You know how you can have this picture of something in your head and when you get there it is that but also it’s not and somehow you feel inordinately disappointed? That’s me right now. I was really looking forward to this summer being super chill, and instead I’m wrestling with a lot of things that I didn’t even know were affecting me. Some of those things have been really, really hard to admit. So, I’m going to back to therapy to help me sort through the things that are rolling around my head and my heart.
I knew that transitioning from the school year to the summer would take some time (I usually feel anxious for a few days), but I really did not anticipate all of these other feelings that would come up. It’s been really hard to fully relax, I think partly because the school year was just so difficult. I feel like I need to be working as hard as I can to make sure the upcoming year is better but I also need to not think about work for a while, and that tension is hard to navigate. No matter what I choose to do, part of me feels like it’s a poor choice.
I’m also starting to realize that I’m way more burnt out than I thought I was. I always had in my mind that I was going to be one of those people who taught for like 25 years and touched all these lives. And while that’s still possible and there are many ways to do that, coming to grips with the fact that at the very least I need an extended break sometime in the next few years has been a difficult process. It feels like a betrayal not only of my students and colleagues, but of myself. It feels like turning my back on the reasons why I started teaching in the first place. It’s not, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to deal with those feelings. Teaching is a huge part of who I am: the techniques I use in teaching get to the heart of my ethical, moral, and emotional beliefs, and it’s a big part of how I define myself. Thinking about walking away from that feels like walking away from what makes me who I am. There were times last year when I seriously questioned if I could continue teaching, and I probably should have gone back to therapy last year – it would have made the school year a lot more manageable – but I didn’t, so here we are. I’m looking forward to talking about this with Therapist, because I don’t think I really understand just how much last year broke me. It also tested my resilience and my anxiety management, and I’m so proud of how they did. I just think that I haven’t dealt with some hurts that I’ve been hanging on to and I need to do that.
I’m also realizing that while I am so grateful for my support system, I also need a relationship where the other person’s only job is to support me. I didn’t fully realize this until the dude and I started talking about why I’m going to back to therapy. I need a place where I can feel whatever I’m feeling and where I don’t let what’s going on in other people’s lives supersede what’s going on in mine. I want to be very clear here: what’s going on in the lives of my people is important to me and I am here for it, always. I am never not going to text my sister back, whether she’s venting or telling me some awesome story about my nephew. I’m always going to listen to the dude talk about work (or anything) because he’s so excited about it and interested in what he’s doing. I’m always going to at least try to be there for my people in whatever way they need, whether that’s by listening or doing something for them or giving them my time or whatever. The thing that’s happening, though, is that I’m not talking about what’s going on with me. Everything that my tribe is dealing with feels so much more important that I haven’t mentioned it. And while it’s great to put other people first, doing it every time is not good.
Me not talking about my mental health has brought up two interesting revelations: first is that, if I’m not mentioning it, my people don’t know that something is up and so I don’t talk about it and I bottle it up and I end up feeling lonely and sad and disappointed. That’s no one’s fault but my own and I have definitely been shooting myself in the foot this summer. The other thing I’ve realized is that I need someone(s) who’s checking in on my mental health without me bringing it up first(at least sometimes). I want the people closest to me to ask about it from time to time because it’s something that I spend a lot of time thinking about and working on. This one is tricky because when things are going well, things are going well and it feels like it can go on the back burner. People don’t think to ask about it when it’s not in front of them. Even if they do ask about it, getting an answer like “It’s good!” makes it easier not to ask next time. It’s also easy to miss subtle cues. Going back to therapy is not a small thing and to me, because I’m the one living it, it’s a clear indication that things aren’t ok. But that’s me; I can so see how that looks completely different to someone who’s not in my head. It’s also tricky because I am the fucking master at hiding basically anything, even a panic attack, and when I’m not showing my symptoms, how are people supposed to know about the turmoil in my head? And while Therapist is a weekly mental health check that I’m very thankful for, I’ve realized that it’s also something I need from my tribe. The simple action of asking me specifically about anxiety or my emotional health makes me feel like I am seen, and like this thing that I devote so much of my energy to is also important to them and to their understanding of who I am. I also want to be asked because I spend time thinking about how to support and make life easier for the people I love, and their asking is an indicator to me that they’re doing that for me, too. It makes me feel like I matter to them. Obviously there are a million other ways that my tribe shows me this every day, and I am so lucky. I’m just trying to say that this is something I need that I didn’t know I needed until now.
I’ve really been struggling with all of this because it all comes back to the same thing: fundamentally, I think that bringing up my own issues without someone asking is selfish and selfish is bad. Well is IS selfish, but I just cannot wrap my head around selfishness being good. Sometimes I feel like psychologists should study that part of my personality because it’s a clear case for nature vs. nurture if I ever saw one. Not only is everyone on both sides of my family naturally considerate – sometimes overly so – I also grew up with a parent whose every resource went to taking care of me and my sister. I know that my mom feels things really deeply and that it was hard to be a single parent, but she kept all of that private from us. We never worried or cared about how much money we had for Christmas presents and why we didn’t go on vacation much. My mom never put that on us – she let us be kids – and I’m thankful that she worked so hard to give us stability and the experience of a childhood. I grew up watching my mom give to everyone around her, and learned to follow her example. She taught me so much and she has had a huge hand in shaping me into the person I am. Her actions reinforced what was already in my DNA: do for others. It’s a big part of love.
Part of why this is hard for me is that my mom was a single parent until I was 12, so I didn’t grow up seeing a partnership. I had no idea that these things that I wasn’t seeing – worries or fears or stress – are things that you’d typically share with a partner. We just never talked about it because it wasn’t part of the structure of our family. I know that my mom had a great support system, but because the people in her tribe didn’t live with us, I didn’t really get to see her expressing those parts of her life. It’s no one’s fault; it’s just an experience that I didn’t have.
But I am majorly digressing; essentially what I want to say is that I’m learning how to navigate this idea that it’s not a bad thing to be selfish. It’s not a bad thing to want the people that you care about to care about you, too, and to demonstrate that(and they do, and I am so lucky). It’s not a bad thing to admit that you’re having a hard time. It’s not a bad thing to ask for what you need. How are people supposed to know you need something if you don’t ask? I, like a lot of us, have sometimes fallen into this trap of “well they should know me well enough not to have to ask” or “if they just do it without me telling them it shows that they really care”. Well, that’s bullshit. Yes there are incredibly observant people in this word who can come through on a lot of that stuff, but I mean, really. It’s completely unrealistic of me to expect anyone to see though my layers of protection and acting and deduce that I’m actually feeling sad/lonely/whatever with no information. Even as I’m typing it, I’m sitting here thinking that is just the stupidest thing ever. I don’t want someone to have to have a freaking sextant and a decoder ring to try to figure me out. And I don’t want to expect that. It puts an unbelievable amount of pressure on people and basically sets them up for failure, and that is a horrible thing to do to someone. It’s so much kinder to ask for what you need so that they can give it to you. I’m trying to hard to do that, and I’m definitely getting better at it, but it’s still hard because somehow it feels like failure on my part or like the negative side of selfishness.
So, back to therapy. There’s a lot of stuff rumbling around my head that I haven’t dealt with. Some of it I write about here, some of it I don’t, but all of it needs to be talked about and processed so that I can stop ruminating about it, or at least deal more effectively when I do ruminate. My tribe is a wonderful support, and I’m glad I have them, but some things that I’m thinking about are still really private and I’m not ready to share them yet except for in therapy. I know that whenever I do decide to talk about some of the things I’m thinking about, my people will be there for me 400%.
After the first session back
GUYS GUYS GUYS GUYS GUYS. I can’t even. Therapy is my everything. It’s unreal.
When I got off the elevator and sat down in the waiting room, I was like ahh yes. I remember this place. And when I got into session and Therapist and I started talking, I just kept thinking oh my god, this is amazing. Why did I ever stop?! I cannot tell you how freeing it was to give myself permission to talk about whatever I wanted. I’ve been holding stuff in because I judge it to be inconsequential compared to what my tribe is dealing with, but here’s thing thing: when I make that judgement, I’m depriving my tribe of the opportunity to support me in the way that I want them to. And yes I know I talked about that earlier in this post, but that’s an important revelation.
We’ve obviously barely scratched the surface, but even this kind of overview/catch up session was great, and I feel so much lighter. It’s such an amazing feeling to know that when I walk in that room, there are no expectations of me. The only person I have to do for is me. And don’t get me wrong – you guys know I love to do for others – but there’s something incredibly wonderful about doing for myself.
The dude mentioned when we were talking about me going back to therapy that he wondered if it felt like a step backwards, and I’m thankful that it doesn’t. It feels like I know myself well enough to know that I need some extra support and I’m not afraid to ask for it. And THAT feels really damn good.