Anxiety Is Real

The shame long associated with anxiety and panic attacks is felt partly because of the stigma against mental health. We’re attacked for being strong and opening up about it publicly and defiantly. And most people will tell us to get out of our heads—that it’s all mental. While there may be some truth in this, it’s a very difficult thing to control.

In October of last year, I was diagnosed with Devic’s disease (NMO) and it can cause me to become blind or paralyzed at any given moment. It’s a neurological disease that affects my central nervous system, and it’s caused me to become half-blind at 29. I was ordered to start chemotherapy treatment immediately to prevent disability.

Anxiety filled my lungs.

Anxiety attacks are daunting. I’ve experienced a handful since I was diagnosed because I suffer from accepting that this is my reality—that this is even a battle I have to fight so early in life.

One day in January, I was sitting at my computer attempting to feel normal by burying myself in work. When my body and blind eye started to groan in pain, I grew exhausted of the constant struggle. I began to weep which turned into a state of panic. I fell to the floor shaking, somehow able to text my administrator what I was experiencing. By the time I opened my eyes, she was by my side helping me to deep breathe. My husband came to pick me up, and I kept repeating this isn’t normal as tears ran down my face on the way home.

I became bitter.

I became indignant. I lost all sympathy for people complaining about Yoga class being canceled or that their favorite Starbucks drink was no longer served. I wished with envy that their problems were my problems instead of dealing with what I was going through. I was sad and frustrated, and I took a lot of it out on my husband.

It’s taken six months to get back on my feet. I’ve accepted this is my reality; the biweekly infusions, vacation accommodations, and an unpredictable future. I’ve accepted that no one understands what I’m going through unless they’re walking through similar shoes. I’ve let go of bitterness and replaced it with content. I’ve used this time off from work to regain my strength physically, mentally, and spiritually. And come the Fall, I will teach again.

Despite that I am physically better now, I still struggle with anxiety. This disease wrecked every part of my life in a span of three months. I could barely walk without a limp or stand for a long period of time without my legs shaking. I was swollen from head to toe, gained weight, suffered from severe nerve pain, eye pain, and month-long migraines. I fell once. I had to quit my job just three months after my diagnosis in February of this year.

I couldn’t believe that everything I worked so hard for was ripped out of my hands. My career and any chance for normalcy—gone. I was no longer independent. I was incapable of getting out of a bath without my husband’s help. Getting in and out of bed felt like a chore. I was unable to cook, clean, or even shower without pain.

Fear of the unknown prompted a lot of my anxiety. An anxiety attack feels like an elephant is sitting on my chest followed by hyperventilating. Controlling my breathing and thoughts become impossible.

I dread the thought of going blind every day—that at any moment, I could lose the beauty of a sunrise and the wonders of moonlight.

When I became half-blind, half of my world felt suddenly gone. It feels like I have one chance left, that if I have another relapse, everything will change in a matter of seconds, and my world will be dark. Just because someone looks strong on the outside, doesn’t mean they aren’t suffering mentally.

Anxiety happens when we feel like we’ve lost control. It happens when we feel like we don’t have everything figured out. It happens when we get a horrible diagnosis or when we’ve lost a job. It happens when we’re in physical, emotional, or spiritual pain. It happens even with no significant threat. And it can happen to any of us.

Maybe my anxiety happens because I’m trying too hard to play God in my own life.

I don’t have all the answers, and I can’t say I will never experience another anxiety attack in my life given my rare circumstances, but I do know that I believe in God, and he tells me that my heart and mind will make plans, but that his purpose will stand (Proverbs 19:21).

Not everyone’s anxiety is the same. Everyone’s suffering is different, but it’s still important and it matters. I wish I could tell you if you’re someone who got a medical diagnosis that it doesn’t have power, but that would be a lie. It does have power—it changes our lives forever.

Sometimes, we get so far in our thoughts that for a moment we forget we’re actually surviving the anxiety attack. We forget that despite that we can feel our heart beating in our throat, our hearts are still beating, and our body is pushing through the attack for the promise that there is a better tomorrow.

And that deep down, despite our best efforts at self-care, deep breathing, and sound baths, the strong spirit in us that comes from above will overpower the weak.

We will overcome it.

Dear Teacher: You’re Not Wrong For Going Home

I know you’re finishing up your lesson plan in your classroom right now at six o’clock in the evening drinking whatever stale coffee you have left in your morning mug—I’ve been there.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from staying late at work, it’s that whatever I was working on could have been done the next day or the next week.

As teachers, we’re always trying to get ahead. We always feel like we can give more, do more, be more. But I’ll bet if you’re reading this, you already are.

The thing is, work will always be there. So go home. Go home to your family, your spouse, your children, or whomever your loved ones are at home and be with them.

Truly be with them; make memories and stop working. Yes, I have to swallow this pill every time I leave work and hope that it does its job on the road home. My husband reminds me of this every time I pick up my laptop to start writing IEP’s or my next lesson plan. Don’t get me wrong. I wholeheartedly believe in completing deadlines, but everything else can wait.

Statistics say teachers work an average 50 hours a week and we keep working over 400 hours of overtime a year. At the beginning of the school year, I stayed late at work for almost four months and kept working until nine o’clock at home. The time I was missing with my husband grew on me especially the weight I took home. My go-to spot on the couch was no longer my unwinding place with a glass of wine snuggling up to my husband, but one where I’d snack on a PB & J while my laptop kept my legs warm.

Doing this inordinately drained me. I had no spirit to give my eighteen non-biological kids day after day. This became a chronic problem because my students deserve first class and I wasn’t giving them that. I needed to take care of myself by giving time to all the wonderful things that once nourished me. I needed to feel my husbands hugs and hear the laughter that springs from family gatherings again. I needed to taste the goodness that comes from a fresh glass of wine while soaking myself in a hot lavender bath. I needed to be in nature and feel the sun’s kiss on my skin and see the beauty that comes from blooming trees. I needed to be with my friends and catch up on life. I needed to pray and be OK with not doing anything.

I need to do my life; all that it is when I’m not teaching. I absolutely love my students and what I do as a teacher, but it is not my whole life—so I choose not to give my work all of my time. I choose balance; giving myself to all the different things I love in life.

I realized the work I stayed late to do wasn’t due the next day. I had made up my own rules to make myself feel better in the moment not sensing the taxing impact it was having on my loved ones or myself.

So, my dear teacher friend, you’re not a crummy teacher because you don’t stay late at work. We have one of the largest professions in the country with more than 3.1 million teachers, which means that much more people have your back on that. So go home and sip your cup of evening tea on your front porch and feel the warmth of sunset before dusk hits. It’s OK to choose home and be with your crazy humans before the moon rises. You see, we give our best to our students by giving them a well-rested healthy us—not we got three hours of sleep and ate a PB & J before bed us.

You deserve to go home and truly be home. Your people at home deserve it—and the on average 3,000 students you’ll affect in your career life do too.

You’re already an amazing teacher. It’s time to take care of yourself.

image by Rustic Vegan @ therusticvegan.com