I wasn’t sure if I wanted to think about the last decade as we enter the new one; I hate New Year as it is, but in the end I thought I probably needed to to celebrate the positives, to consider how far I have come. But before I do, here’s something I write last year about New Year and why it can be difficult for some…
“I’ve spent quite a bit of time in therapy this year, and one of the things that really sticks with me every day is this. To spend time focusing on the past can be bad for us. Whether it be because things went wrong and we beat ourselves up over them, or because things seemed better then, we can use the past to beat ourselves up and think that is how people see and judge us. If we spend too long focused on the past we can become depressed.
But being focused on the future can sometimes not be so great either. It’s good to think about things that you have to look forward to, but anxiety is embedded in our expectations of a future, and if we start to think that our future may not go as planned, and in my experience it never does, we can trigger quite negative thoughts.
So basically this pull between the past and the future is perhaps how best to understand what depression and anxiety actually feels like. So really there’s only one place to go and that’s the present. Every day I try to focus for at least 5 minutes on the present – I practice mindfulness, not everyone’s cup of tea, but 5 minutes does ground me back where I need to be. I have reiki sessions, something I felt sceptical about, but actually help me to bring it all back to now. Because now is generally an alright place to be and we all need to just stop and breathe for a bit.
I know there are people who don’t like New Year, I don’t, and it is probably all down to that very reason. We reflect and we hope and both together can be overwhelming. I shall be reminding myself that it is just another day, it begins and ends in the same way as any other. Tomorrow is another day too. The sun will rise and night will be at the end. So just do what you want to do, read a book, watch trash telly, or join me in eating lots of cheese. Don’t feel like you have to make lots of resolutions. Don’t put pressure on yourself to do things you might not be able to do. See what happens and you might achieve more than you imagined.”
But this year I’m going to look back at the decade, and the positives. At the opening of 2010 I had a 12 year old son and a 10 year old daughter. I was working as a HLTA in the English department at my current school and living with my partner. I’d started working as a TA when my daughter started school, working in a school 5 days and then the weekends at a department store to earn enough money to support my family. I was feeling a bit antsy, the kids were growing up and it was time to consider my career. So, encouraged by my HoD and in agreement with the school I decided to apply for the 80/20 GTP programme. It meant that I would work as an English Teacher, with my own timetable 4 days a week and then have Fridays out for training and to complete a second placement, but I would have a salary, that I really needed. So in Sept 2011 I began the course…
But elsewhere things were going a bit wrong…my partner and I had separated, and I was now on my own again, trying to juggle working and now training with bringing up children. I met a new partner, someone I had been in school with, and now spent some weekends visiting him in Manchester, a very intense but lovely part of my life. And then came a big bombshell…my friend who was also my HoD was diagnosed with cancer, and it had spread very quickly. She was unlikely to survive.
So 2012 was hard and a whirlwind. The GTP 80/20 programme was an incredibly stressful way to train as you had the responsibility of your own classes as well as writing essays, completing projects and working for a day a week at another school. And then my lovely friend became very ill. I visited her at home and in the hospice, but we knew it wouldn’t be long. I was due to go on a weekend break with my boyfriend, and she insisted that I go. I did, and on the first day I was there, her mum rang me to tell me that she had died. My boyfriend and I sat in the sunshine and raised a glass of champagne to her. Everything felt numb.
At the funeral I finally broke down and cried. My friend had asked our Head to conduct the funeral and she did. It was when the curtains closed on the coffin, and her favourite song, Mmmm Bop by Hanson started playing that the floodgates opened and I had to be helped out. It was probably a first inkling that I had tried to hold things together for a long time and things were starting to crack. But in amongst all that, I graduated and become an English teacher. I had finally entered a career.
By the end of that year, my boyfriend had ended our relationship. It had been lovely, and it was perhaps the final thing to break me. I ended 2012 finally admitting that I needed help, the thoughts and feelings that I was continuously having I could no longer pass off as normal. I felt like I was broken and I no longer deserved to be here. People were noticing that I was just existing. A colleague and friend took this photo of me at our Christmas meal that year and I think it sums up how I felt, I truly felt like all hope had gone.
But this isn’t a tale of woe, it is a tale of strength. I went to the doctor, I got help. I was placed under the mental health unit in the hospital, and given a mental health nurse who helped me to access support. With a mixture of medication and therapy, I did get better quite quickly. I was discharged from the mental health unit fairly quickly and then ended up under the IAPT service, who I have been with on and off ever since since.
In 2013 after some intensive therapy I was told that I had had underlying clinical depression and anxiety probably since the age of 17. I had episodes in about 1995 and an episode after the birth of my daughter in 1999. It simmered after that and then the latest, quite explosive episode had built slowly but surely. I think of it as Lego building blocks – you put one on top of the other until they topple because it is too high. I hadn’t recognised the impact of lots of life events and just carried on until I fell. But now I have learnt that each time something happens, you stop regroup and then move on. In 2013 I was told I would probably need medication for life. As we enter the new decade, I am medication free, but know that occasionally I may need to fall back on them, and that’s ok. I control everything with what I learnt in CBT and luckily (touch wood) have not had a major episode since.
I had very little time off work, I actually have a pretty exemplary attendance to work record, and here’s the reason why…I love my job. In the times when I have been unwell it is teenagers that have kept me going. They make me laugh and smile, they frustrate me and make me cry with happiness in equal measure. They are some of the most honest and caring people. When other parts of the job can be frustrating, I walk into a classroom, we learn some stuff, we enjoy it and I feel like I have achieved something and I take pride in the part I have had in shaping their futures. I love seeing students having gone on to great things and I revel in their kindness. I did a Saturday School on my birthday once for a few hours, and some students clubbed together and walked in the rain with this cake. They were upset that it had got smudged on the way, but it is still one of the loveliest things anyone has ever done. And the cards…I treasure the cards, because students seem to understand that words mean a lot.
And my own children…they were the greatest source of strength. It was hard for them, but they were constantly supportive. They made me laugh and smile and I watched them grow into the most amazing adults, confident and adventurous, intelligent and kind. And watching their achievements is my greatest source of pride.
And I found Twitter. I decided that I needed a source of positivity about education. I had made a conscious decision that sources of negativity in my life had to go. There are people in life who thrive on negativity and like to take you with them and sometimes constant complaining and negativity is too draining. I had joined Twitter in 2009, but just generally chatted and followed celebrities. Now I used it to look at what was going on in education, and it was great. I shared ideas, I gained ideas and I read more than ever about education. It gave me a confidence in the classroom. Plus I made friends, people who became my friends in real life.
And then in 2016 Nikki @NooPuddles contacted me with an idea. How about we set up a site that supported English teachers. We were all about to teach the new specs at GCSE and everyone was floundering about a bit. It would give somewhere to go for ideas and support. So @Team_English1 was born…and very quickly it picked up followers. Going into the new decade it has 26000 followers. And I am so very proud of what we have achieved. We have arranged meet ups, we have had exam board takeovers, we have been mentioned in government reports. And in 2018 we had our first conference hosted by @TLPMrsL and @MrsSpalding which was a huge success.
This year @AlwaysLearnWeb and I picked up the baton and hosted the 2019 Team English National Conference. It was possibly the busiest and most stressful year of my career to date but on the 13th July nearly 500 attended the event, with over 50 speakers and 300 people on the waiting list to attend. I was incredibly proud of what we achieved…£10 for some of the best subject specific CPD that can be delivered in this country. We did that.
Twitter has opened many other doors for me. I have spoken at conferences and at Pixl. Blogs I have written have been shared at schools across the country and the What, How, Why strategy I wrote about was mentioned in an exam board exam report. I recently taught 900 GCSE students in a lecture at Warwick University. I have consulted with SLTs and departments across the country on improvement strategies on English. And I am allowing me to be damn proud of myself.
I am also lucky to have worked with some amazing people, in a department where I have some of the same people for most of the decade. I love that I work with some people who share my desire to always do the right thing for students, and who listen to ideas I might bring. And some are my closest friends. They have been there through thick and thin and raised me up when I needed it.
What I have gone through in the last decade hasn’t made me weak, it has made me strong. I have seen my two children grow into superb adults. I have been lucky to have three of the big loves of my life in this decade (I know, I’m selfishly taking a few.) Someone once told me that being open might ruin my job prospects, but I think anyone worth their salt would see that just isn’t true. The one thing I have is a strength and determination like no other. I have fought and I have never given up, and I have achieved.
What will the next decade bring? I’m hoping that there will be a big change. The strength and confidence that I have now, makes me want to do something I would never have considered at the beginning of the decade. I have met people along the way who are pushing me to do the things that will be best for me and to be where I want to be and to use all the things that make me an asset. Plus I have two grown up children…it’s time for me.
They’ll be ups and downs, but that’s life. They’ll be love and tears I’m sure. The things we go through make us what we are, and we should never be ashamed of that. It’s what we do because of what happens that matters in the end. We need to just be brave.
My friend wrote me a card to be given to me when she died. In it she told me she loved me, and she wanted me to live the life I wanted…I think there is advice in there for all of us.
I want to publicly thank some people…because they deserve it…and I’ll never get an Oscar
My mum and dad – it takes a village to raise children. They have always been there for me and the kids, despite everything. There are no better parents.
My children, James and Lucy – I tweet about them all the time. They are amazing.
My department at work, and in particular Sophie who is my positive person, who runs with ideas and trials things with me. Gail…who is just amazing and clever with it, Dave, who I have spent the entire decade working with, James, who makes me laugh and rant about my ideas and Tom, the best goddam HLTA in the land. The support they gave me for the conference this year was just amazing.
My Twitter people. I couldn’t possibly name them all, I hope you all know how much you mean to me but particular love goes to the people who love me through thick and thin and take care of me like good friends should…. @NooPuddles @AlwaysLearnWeb @Cornishwelsh @fod3 @RealGingerella @EngTweet21
The Leeds crew…who have made me love The North with their warmth and compassion, who push me and support me in equal measure and who rescue me on occasion…. @Ladbroa01 @agwilliams9 @commahound @FunkyPedagogy
And….some people who influence my teaching…