I haven’t been posting much. I haven’t made any videos lately, either. This is mostly because since I went back to uni, I’ve been busy studying, socializing and stubbornly not thinking about how terrifying both these activities are for me.
I’m very good at this. Better than I realised, even after all that introspection and self-tolerance I was forced to learn last year. You have less time for introspection when you’re studying and socializing all the time, and when your environment reminds you of high school, self-tolerance is hard to keep up. You can’t think “it’s ok, I’m allowed to cry” because you’re in public and people will look askance and want a rational explaination. I hate to lie, but even if I didn’t, the dead uncle excuse only works for a few weeks tops.
But today I’ve been forced to take a day off by a minor physical illness which is the latest in a long series since I went back to uni. I went to the doctor, who took my tension, said it was a bit low, and gave me two days off instead of just the one I intended to take. I was going to go in tomorrow anyway, but the boyfriend has put his foot down, which is a rare thing and a sign that I should pay attention.
After an afternoon of reading webcomics, sleeping, and otherwise idling in bed, I realised that in the absence of anything to do, I was spending all my time worrying. Anxiety is my big nemesis right now, so this doesn’t come as a huge surprise, but what got me thinking was the extent to which this worrying was, in fact, ruining my life, and had been since I started uni.
The classroom environment is a particular one: everyone knows you, but they don’t really know you. Nobody knows I’m bi. Very few people know I get panic attacks, and I only mentioned them in passing, like they were something that used to happen a long time ago. Nobody knows I’ve ever been depressed, or mentally ill at all. I’m that girl who dresses like a geek and who’s a bit older than everyone else – what, twenty-eight? Jesus. Quite a lot older, then. I get along with most people, though I know several think me odd for not wearing any make-up or straightening my hair every morning. I’m nice, not bitchy, a morning zombie, I complain a lot about the price of syllabi, take notes faster than anyone else (though not many people can read them) and I can draw, sort of. Occasionally I’m a bit cold and distant, but I think people are beginning to understand that it’s unintentional, and just means I’m preoccupied.
Nobody knows just how preoccupied I am, though. When I think about it, I always have some worry running in the background of my mind. These days the worries closest to the surface are a) that I’ll fail my studies, b) that I’ll somehow ruin my carefully constructed normal-person class persona and everyone will hate me, and c) that my boyfriend will go from interview to interview without ever landing a job and in the end it will break him and I’ll have to quit uni to go back to nannying while he finds an antidepressant that doesn’t interfere with his epilepsy meds.
When I dig a little deeper, there’s more: I worry about the friends I haven’t seen in a while, who are unemployed or depressed or have some other really bad shit going on that I can’t directly help with. I worry about my mum not being able to make ends meet, about my little sisters never getting to do the things they love, about my dad working himself to death. I don’t actually think about these background worries very often. I’m just always very glad to see those people, to be able to hug them and see them smile, and reassure myself that the bad things that I’ve imagined for them haven’t happened, that we’re safe for another while.
Because part of my worrying process is imagining all these bad scenarios. Initially, I guess it was a reflex used to reassure myself (this might seem contradictory, but hear me out). And it has served me: for instance, I was so anxious about not being allowed to sign up for uni because I had the wrong papers that when it actually happened, I already had plans B and C mapped out in my head. My boyfriend, who wasn’t expecting it, was more devastated than I was, and in the end I got back in within less than a week because I reacted quickly.
The fact that this habit has been useful in the past obviously doesn’t help me get rid of it, so I’m trying to concentrate on why it’s bad for me. Obviously, imagining getting mugged by that aggressive-looking guy lurking on the street corner is never going to help me in any way. My brain is too realistic to let me imagine winning in a fight (I have taken one self-defense class), and too paranoid to accept that he’s probably just had a bad day and wants to be left alone. The same goes for my vengeance fantasies for if ever anyone sexually assaults one of my sisters: I can imagine leaving that to my dad (though he would probably leave it to the police because he’s not crazy), but I’d prefer not to think about that kind of stuff happening to them at all, because a) the chances of it happening are definitely lower than my paranoid brain will admit, and b) even if it did, I’m 500 miles away and wouldn’t be able to do anything to stop it.
Hell, even when I was living with them, I probably couldn’t prevent such things from happening. I have to trust their judgement (which as far as I know has served them well enough up till now), and hope I’ll have dropped this habit before I have kids of my own.
Except that I no longer think it’s that simple. The only times I remember being worry-free in my life (apart from early childhood, and odd moments when I’m on holiday) have been when I was so depressed I’d decided there was no point in trying to do anything. In a way, it was a relief to be that depressed. But in the same way, it’s a relief being anxious after so long being depressed, because anxiety means I have a goal in my life. It’s just that the anxiety also spills over into every single aspect of my existence.
Today, I finally admitted to myself that I was having doubts about my decision to become a teacher. I’d been in denial about this for weeks, but I’m glad I did address it, because I’ve realized that the reasons behind my doubts all have to do with my anxiety. Because of the anxiety I feel even on good days, I have trouble relaxing at home, and feel the need to spend hours and hours on the internet to disconnect from my classroom mindset and become myself again. And recently it’s stopped working – I’m always in the classroom mindset. So I spent longer and longer on the internet, and don’t write up my classroom notes, and do my homework at the last minute, which makes the anxiety worse. Then I sleep badly and wake up feeling unstable and panicky, and spend the whole day trying not to burst into tears in front of the whole class. When I get home I cry there instead, which worries my boyfriend, which makes me feel guilty, because he has enough on his plate already, and I really should be doing my best to concentrate on my studies to make it worthwhile for him to be supporting me, and he senses that guilt and it makes him feel guilty for making me feel guilty, and then our roommate sees us upset and doesn’t know what to do to make us feel better, and so on.
And I know that being a teacher is a more than full-time job. Being responsible not only for the continued well-being but also the education of 30 kids at a very impressionable age is not a job to choose lightly, and I now wonder, with my obsessive worrying and need for me-time, if I will be able to do it and continue to write, have a family, a social life, a love life. Lesson planning takes up a lot of personal time, and so far I haven’t been very organised with my homework. What happens if I get ill? What happens if I have a nervous breakdown? What if my mental kids-first barrier breaks one day and I have a breakdown in front of a class?
All this doesn’t mean I don’t want to become a teacher any more. I just don’t know if I’m capable of it. I used to consider my mental health to be my problem, a private matter that nobody I worked with needed to know about, since it didn’t affect them. And for a long time, it was. But the goal I’ve given myself requires me to rethink that. I can no longer put off doing something about this, because if I do, other people will get hurt.
PS – this blog post counts as my NaNoWriMo daily wordcount, even though it really doesn’t, because I need to feel like I’ve achieved something today, please.