Monday, May 1, 2017

I Am A Teacher With Generalized Anxiety Disorder

I am a teacher with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.


I was sitting in AP Psychology class, going over the DSM-V checklist for Generalized Anxiety Disorder, when I realized I have this. Not in the way people say they’re “so OCD” or “totally bipolar,” but in the way where I have every symptom on this list and I suddenly realize that these things aren’t normal. I went home and talked to my parents, and my Dad, who’s a doctor, agreed. I’d have the label confirmed when I saw a psychologist in college. After the initial surprise, I actually felt empowered. There was a reason I felt the way I did, and there were things I could do to feel better. For the uninitiated, GAD is what’s called “free-floating” anxiety. I can, and will, worry about anything that crosses my path. My anxiety has never stopped me from doing hard things. But, I can say with confidence that it has made those hard things harder. I want to share my story so that those who suffer from anxiety know that they’re not alone, and perhaps help teachers who do not suffer from mental illnesses better understand their co-workers who do.


I have always been passionate about social justice and working with kids, so as a senior in college I applied and was accepted to an alternate-certification program to teach in a Title I school. The summer training process was rough. I know it was rough for everyone, but I started to genuinely think maybe I could not do this. When I broke down crying to one of the trainers in the program, she told me if I couldn’t handle the training, maybe I wasn’t cut out to do this. Despite my concerns that she was right, I finished the training and became a teacher.


When I started teaching, I was also going to grad school 2-3 nights a week and living very much paycheck-to-paycheck. This was one of the hardest times of my life. While I firmly felt that the expectations placed on me by the program I was in were absurd, it didn’t stop me from blaming myself. Why weren’t the kids listening to me? Why didn’t I know how to teach phonics or sight words or fractions? I know that many teachers in our program felt the same way. But where GAD comes in is that I literally could not stop thinking about school. While I saw other teachers in my program partying and dating and winging their lessons, that was inconceivable to me, especially at the beginning of the year. Now in my fourth year teaching, I have more confidence in my teaching and I make an effort to have a life outside of school. But my GAD is still very much present, and I suspect that it always will be. I can’t speak for all people with GAD, but this is how I believe it’s affected me as a teacher.

1. I blame myself for everything. There are people who internalize and externalize the blame for problems. An internalizer blames themselves, and an externalizer blames outside forces. As a teacher in a Title I school that’s constantly underfunded and underresourced, I’m not exactly set up for success. But if my students’ test scores don’t go up or their behaviors don’t improve, I feel personally responsible.

2. I think every criticism is directed at me. My admin sends out a lot of blanket “friendly reminder” emails. And I’m convinced that every one is a response to something I’ve personally done. If I hear a colleague complaining about a service provider being late, I immediately start trying to figure out if I’ve ever been late to her class, and I’ll worry about it every time I go to that teacher’s class for the rest of all time.

3. I’m easily overwhelmed. I don’t know how much of this is GAD vs. another sensory issue, but chaotic classrooms can make me really panicky. I’m very precise about my own classroom, but as a special education teacher, I spend a lot of time doing inclusion. When many kids are out of their seats, and calling out, and there are papers everywhere, and kids are crowding me and touching me… I start to freak out. Now, that’s not an ideal classroom setting for most students, but some teachers seem to be able to take it all in stride or even thrive off it. I can last for about 20 minutes, and then I feel like crawling under a desk and staying there for the rest of the afternoon.

4. I can’t stop thinking about the kids at home. My husband’s a good sport, but he is so sick of hearing about my kids’ problems. We all care about our kids and worry about their home lives, but for a teacher with GAD you quite literally cannot turn the thoughts off.

5. Problems can feel insurmountable. When you feel like a task is impossible (finishing 5 IEPs in a week, testing all the students by the deadline, etc.), but at the same time you feel like you HAVE to do it and it’ll be 100% your fault if you don’t (see number 1), it can lead to anxiety attack. Some days or weeks are better than others, but let’s just say every co-teacher I work with this year has seen me cry.

If you’re a teacher with an anxiety disorder, do you find the above to be true? I’m planning on doing a future post about managing an anxiety disorder while teaching, so I’d love to hear your experiences or tips!

16 comments:

  1. Bravo for writing this. You are brave and amazing, and this needs to get talked about!

    Love, a fellow teacher with GAD.

    ReplyDelete
  2. And I absolutely find what you wrote to be true. The best way I have found I can take care of myself is to be super protective of my health. The food I eat, how much I drink, my exercise, and my sleep quality are all super important to me. Check out Sleep Smarter, by Shawn Stevenson. It is a game-changer!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much! Protective is a great word for it-- it took me a long time to realize that I'm the one responsible for my well-being-- no one is going to step in and make me rest! Thanks for the recommendation- I will check it out!

      Delete
  3. Thank you so much for sharing this! I've had GAD for years, and dealing with it as a first year teacher has been a battle. My biggest tip: self care! As often as possible.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes! I have really learned the difference self care can make this year! Thank you for sharing this with me, and best of luck finishing up your first year!

      Delete
  4. Thank you so much for sharing this! I completely relate to every single thing you said. It is not easy to deal with and I wouldn't wish for anyone to deal with this issue, but it is comforting to know I am not alone. Being a teacher with anxiety is definitely a constant battle. I am a very positive person, but my anxiety can definitely get the best of me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Absolutely! Anxiety doesn't define us, but it does affect us!

      Delete
  5. This was one of the most spot on blog posts I have EVER read. I have had anxiety for years, and even left teaching a few years ago after the anxiety got to be too bad. I have never been able to explain how I feel, but your description of

    "2. I think every criticism is directed at me. My admin sends out a lot of blanket “friendly reminder” emails. And I’m convinced that every one is a response to something I’ve personally done. If I hear a colleague complaining about a service provider being late, I immediately start trying to figure out if I’ve ever been late to her class, and I’ll worry about it every time I go to that teacher’s class for the rest of all time."

    Yes. Yes. Yes. I would often feel physically sick if I even got an e-mail from the principal, and staff meetings were just plain horrible. Even if nothing was directed to me, I thought it was about me. To this day, being in anything that resembles a meeting...like jury duty...makes me have a panic attack. I am so happy that teachers are finally realizing it is ok to be human and have emotions. I love that TPT allows me to still be connected to the education world, yet doesn't force me to be uncomfortable. To this suffering and still teaching, I applaud you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your comment-- physically sick is exactly right! I hope we can all learn to be more sensitive to others and less hard on ourselves. It's a shame that so many wonderful teachers find teaching to be unsustainable, but I'm glad you were able to do what was right for you! I'm hoping to be able to shift to teaching part time for the same reason.

      Delete
  6. I had a similar situation to you in your AP psych class...except for me it was reading "Anxiety Cat" memes. I was relating to pretty much all of them and then I realized...oh wait, maybe this isn't normal.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wonder how many people find out that way! Thanks for sharing with me!

      Delete
  7. Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
    Reinhold Niebuhr

    ReplyDelete
  8. This is so relatable, thank you for sharing! I too suffer from generalized anxiety disorder, and I've been a supply teacher for two years now. It's so reassuring to hear someone with the EXACT same problems I have! Those last 5 points you made perfectly summarize how I feel everyday. It's so difficult, but we persevere!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment and kind words! It's not easy, but know that you're not alone!

      Delete