help someone who does not want to be helped and you get very hurt loving someone who does not love themself.  I was still speaking to him until he made the final decision to not go to an inpatient rehab.  It was solely his decision, but I strongly disagreed with him.  I told him that he made his choice and that I had to make the choice that was best for me, which was entirely cutting off all communication, for good this time.  I just knew I could not support him anymore if he wasn’t 100% committed to getting help, I couldn’t just stand by and watch him slowly kill himself, and that I was greatly hindering my own well-being by keeping an olive branch constantly extended to him.  He also told me that I was a “trigger” for his drinking, which might be true, but I was not comfortable with feeling like he was using me as an excuse to drink.  Tomorrow will be one full week that I have not spoken or responded to him.  He has tried to reach out a few times, but I literally just ignore him and have him blocked on social media.

It is really hard.  The part of me that loves him and has always taken care of him wants to talk to him.  I miss the good parts of our relationship, I miss him.  I don’t miss his drinking or walking on eggshells in my own house.  In some ways, it is a relief to not speak with him, because it lessens the responsibility that I feel for him (I know I shouldn’t feel ANY responsibility for him, but I just do…he’s completely alone).  He insists in his voicemails and when he occasionally texts with my sister that he is staying sober and attending AA meetings.  I just don’t believe anything he says.  My sister and he were very close and she basically told him she could only support him and text with him if he is sober.

Today on her way home from work, my sister saw him walking into a liquor store.  She waited a few minutes and then went in.  She stood silently behind him as he paid for his vodka and when he turned around, she asked him if he wanted to talk.  They sat on a bench for a half hour together.  My sister is such a caring person and she has been very worried about him dying (they were very close, he is the godfather to her two year old daughter).  She told me most of their conversation and it just made me really sad.  I feel like I can’t get MORE sad, but I somehow do.  He told her how lonely he is, but she caught him in several lies about his drinking.  He told her that he misses me and drives by my house several times a day.  He told her that he knows how badly he hurt me, especially over the past two years and the recent events in the past six months.

I doubt that.  One of the last things I said to him before I cut him off was that when he felt the urge to drink he should look at the photos of himself in the hospital when he was in the coma.  I figured seeing himself so close to death, on life support with a breathing tube, with his arms restrained and tied down to the bed, would deter him from drinking.  He responded that the photos didn’t really affect him, that he couldn’t remember any of it and that when he sees himself like that, he feels disconnected and it doesn’t seem like it is really him.  Meanwhile, I look at the photos and feel like I am going to vomit.  The memories instantly come flooding back: the image of the giant green succulent mural painted above his bed, the bitter smell of the hospital disinfectant, the swishing sound every time I moved in the mandatory plastic gown, the endless beeping of all the machines hooked up to his body, constantly glancing at his blood pressure numbers and temperature on the monitor.  I will NEVER forget a second of those 28 days.

I feel so much loss and pain.  It seems so deep inside of me and so permanent.  I am forever changed.  I can’t help or “fix” him.  I used to believe if I cared about him enough, he would start to care about himself. I used to believe all of his good qualities outweighed the bad.

I used to love succulents.

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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?

I am a teacher.

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When I started my teaching career 18 years ago, I knew that I would have a lot of different roles at my high school.  I have been a therapist, a cheerleader, a confidant, a maternal figure, a nurse, a role model, a disciplinarian, a mediator, a comedian…the list goes on and on.  I knew that being a teacher was going to involve more than just teaching.  I knew there would be amazing days, when lessons went perfectly and students were well-behaved and sweet and engaged.  I quickly learned there would be really hard days, where students were bored and disrespectful and rude.  After almost two decades, I can take the good with the bad.  I still love this job and can’t imagine doing anything else.

When I started teaching, it was only a few years after Columbine, which hit home for me because I lived in Littleton, CO at one point when I was young.  At the time, it seemed like that was the worst possible scenario that I could imagine happening in a public school.  I also naively believed it was a one time tragedy.  Obviously, sadly, I was very wrong about that.

For most of my career, I had to sit through (usually boring) teacher staff development seminars on standardized testing and curriculum standards.  But now we do active shooter training.  I should be learning about differentiated instruction methods or how to implement new technology into my lessons.  Instead, I am learning how to barricade my classroom door and what warning signs of violent behavior to watch out for in my students.

I’m sure this sounds immature, but it just isn’t fair.  Teachers and students should not have to feel scared in school.  Anytime I go to a different room in my school, I mentally plan an exit strategy.  When I have cafe duty, I run through the scenarios in my mind of where I can hide the students if they are in danger.  When I hear the “beep beep beep” of the loud speaker turn on, my body stiffens with instant anxiety, waiting for an announcement about a lockdown and when I hear the secretary page a teacher to the office, I feel a wave of relief.  I read about the teachers who died shielding their students and I wonder if I would have the courage to protect mine.  I have nightmares about one of my students exacting revenge because of my disciplining them or reporting them for cutting my class.  I scrutinize my students for any signs of bullying, loneliness, exclusion, depression, drug abuse, anxiety, etc.

There is not one single day that passes that I do not think about a school shooting at some point.  Unfortunately, this is the new reality of being a teacher in this country.

You can lead a horse to water…

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When I started this blog, I promised myself that I would write once a month, no matter what, and I have kept that promise.  That really doesn’t seem like a huge commitment, yet there are times (like now), where I feel very reluctant to write.  I kind of almost feel like a kid rebelling against something I don’t want to do.Sometimes it is that I don’t have a topic easily on hand or sometimes I am not ready to address something that is bothering me. Usually when I make myself sit down and start typing, an idea will form or a memory will pop into my head.  I teach a college-level composition course, so I try to practice what I preach about being consistent in the area of writing…and, of course, what do you do most is what you do best.  I even have a reminder on my phone to go off on the 26th of every month…just in case writing slips my mind.  I found this month that I hit “snooze” for another day and then another day…until alas, I am on the last day of the month, which also happens to be Halloween.

I don’t have a huge preference for or against Halloween.  Unlike many other holidays, I do not have any negative childhood experiences associated with Halloween.  When I was little, my mom made creative and fun costumes.  When I was a teenager, I loved hanging out with my friends, staying out late and gorging myself on candy.  In my 20s and early 30s, there were fun costume parties. Now in my late 30s, it is just kind of another day.  I enjoy decorating my house and I somewhat begrudgingly hand out candy (and most of the kids are pretty cute).  I guess because I don’t have children, there really isn’t anything that awesome about it.

So, I think this is my shortest post to date…but the holidays are around the corner, so I am sure my family will give me some new material to write about- they are always good for that 🙂

 

Is ignorance really bliss?

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Sometimes I wonder if it would be better- or easier- if my father did not get sober for two years.  He has been an alcoholic since 1990, with the exception of the 24 months after he had a stroke in 2013.  He stopped drinking virtually overnight and stayed sober for a full two years. In 2015, almost to the day of his stroke, he started drinking again.   It was a great two years and during that time I felt like I had a “normal” family and I made a lot of effort to reestablish a relationship with him.  I enjoyed talking to him and even began to look forward to previously dreaded holidays.  Just as suddenly as he stopped, he started drinking again and my psychotic, belligerent dad returned with a vengeance.

I’m not sure what is worse…having my old, sober dad I remembered from when I was ten years old back and then losing him again or having him have never stopped drinking at all.  I am grateful to have had that time when he was sober.  I’m glad that my boyfriend got to see the good qualities in my dad that I still remembered from when I was little.  I’m relieved that my mother had a break from his craziness during that time.

On the other hand, it feels like I was given a gift and then it was snatched away from me.  I was so numb to him and his behavior before his stroke…I could so easily ignore his insults and nasty emails and screaming voicemails.  I developed a pretty thick skin over the years of him being drunk.  Or perhaps it was more that I just got used to it (sadly).  Now, when I talk to him on the phone, I feel so much more affected by it.  It’s not as easy to shrug off as it was a few years ago.

I try to act like it isn’t a big shock that he started drinking again.  It was just a matter of time, right?  But deep in my heart, I did let myself believe that my mother and sister and I had all suffered enough and that we deserved his sobriety (I know that isn’t the way it works, but I desperately wanted it to be true).  The famous saying is: “what you don’t know can’t hurt you”.  Am I suffering more now because I have been reminded about the family and the life I could have had if my father didn’t become an alcoholic when I was twelve years old?

So what’s worse…losing my dad to the bottle a second time or never experiencing those two years of him not drinking?  I honestly don’t know.

It would be MY pleasure

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Sometimes I have a hard time thinking about topics to write about now that my dad isn’t a drunk lunatic anymore.  It’s challenging to keep my “blog at least once a month” policy because I find that I’m leaning towards exploring more personal topics and other relationships, which is not the reason I started writing this.

I have written about my tendency to be a people pleaser in the past.  I know from doing research and through therapy that this is a direct result of my upbringing.  I am not usually one to “blame” things on my childhood, but this is a pretty obvious side effect of living with an alcoholic.  Dad drinks, kid tries to keep him happy so he doesn’t, kid “fails” and dad gets drunk anyway…and repeat.  Even though therapy is wonderful, I really didn’t need to have that one explained to me.

However, I have been trying to be a little less…pleasing?  For example, I have a good friend who over the years has become more self-absorbed.  When we talk or get together, conversation mostly revolves around her and her life.  It used to hurt my feelings, but I either just got used it or stopped caring (I think it’s the latter), although it still does bother me sometimes.  I decided to not get myself all upset about it anymore or to overanalyze it.  I can’t control other people and I can’t make anyone care about me more.

Sometimes I confuse even myself about whether I am genuinely doing something nice for someone or if I am trying to please them….like “please love me and think I am a good person”.  I have another friend (not the same one as above) who had some medical issues over the past couple of years.  I made sure to check in with her a lot, sent her little cards to brighten her day, and genuinely made an effort to let her know I was thinking about her.  I am pretty positive this wasn’t manipulative on my part-  I truly love my friend and was worried about her.  There was no “people pleasing” ulterior motive involved.  But, now I am currently going through a medical scare myself (not ready to address that yet) and this friend knows about it.  I told her what was going on a week or so ago and I am yet to hear from her since- no text to see how I am, no phone call to get the latest updates.  My boyfriend says that I expect too much from people…that I think people will do the things for me that I do for them.  And yes, I do.  When one person is making all the effort and it isn’t mutual, then that is not friendship.  I don’t think I am wrong for feeling that way!  Yet, I am disappointed a lot because my expectations are too high.  But I don’t want to stop doing the things I do because then I feel like I am not being a good friend.  So, I guess I am trying to find the right balance of how much effort to put into friendships where I feel like it is not reciprocated.

Parent Therapy

I called my father this morning just to say hi. He told me that he was very upset because he and my mother got into a giant argument last night. Apparently, things got very heated and he said he was afraid my mom was going to hit him. This is absolutely mind-boggling if you know anything about my family (long story short, my father abused my mother for many years during drunken rages, but had stroke last year and stopped drinking and is pretty calm now and my mom would literally never hurt a fly). I tried to explain to him that my mother has A LOT of hostility towards him (rightfully so) and that he has to be more patient and less critical of her.

Then I called my mom to hear “her side”. She said that she just lost it during the argument and felt like she snapped. She said she finally walked out of the room and went to bed because she felt like she couldn’t breathe. This has been a recurring health problem of hers lately that I am thinking might be attributed to stress. I talked to her for quite some time and told her my opinion, which is this…

For whatever her reasons were, she decided to stay with him through all those years of abuse. No one, least of all me, thought my father would EVER stop drinking, but he did. Now, he is not currently going to win any father of the year or husband of the year awards, but things are much better than they were before. As far as I see it, my mom has three choices: 1) leave him now, which I know she won’t do 2) continue their relationship like it currently is and continue having health problems that are stress induced 3) learn to communicate with him and develop a civil relationship that ultimately is beneficial for her, for him and for our entire family. This is definitely “practice what you preach” advice because I had to make that choice in regards to my own relationship with my father. After the stroke when he became sober, I had to decide if I wanted the years of disappointment and bitterness towards my dad to continue or if I wanted to try to move past it and develop a relationship with him. I am a realist and know that I can’t just forget the terrible things he did when I was growing up, but I am grateful to have the chance to make some new, happier memories with him now. I have also had years and years (15!) of therapy, which I think has helped immensely when it comes to this.

I just worry about my mom ALL the time. I am scared something is going to happen to her because of the constant confrontation with my father. Stress affects your body in so many ways and it is really starting to cause noticeable health problems for my mother. I hate that the tide has turned and that I now worry about my parents the way they have always worried about me…it’s really hard.