Frustration Time

frustration photo
Photo by e-magic

It’s frustration time. I know this is a bit of a pattern with me, and maybe it is with most teachers, but I find I’m at my most frustrated this time of year.

I keep thinking of the things I wanted to accomplish but didn’t. I keep thinking of the students with whom I tried to establish a rapport and a relationship but failed. I keep thinking of discussions and disagreements. I focus almost exclusively on everything that went wrong. I wonder sometimes what it would be like to be the kind of person who wasn’t bothered by such things. I suppose I wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t, but this time of year can be agony for me until the summer arrives, and I find myself wondering if my fellow teachers commiserate.

One thing I wonder is whether I care too much. I realize that’s a loaded sentence. One never wants to be accused of caring too little unless we know it’s something we shouldn’t care too much about. For instance, I believe that as a colleague and teacher, I have earned a fair amount of respect—even some appreciation. So why do I focus on encounters in which I have felt disrespected to the exclusion of the large number of encounters in which I have felt respected and perhaps even truly appreciated? Why does the negative weigh so much more in my mind than the positive? Why is the negative so much louder than the positive? I seem to be especially vulnerable to this kind of thinking at the end of the year. Perhaps it’s because I’m clinging to the end of that frayed rope, hoping I can hold on for a few more weeks when I can decompress and get rid of the stress.

The end of the year is so stressful. I think a lot of teachers—perhaps all of them—feel it. Is it just my perception that everyone else seems so much better able to cope with the stress without being upset? Are they just hiding it really well?

I value reflection a great deal. I think it is a helpful practice to examine myself and determine how I might do better. Sometimes, it ventures into the realm of being unproductive, however, and I feel like I beat myself up more than it seems like others do. Is that just a perception? Do we all kind of beat ourselves up?

I have been bending my poor husband’s ears for two days on my end-of-year frustrations, and he’s been a great listener. I know he would like to figure out a way to help or to say something that would make me feel better, but at this stage, I feel like the only thing that will help is a break. And I know it’s coming soon enough. I know I have only a few more days with students, and then just a few more after that with colleagues. I will have some wonderful things to look forward to this summer. A trip or two with family. A U2 concert. The opportunity to study Emily Dickinson and her poetry at her home in Amherst. Most of all, time to read, learn, and relax.

I’m wondering what coping strategies other teachers have for making it through the end of the school year, especially when a pile of frustrations regarding everything from personnel issues up to angry students or parents seem overwhelming. If you’re so inclined, I would love to have a discussion here.

How are you feeling?

Slice of LifeSlice of Life is a weekly writing challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.

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Slice of Life #26: Better

A few days ago, I offered up some topics on my mind and asked which ones you might be interested in hearing more about. There were exactly four votes, and they were split four ways. Isn’t that always the way!

Since it’s Tuesday, and I haven’t done a Slice of Life entry in while, perhaps I’ll go ahead and make one person happy and write about a health issue and better living through chemistry.

I went to my doctor (finally—yes, I can be avoidant) for two reasons in August: 1) I knew I needed a mammogram, and I thought my primary care physician would need to order one, and 2) my knees were killing me. Seriously, I thought I might be developing arthritis. Walking up stairs could be excruciating. Walking downstairs often hurt, too. I had to lean on railings. I didn’t think it was normal for a woman my age to have such a hard time with my knees.

The first thing my doctor did was examine my knees. She didn’t see anything concerning, but she pointed out the way I pronate when I walk isn’t good for knees, and she looked at my ankles. “Did you sprain your ankles a lot as a kid?” she asked me. Yes, in fact, I did a few times. “You have weak ankles. They aren’t doing their share of the work, and they’re causing strain on your knees.” Just to be sure, she ordered an x-ray of my knees, but there was nothing to see there. She also ordered some routine lab tests—something I think she does with all new patients, but which no doctor I’ve ever had before actually did. My lab results revealed that I have an underactive thyroid.

If you don’t have any thyroid issues, you might not be aware of how many issues thyroid problems can cause. Many of them completely unrelated to one another (or so it seems).

My husband was growing increasingly concerned about my fatigue after work. I crashed on the couch almost every day. I thought I just had a lot to do at work, and it was exhausting me.

My anxiety was through the roof, though it had calmed down quite a bit since we bought a new car in March, as our old car was the focus of a lot of my anxiety.

I’ve gained some weight over the years, and I couldn’t do anything to take it off, which I chalked up to metabolism changes due to aging.

I was almost always cold. I thought this was normal for me. Everyone else was comfortable, but I was cold. I didn’t even consider this a health-related issue.

It never occurred to me that these symptoms were related. I didn’t even consider all of them big problems. My doctor prescribed medication for me, and I’ve been taking it since August. I can’t even explain how different I feel, but I’ll try.

The fatigue has improved a great deal. I have more energy. I rarely nap after school now, and when I do, it’s because I clearly didn’t get enough sleep the night before. A normal day with normal activity doesn’t exhaust me anymore.

The anxiety issue has been interesting. My medication is not supposed to decrease anxiety. In fact, it has been shown to increase it. However, hypothyroidism can cause depression. Depression and anxiety are often twins, and it stands to reason if depression is decreased, anxiety will be as well. Medication is probably not the only factor in my decreased anxiety, but I think it’s a factor for sure. In any case, my mood has changed. I feel a lot more chipper most of the time.

The weight thing, well, that will take time, and to be honest, I haven’t been trying to lose weight lately. I am not technically overweight, but I should exercise more.

I am no longer cold all the time. That one is weird for me. In fact, there have been a few occasions when I felt fine and others felt cold. I can’t explain how weird that makes me feel.

The knees are a bit better, and I understand that an underactive thyroid can contribute to joint pain. I have to wonder if my medication is helping my knees, too.

I have no idea how long I was suffering with this issue, and I do say suffering because it diminished my quality of life quite a bit. I can’t believe pills I spend less than $10.00 per month to take can make such a difference in my quality of life. I just feel so much better, and I feel happier.

Better living through chemistry, indeed.

Slice of LifeSlice of Life is a weekly writing challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.

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New Car

The last time I purchased a brand new car was probably 1998 or 1999. It was a Saturn. I loved the fact that I was first person to own that car.

Friends who have been reading this blog for a while might recall I have had a car for many years that was just about on its last legs. Driving it or even riding in it for longer than a few minutes’ commute made me very anxious—to the point that if any alerts went off, and mysterious alerts often did—I would have a full-blown panic attack. It was scary and embarrassing. It affected everything. We weren’t able to go places, at least not places that were very far.

The car had a host of mechanical issues, or possibly electrical issues, that we were never really able to diagnose and fix. For instance, some years ago when we drove it to Salem, MA, for a vacation, it broke down in the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania. We were sidelined for five hours, spending money we didn’t have to spend on repairs. The car simply overheated. After that, for years, the heat gauge would mysteriously rise if we sat in traffic. Then it stopped doing that, but other issues arose. For instance, the flashing oil light when it had been driven a bit more than average. It would only flash while we were stopped. Lately, the airbag light has been coming on.

Well, I’m so excited because today, I BOUGHT A NEW CAR!

My new carIt’s a 2016 Toyota RAV4, which is just what I wanted.
And look at the odometer.

RAV 4 Odometer, 3/22/16Even my brand new Saturn all those years ago had at least 30 miles on it before I owned it. How exciting is this?

My New CarDon’t mind my hair sticking up there. I had to take the obligatory new car picture.

New Car SelfieI tried to take a selfie, but it turned out terrible, so you get this strange picture my husband Steve took of me taking my new car selfie.

I am not naive enough to assume that my anxiety will vanish now that one of its triggers is gone from my life. That’s not how anxiety works. However, I can now at least get in the car without a lot of drama and drive farther than five miles or so. It’s a great feeling.

Of course, the first thing I did was make a mental list of all the places I want to go. Because now, I can.

Slice of LifeSlice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.

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Slice of Life #20: I Have Anxiety

anxiety photoI have anxiety. It makes me sad for my family, and it makes me sad for me because it has prevented us from doing things. Fun things like taking day trips. It has made doing these kinds of fun things hard for me. The reason anxiety causes me so much trouble is that in my particular case, it’s my car that makes me anxious.

My car is getting rather long in the tooth, and it’s had some hard to diagnose issues over the years. The first time we had trouble with it was in the middle of nowhere on a road trip from Georgia to Massachusetts—a vacation. We broke down in the middle of Pennsylvania. We had been stuck in traffic, and though I was driving, I hadn’t noticed the engine running hot until the alarm started to go off. Right after that, steam poured out from under the hood. I pulled over as best I could, and we called AAA. We were waylaid for about five hours with two children on the autism spectrum and nothing to do, really, until the car was fixed and we could continue on to Salem. I was terrified that the mechanic would just about rob us. You really are putting your trust in people when you’re in a situation like that.

I had had plenty of car issues in the past. Once, I was pregnant and had two children with me, and I didn’t have a way to call anyone, so I was walking up the interstate toward a gas station. Some nice guy took pity on me (I was rather pitiful, hugely pregnant and pulling two small children along) and drove me there. Once when my oldest was a baby, I got out of the car to take her in to daycare. I was running late. And green liquid started pouring out of the car. My point is that this anxiety issue grew over time, but it didn’t become debilitating until this car, mainly because we can’t really seem to figure out why it has problems sometimes and doesn’t have problems other times. So I have this feeling of distrust where the car is concerned.

Rationally, the very worst thing that could happen is that it would break down and need a tow. I could still get home. It would be okay. It has been okay before. I also know that right now, if something like that happened, we could afford the repair. No one would be harmed. It would be an inconvenience. That’s all.

I can actually go long stretches when the car has been fine for a while and not be too anxious. I even drove it the other day. Dylan needed a Star Wars tee-shirt for school, and because of his communication issues, we didn’t realize what he wanted until about 10:30 at night, so I got in the car, went to Walmart, and bought him one. I was gripping the steering wheel the whole time.

The issue that we have, and it’s intermittent, seems to be that when the car is fully warmed up, it tends to, and excuse my precise mechanical description here—FREAK OUT—when it’s at a stop. It used to start to overheat. It doesn’t do that anymore, but the oil light flashes. I think I know what the issue is because I have Googled it, and it’s not a terribly bad one. We have had it in the shop, and it works okay for a while, but the frustrating thing is we can’t seem to figure out why it does it so we can fix it once and for all. And it doesn’t even do it very often or even kind of often. It’s an extremely rare issue.

The car was acting up a bit last Friday when Steve came to get me after school. I tried to be calm, but I started shaking and my heart was pounding. I was starting to have an anxiety attack. Ever since Friday, I’ve been a bit of a wreck in the car. Let me tell you what I have done to avoid driving. I walked to the grocery store in the rain today. It was okay. It was actually nice. But I got wet, and the store is about seven tenths of a mile away. It’s not a bad walk. It doesn’t take very long. But it takes maybe five minutes to drive, and I don’t have to carry bags home. But walking doesn’t make me anxious.

Tonight, Dylan’s school was able to get us tickets to an autism-friendly production of A Christmas Carol. Dylan was excited. I was nervous to be in the car because I knew that it would be some stop-and-go traffic, and we might have to wait at lights. When it looked like it might take us a while to get into the parking garage at the theater, I could feel a full-on attack coming. I was already twisting my wallet in my hands. I was shaking. I felt tears coming on. So I apologized and asked if I could get out and wait while they parked. My husband is very understanding. Way more than he should be, given how little sense it makes. Because my rational mind knows that everything is really okay, I wasn’t worried about the family in the car. I was worried about being in the car myself and making everyone else worried and miserable. On the way back, we weren’t able to go out to eat because I was too anxious in the car. And it was completely fine. Nothing even happened.

I have avoided gatherings with friends because of transportation issues. I have walked when it wasn’t easy or convenient rather than drive. Last summer, when I was going to AP training in a town that is literally maybe a half hour away, I arranged to stay in the dorms and even to stay an extra night so I could travel by bus. I could easily have commuted each day and spent evenings with my family if not for my anxiety. The machinations I have to go through to go anywhere require a great deal of time and planning.

We are saving for a new car, and we should be able to get one soon. One thing I’m very thankful for this Christmas season is that my husband has been blessed with two big freelance writing gigs that will allow us to be able to buy a new car at last. I think the anxiety about the car will improve after I have a car that is reliable, dependable—new. I don’t expect it will vanish, but on the occasions when I’ve rented cars (yes, I’ve rented cars when traveling in-state because I’ve been afraid to drive my car any substantial distances), I haven’t been anxious.

The thing with anxiety is that I’ll probably find something else to fixate on. I actually do get anxious about other things (though the car is the only thing that drives me into full-on anxiety attack mode). I’m not sure what I’ll transfer the anxiety to. But I am hoping that being able to remove this one major source of anxiety from my life soon will offer me some freedom. Maybe I can go exploring. Maybe I don’t have to turn down invitations. Maybe I don’t have to feel bad about asking to carpool.

Given that an anxiety attack was the low point of my day, and also that I feel very embarrassed and sad about it (especially for my family), I was a bit scared to write about it. On the other hand, it’s not just the low point of my day today. It’s the low point of too many of my days. It’s a frustration that I know others share and can identify with. And since it does embarrass me so much, I don’t talk about it. It’s a pretty big slice of my life today, though.

Slice of LifeSlice of Life is a weekly writing challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.

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