There are very few people in life who cried over actual spilled milk, yet I bet there are even less who cry over a grocery store flyer and a TGIF ad for two-fer deals on entrees and appetizers. I actually wonder if there are any people who cry over the mail when the mail is such inconsequential papers in the grand scheme of life. These junk pages aren’t even worthy of their own envelopes.
Then I remember: just a few short hours ago, that was me; I was the girl crying over the flyer and advertisement. While I didn’t have any spilled milk, let me just say I did not need one single thing more to set me off. But let’s start at the true beginning.
Last Saturday I got some weird news. A distant relative had a major health issue that landed her in the hospital. She and her family ended up having to mourn the lost of one of their own. Why weird you ask? Not because the relative was so distant, not because it was so shocking… it ended up being real weird because it affected me more than I ever thought it would.
To anyone reading this, I hope that didn’t just sound super selfish. I didn’t mean that I got nosy and pried into their lives; in fact, I haven’t really talked to any of the family much since. I’ve been giving them space. Instead I spent time thinking of them, wishing them well, and praying hard that everything would be alright for them. Let’s face it; we aren’t the closest people ever, but their tragedy touched my heart because in some way, they welcomed me in to parts of their own lives. Even more, the devastation that a person becomes aware of when tragedy strikes anywhere close to home brings their anxiety up and their confidence down.
I trudged through the weekend, trying to enjoy myself and think of things other than the horror that probably ensued that day for those people I care about. Monday came and things at work were strange. Everyone wanted updates and to share concerns. (Long story how that connects to work, but believe me, it encompassed a large part of my conversations that day.) When I made it home, I realized that my husband and I had made plans to go buy a new dryer that night. Our’s had broken sometime over the weekend and we were about to be in desperate need of clean work clothes.
It was about 8:30, the parking lot was dark, the stars may not even have been out. I surely didn’t notice any constellations. My phone kept vibrating; I had been having a text conversation with my sister while we shopped and waited for the Lowe’s appliance guy to run through his paperwork. I finally got tired of it moving in my pocket, so while we were waiting for the dryer to come out to be loaded into the back of the pickup, I pulled it out of my jeans to see what was going on. A family member had texted me to tell me some contact information for the relative I spoke of earlier. I had called my grandma’s house for the number earlier in the day but there was no answer. Not only did I never receive that number from her, but the relative also continued to text me about how bothering my grandmother with things like this while she was trying to come to terms with her disease and inevitable death was something I needed to realize was inappropriate.
Crying my way home on my husband’s lap as I laid across the bench seat of the truck felt like the stupidest thing I had done in a while. I wished many times I had never made that phone call, left that message on my grandma’s machine. The contact information wasn’t that important; in fact, I wasn’t even sure that was the only way for me to get that number. (I ended up getting it from my Uncle later that night as it turns out.) I just couldn’t think how my one phone call had to be such a big deal though. How did the idea of leaving a message turn into me crying over the idea that I had made my grandma sick? How did my outlook on her illness and my relation to her change so suddenly with just some simple words on a screen? The answer is this: I was tired, I was worried about the wellness of others already, and I was stressed after having slept poorly the night before.
In the end, it was silly of me to have broken down like I did, there in the dark Lowe’s parking lot. Yet it made the events of the rest of the week seem even more important, maybe even worse.
Tuesday I spent all day trying to figure out how to stop thinking of my grandma every second. I went through teaching my classes as best as I could, but the thoughts lingered. When I realized it was time to go home, all I wanted was a break. Then I remembered I had to go to see my therapist immediately after work.
I won’t retell the events of that hour-long visit I had. All that’s really important is that I don’t remember ever walking out of therapy feeling worse than I did that day. It wasn’t my therapist’s fault; she was trying to help me get through the thoughts and issues I had been having, she was trying to prepare me for reality as best as she could. Unfortunately, that did not help to alleviate any of my worries or fears.
Going into Wednesday morning, I didn’t think much more could happen. Then we got the news that a coworker had to leave suddenly because of a family emergency. At the time, I could only guess what had happened to their family; unfortunately, the guessing made the anxiety worse. I continued to talk to my family and friends about all that had transpired so far during the week while simply praying to find an escape when I got home that night. I guess it wasn’t the worst day of the week, but I felt the stress climbing like my acid reflux climbs up my throat when I’m feeling particularly ill.
I thought Thursday would be settled enough to help me become less anxious; I was wrong. Thursday was the first day in my recollection that I had cried at my job. Well, at my current job. You see, I had made a mistake; I’m not afraid to admit it, nor am I afraid to tell you that I had been kind of immature in some of my actions. You see, my students continue to leave their lockers hang wide open all day long. Many of them leave their cell phones in their lockers, open for any eye to see. Even more of them leave other valuables unlocked without the realization that anyone, even a visitor, could end up taking something of their’s without it ever being returned. I’ve spent almost the past year and a half closing lockers on a daily basis. Always the same kids, always the same valuables, always the same lockers between every period of the day. Students say they don’t have enough time to unlock their locks in between classes though I’ll never understand why that means they can’t at least close the door…
In any case, my coworkers and I had started to move things. We never removed things from lockers, we just moved a textbook from one shelf to another. We zippered up a backpack that had a calculator and a brand new iphone peeking out of it. Then we closed the door and made sure it was latched just like we have done every other day for years. Maybe this was our way of teasing our kids a bit, but I’d like to think that it was my way of trying to get them to realize that someone, anyone, could be touching or removing their things. Some kids did start to get it; some kids thought the idea was funny. If they forgot to close their locker, they’d have to spend extra seconds finding the textbook that used to always sit in the top left of their locker. It may have been annoying, but they saw the lesson, they tried to learn. There was one kid who wasn’t so understanding… Needless to say, boss man ended up in my room that morning telling me that it was inappropriate for me to touch the kids’ items regardless of whether I had removed any of them or damaged them or not. It was really the first time that I had gotten in trouble at this job, the first time I ever felt a large level of anxiety within this classroom of mine. Along with everything else going on that week, I broke.
I spent at least 30 minutes crying silently to myself, with my husband working on the other end of the speaker phone as I tried to grade some quizzes for my students. It wasn’t so much that I had been yelled at, it wasn’t so much that I didn’t get what he was trying to say… I think I had finally realized the stupidity of the situation, the fact that I had actually spent time trying to teach these kids a lesson about valuables, about material things when all I wanted was for the people around me to be healthy, happy, and safe. At the end of the day, I may sound callus but I don’t really care about any of those cell phones, any of those backpacks or textbooks. I care about my family member who had a funeral to plan, I cared about my grandmother and how she had either gotten more sick or I had missed something in recent weeks that would have helped me to know how sick she truly is, and I especially worried about the coworker who was out of work again on Thursday for some unknown family emergency. I didn’t care about these phones, but I took the time to try to teach the kids (in what I thought was going to be a fun and carefree way) that their lockers needed to be locked. Really, I thought that was an open and shut case. A story that quickly should have ended. I thought the kids would be refreshed by the fact that I hadn’t yelled or babied them like normally happens when an adult tries to teach a teenager a lesson. I know now how it could have been perceived differently, but I wish someone (that kid, my boss) had realized that my actions were honestly not to make their day worse, to break any rules, or to do the wrong or immature thing. It was a bit of inane movement that I thought would result in giggles and lessons.
That day was clearly not the best; I spent the rest of it feeling like an alien in my own classroom; what other actions could be perceived as immature or incorrect? Would I run into my boss again? Would any random meeting be awkward? My anxiety was in third gear, maybe fourth, by that time. I got home successfully but I spent a good long time doing some more crying when I got home. I couldn’t manage to put this into words that day, or any of the other days earlier in the week. I couldn’t explain to anyone how these individual incidents kept piling one on top of another.
Friday was my glory day; Friday was the day things were going to be different. I didn’t think I’d end up saying the same about Saturday… maybe even Sunday. At this point, I just wanted to make it to three o’clock. I wanted a junior to come in and clean my room faster than ever so I could just go home and be away from humans. I think I had started to realize that the more I tried to converse with others, the more stress and issues there were. Friday was not to be my day either… another coworker was called out on family emergency (seriously, does anyone else believe in coincidence or things happening in groups). Then there was the last period class who tried to give me all gray hairs in a single 30 minute period. I had to end up assigning them the extra homework of explaining the word respect and how they had disrespected one another and myself. I asked them to think this weekend about what they needed to do better during their class next week. I had tried moving seats, I had tried gentle reminders, circulating the room… these kids were extremely distracted and extremely hyper that afternoon. I should have done the normal teacher thing and just gave them a Friday afternoon off; stopped teaching either out of the kindness of my heart or because I had reached an unsafe level of frustration. What I did instead was assign them more homework, more grading for me, to try to teach a lesson. I hope they take it seriously. I hope they realize that I’m trying to do good by them. Each and every one of them.
I did make it home finally, and I was able to have a relaxing evening with my mom. We attended a small play based on the story of Anne Frank. One of my students performed as Anne and was ABSOLUTELY amazing. The stress and fears lingered with me that night but I thought some sleep would help.
Today, Saturday, was going to be a good day. I had an event in the morning and a whole span of afternoon hours in which to relax, sleep, and be okay with me. I never thought the walk to prevent suicide would hit me so hard; side-by-side with my sister-in-law and my husband, we walked those two miles. I listened to stories of people who had died or almost killed themselves due to depression and suicidal thoughts. I listened to one man discuss how his major social anxiety led to him attempting to take his own life. I guess I realized then that all this stress isn’t good for me. I realized how desperately I just wanted life to pause for a minute, to just give me one second of rest without a single thought of all of this negative and horrifying news. I just one wanted minute, maybe sitting on my couch, where there wasn’t a thought in my brain or a single image on the TV screen. I wanted just a little bit of time by myself, no human interaction at all. As much as I care about those around me, I wanted for just a bit to truly take care of me.
I got home from the walk today; there was an envelope in the mail from the state tax bureau. They thought I hadn’t paid our taxes in full, that we had lied on our return from last year. I spent probably an hour with my husband trying to figure out where the “missing” money was. Luckily, we found out that it wasn’t missing at all. Unluckily, I finally reached my breaking point. As I cleaned up the papers from the tax debacle and prepared to mail the paperwork in an envelope, I could not find a pen that wouldn’t stop dying on me. I was on the phone with my sister at the time; she probably thought I was insane. I started yelling, pretty sure I threw that pen up against the wall. Then I told her I had to go; I hung up, looked around the room, and realized this: my life was a mess, my week had been one huge snafu, and even worse to me at that moment was the fact that it was a never ending feeling. Even the dog hair on the floor was a nuisance, the mail laying in haphazard piles just more mess to add to my extremely messy life. It was there, standing looking around my kitchen, that I broke.
I think I’m okay now. My husband made me lay down with no option of getting up, doing anything, or seeing any of the mess of my life (physically or in my head). He kept me distracted from the stresses and let me talk out things whenever I felt like voicing my thoughts.
I can’t say I feel better at this point but what I can say is this: my life has been worse, my life has gotten really rough at times. I thought many times in life that my days would be difficult, maybe impossible to get through. Yet each time so far, I have been wrong. There’s always been a tomorrow, there’s always been a light at the end of the tunnel.
I can say right now that I don’t see the light. I don’t think that working an open house at school tomorrow is going to brighten my future or bring me out of my funk. I’m not even convinced that someone will not have another family emergency this week or an issue that stresses me out. Instead, I’m just trying to go with it… I’m going to turn this computer off, lay down on my couch, and relax with my dogs. This is my evening, and if it’s the only evening of relaxation again for another whole week, you’d better believe I’m going to try to make the best of it.
If you suffer from anxiety too, just remember you aren’t alone. If you don’t have anxiety and now think I am totally out of my mind, I’m sorry. I guess detailing every minute thing that happens in my life is just one way of saying to others that I understand, that they can be okay too, that they are not alone. You. Are. Not. Alone.