GUYS. Something pretty damn cool happened today.
First, you need a little context. So, NYC teachers get observed by the principal and/or assistant principal multiple times per year. Then we get rated according to a research-based rubric by a big education guru (hey Danielson), and that gets put into our file. At the end of the year, all of the observation ratings are putting together with the state test scores of that teacher’s students and a city-wide standardized assessment, and all of those things together give the teacher an overall rating. I could go into a whole lot of detail about that, but what’s important here are the observations. There are two types: informal, where they can just pop in unannounced but have to stay for a minimum of 15 minutes, or formal, where you have a meeting before the lesson to go over the plan, then they’re in there for the whole 45 minute lesson, and then you have a meeting after to go over what happened. Those carry more weight.
But what does this have to do with anxiety? you ask.
Today, I had my formal. I also had other English teachers coming into my room to observe me, so for 3/4 of my classes today, there were people watching me teach. I have an open door policy, but that still adds an extra level of alertness and agitation. I figured I would feel anxious at some point, and the tell-tale signs showed up about 20 minutes before my formal observation. We’re talking rapid heartbeat, nausea, racing thoughts, the whole shebang. I’m starting to get pretty good at being able to discern when I’m more nervous-anxious and panic attack-anxious, and this was the first step to panic attack. Instead of immediately thinking what if I have a panic attack? my brain was like hey, you should look at your anxiety checklist. So I did.
And that shit worked! For real, it was amazing. I did the Headspace SOS meditation, I read my notes from myself and my sister, I did some breathing on my own like Headspace taught me, and by the time I did those things, every single symptom was gone except for the racing heart, and even that had calmed down somewhat. I had my formal, I taught the next class with three teachers observing me, and that was the end of my day. And THEN I took my ass to the gym even though all I wanted to do was sleep.
Look. I know it seems I’ve been bragging on here a lot lately, and I don’t mean it to sound like that. I just can’t get over the sense of relief that comes with not living every day on edge. My goals with anxiety have always been twofold: to have more good days than bad, and to work to make the bad days not so bad. It is not out of the realm of possibility that in a few weeks I’ll be locked in the bathroom at work sobbing until to bell rings and I have to go teach, but honestly, that’s looking less and less likely. I actually feel like I kind of have my shit together. Scratch that. Not just kind of. Do, for the most part. I’ve been able to create enough space and to do enough consistent management that the bad days aren’t so bad, and it doesn’t feel like this huge weight anymore. I’m even able to joke about it: the dude is going out of town for work next week, and when we were talking about how many days he’d be gone, I was like “hey, do you think I can make it the whole time this time without having a panic attack? Can you imagine if I went to work every day while you were gone?”. And even though I was joking, there’s truth to that. Sometimes it really is all you can do to feed yourself, let alone get out of bed and go to work and interact with people and basically volunteer to be at least a little bit stressed. In the context of panic attacks – which historically I’ve had every time the dude is out of town – I will absolutely consider going to work every day that he’s gone a victory.
And if I do have a panic attack, I guess I kind of feel like that’s ok. That would suck, certainly, but I no longer feel like it’s the worst thing in the world because I feel like I’ve become an expert in my own anxiety. It’s like being able to tell how your opponent is going to move by watching their eyes and not their body: when you watch their body, you’re too late, but when you watch their eyes, you see their intention before they move. And you can block it. And really, that’s the ultimate goal: to see where the anxiety is going and stop it before it gets there. Now that I’ve done that once, I know I can do it again.