Hitting the wall: one teacher's account of his battle with depression and anxiety
Back in January, I hit my wall.
I think we all have a good idea of what the wall is. It’s the point where the issues you struggle with reach crisis point. You are unable to function in several significant ways – to work, to leave the house, to do the chores. Essentially, you are broken.
With me, it came on a Sunday afternoon. An innocent request from my wife led, over the course of several minutes, to me sobbing uncontrollably on the couch. When I was able to speak, I (somehow) managed to articulate that something was very wrong and that I needed help.
Chani, my wife, was fantastic. She helped me contact the school to let them know what was happening and went with me to the doctor to ensure I had my concerns addressed. Over the past few months, in between organising a wedding, she has monitored my ups and downs, my panic attacks and has helped me to navigate a path back towards good health. I know I will find my way there.
It is has been a costly experience, however.
I don’t know when I will be able to go back to teaching. I have missed a large portion of this year. This is, whether I like it or not, a period I have to account for in future employment searches. Additionally, it may sound strange, but those inner teaching rhythms I’ve built up over the past 12 years feel like they have deserted me. Professionally, I’ve skidded off the road. While I am looking for work outside the classroom, I am sure it will be quite challenging.
Financially, I have had to spend quite a bit of extra money. This has, of course, gone towards ensuring that I'm on the mend. Being at home has also had a range of additional costs that you cannot quite envisage until it happens. It is money that, if I am being honest, I cannot afford to spend at this moment in our lives. We won’t be out in the streets or going (too) hungry, but hitting the wall has left a mark, money-wise.
Hitting the wall emotionally, perhaps, has had the most impact of all. It is quite something to feel as if your entire personality – the part of you that is you – has crumbled away. I have spent many nights lying awake in the wee small hours trying to get a sense of who I am now. I understand that a breakdown does lead to a certain amount of personal rebuilding, but you never know just how painful that can be until you go through it.
You are not alone
Why am I telling you this? Why do I feel the need to write it all out? It is certainly not out of a search for pity, or validation.
What I want to articulate and make very clear is this – if you feel that you are heading towards that wall, heading to a place where depression or anxiety will consume you, gamely hoping that the smile you’ve pasted on will somehow get you through – it’s time to do something.
If you are having trouble holding on, head to your GP. Explain what is happening. Tell them as much as you are comfortable with. Let them know that you need a helping hand. It is their role to treat not only the visible maladies that plague us but the mental ones, too. They have plenty of strategies to help you – time off, cognitive behavioural therapy and, yes, medication.
You are not alone.
Many more than you can imagine suffer the same pain and frustration that you do. There are many more services and options open to you than you would think.
The other thing I want to stress is this: When I hit the wall, I was extremely lucky. I managed to walk away with my health pretty much intact. I am actively able to work on those issues that I struggle with and aim for sustainable good mental health. There are scars, but they will fade.
What worries me when I look at the number of my professional colleagues that fall prey, one by one, to depression or anxiety, is that not everyone will be as fortunate as I was.
I can be quite flippant and jokey in my online presence. It takes a lot to bring me to a place of total seriousness. However, this issue does.
For goodness' sake, watch out for the wall. Please.
If you require advice and support then please contact:
Education Support Partnership helpline
Call: 08000 562 561
Text: 07909 341229
This 24/7 helpline is available to all teachers and other education professionals in the UK.
Call: 116 123
Or you can visit the TES health and wellbeing forum