According to Wikipedia, ‘mental health encompasses emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing, influencing cognition, perception and behaviour. It likewise determines how an individual handles stress, interpersonal relationships and decision-making.’
Having spent 18 months lapping the village with my lockdown baby, I returned to work as a full-time class teacher and acting headteacher. It was all very exciting at first – but the bubble burst quite quickly!
The expectation was that I would slip back into my life and continue as I had never been away. Unfortunately, I was struggling in silence and no one noticed changes in my behaviour. The term started as per usual: staff meeting, safeguarding training, Ofsted updates etc. But the push-back from staff started the moment I returned and day-by-day, I felt like I was losing control of my mind.
Reflecting back, everything was heightened for me: I had not been around any adult for 18 months and then all of a sudden, I had everyone ‘at me.’ Every snap would appear a million times worse in my head and within 7 weeks, I could feel my body wanting to escape the school. With a huge adrenaline rush in my system and being so upset, I applied and secured another job. My heart wanted to stay but my body was just reacting to emotions that I could not seem to regulate. I later realised it was my body’s natural reaction to danger: the fight-flight-freeze response. Obviously, I chose flight.
The new term started, and I wasn’t quite sure how I ended up in a new school. All of a sudden, my body began to breathe and I realised how exhausted I actually was. When the mental strain lifted, my mind was all over the place and I started vomiting. I was experiencing burnout. I was overwhelmed, emotionally drained and unable to keep up with the demands. The workload was fine; the unfair treatment at work was not. My heart would race and I could feel the tension in my body and muscles. Every time certain people came close, my body would clench, and I would start to panic. I was told that the toxic environment was the norm and I just had to ‘put up’ with it.
Months went by and I would wake up at night with my body trembling and my head spinning. I could hear their voices in my head. I longed for peace and quiet and I couldn’t find it anymore. I didn’t realise until then how much the pandemic impacted my mind and health. I needed fresh air, peace, quiet and calmness. But I was getting a busy environment and every noise was irritating and suffocating me.
My body was screaming for help, and no one was listening. I wasn’t the same; I just needed peace. I confided in my beautiful family and friends and a plan was made. I was resigning with no intention of going back. A huge weight was lifted off my shoulders and the countdown began.
It took 7 weeks to break me; those 7 weeks were intense. My workload was huge but I didn’t mind; it was the staff drama – someone always in my ear, the gossiping and lies about me that took its toll on my mental health. Having experienced mental health first hand, I can truly say that it is real. For me, the first term was traumatic and I couldn’t understand why – especially because I had been at the school a very long time. But things had changed; people had changed and their behaviours had become unbearable for me. Though mild, it seemed severe and I’m not surprised that many people find an escape through suicide.
I wish I was able to tell my headteacher what was really going on but I could not understand it myself back then – my body was not able to react and suddenly I had the inability to communicate. I could hear him but I couldn’t react. But the assumption that I would be able to return to ‘normal life’ and be ‘normal’ was not something I could do. I was not quite sure why my body was not settling – I was trying so hard to fit in to my old life but I suppose it was not something I wanted anymore. I am looking forward to starting a new chapter away from the classroom.