Relieve your own burden

17th April 2015 at 01:00

I've been a bit quiet recently. No podcasts. Not as much writing. Fewer tweets. A decline in my usual gobbing off about further education.

It started with a virus just after Christmas. The kind of short-lived germ that we all pick up from time to time: a couple of days on the Lemsip in front of QVC and off it goes. Except it didn't. And I haven't been quite right since.

The morning after the glamorous TES FE Awards, I woke up in my hotel room feeling rough, and not the sort of post-awards rough I'd experienced before. I'm a martyr to wine flu but this wasn't it: I'd been uncharacteristically frugal with the sauce as I needed to get up early for the London Festival of Education.

I forced myself out of bed and shuffled to the bathroom, coughing. Eyes watering, I hunched over the sink to steady myself, but the coughing wouldn't stop. When I opened my eyes, the gleaming porcelain was splattered with blood.

It seemed inconceivable that this had come from me. It looked like a scene from a slasher film. I coughed again and spat into the sink, this time with purpose. More red rained from my mouth. There was no pain, so although I knew that something serious was happening, it felt as if it were happening to someone else.

I scanned my memory for what I knew about this symptom. My only reference was the film Moulin Rouge. A be-sequinned Nicole Kidman daintily whispers drops of crimson into Ewan McGregor's hanky between cancans. Then she dies. Although I hadn't cancanned recently, I thought it best to call the doctor. I honestly didn't feel too bad, so I carried on with what I had planned for the day, but snuck away early to get the train home.

After a number of doctors' appointments, trips to the hospital and tests, it was confirmed that I had an enthusiastic chest infection with a whiff of pneumonia. Nothing that antibiotics and a sit-down wouldn't kick into touch. But how long should that sit-down last? The doctor advised a month off work. A whole month? This seemed slightly dramatic and I wasn't in pain, just finding it increasingly difficult to breathe. I couldn't possibly take a month off work. How would my students cope? Surely my colleagues would buckle if they had to pick up the weight of my workload?

It turns out that my colleagues have sturdy legs. And as much as I feel valued by my colleagues and employers, the fact is that I am not indispensable. No one is solely responsible for the success of a student or an organisation. If a system flounders in the absence of a single person, it is already in trouble.

The work stress we all occasionally suffer from is a narcissistic concept. If that stress is the result of someone else's behaviour (Ofsted frenzy is a prime example), there is the option to reject it. It's not my behaviour to own, nor my stress to absorb.

Worrying about work is a waste of energy. It doesn't change anything. Either do the thing that solves the problem.or don't. If the situation can't be addressed, find a way to live with it. As I return to work, I shall be putting my own lessons into practice. It's a much healthier way.

Sarah Simons works in FE colleges in the East Midlands. @MrsSarahSimons


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