Three years ago I was employed, a full-time, yearly renewed contract but it was still ‘proper’ employment.
Things hadn’t really been going well, work was very stressful, I was being forced to teach something I felt unqualified to teach – I tried to explain I couldn’t teach it and was told I was being ‘inflexible’ and where I worked people who were inflexible did not get contract renewals. Marking was getting on top of me, I had over 100 students doing BTEC and some of them were not passing the unit I was struggling to teach. I was going to work at 7am and leaving at 9pm, my weekends consisted of grunting at my partner during meals and then getting back to marking or lesson planning or tracking.
I also had had time off to get married (that made me popular – not) then, three days before the Easter holidays I was at work at 7:30am and my mother called me sobbing – my grandfather died. I had to leave and go back to Yorkshire and care for my grandmother, help arrange the funeral, view the body, the body with half the face smashed from where he’d fallen. We’re a close-knit family and I’d told the place I worked I wouldn’t be back before the Easter holidays.
I was told not to worry about it. So I didn’t.
I should have.
When I returned I was told I should have returned the next day. I was told that I had let my students down. I was told that I had let the other staff down. When I’d explained to my students why I had been absent I was told how dare I make them feel bad for asking why their work hadn’t been marked? Slowly I began to realise I wasn’t welcome in my department anymore, several people began to blame me for things, the others began to close off from me. I’d suddenly become the department scapegoat. I had to reinterview for my job and I didn’t get it. Friday afternoon the week before final deadline my boss told me that she’d finally IV’d my Unit two marking and none of it was up to her standard. This was a shock to me as I’d marked it the same as the year before and when I asked why she hadn’t said anything in January (as that’s when it should have been IV’d) I was told she couldn’t find it then and all my students would have to re-do, resubmit and I would have to remark anything above a pass in one week.
That day as I drove home I stared at the trees along the route and found myself thinking “If I drove into one of those trees…I wouldn’t have to go to work on Monday” I was so desperate not to go back to that toxic environment that I was willing to seriously injure myself. I didn’t want to kill myself, I could never do that to my partner and family, but I wanted to hurt myself so badly.
The Saturday I treated myself to the local Pick your own and went to pick strawberries. A few hours in the fresh air would sort me out I thought. I don’t remember how it happened but there I was in the middle of a strawberry field, on my knees in the hay just sobbing my eyes out silently. I don’t know how long I sat there, I an remember it so clearly, the bees, the smell of strawberries, the green of the plants and the bright blue sky but I do remember thinking ENOUGH.
I drove myself to the local walk in clinic and sat for an hour in the waiting room barely holding on. I explained everything, the nurse was brilliant, she listened and I was a blubbering mess she prescribed me some Valium to get me through the weekend as I hadn’t been sleeping and sent me home with strict instructions not to go back to that place.
I called my two best friends as my partner was away. Please I need someone here with me I begged them and they came. They stayed the whole week with me, they fed me ice cream and didn’t complain when I ate the whole lot myself. They made sure I slept and took the medicine the Dr prescribed me. They drove me to that Dr on the Monday morning and she made sure I knew that I wasn’t in the wrong, she told me it was okay to feel how I did and she also said she’d wanted me to take a fit note when she’d seen me in March but I’d refused saying I’d tough it out.
I love my friends. Someone I don’t speak to anymore called my partner and explained everything to them, including how I was feeling and what had happened and how they could help me.
The medicine I was taking knocked me out, dead on 2pm every afternoon. I started in May 2014 and the whole of May, June, July….I would fall asleep at 2pm, that’s how exhausted and sleepless I’d been. I started therapy, I didn’t think it would help, I hated filling out the survey every week asking if I still wanted to hurt myself. Some weeks were better than others.
As I’m writing this I’m sat in a library at university. A library I probably wouldn’t have been sat in without the support and help of my friends, partner and therapist. I felt so low and useless I wouldn’t have even considered doing a Masters.
Yet here I am, two years in to a part-time masters, I’m sat in the library surrounded by the books and papers I’m reading for the literature review for my final project. The lowest grade I’ve gotten so far was 69%. I still have bad days, I’m currently crying as I write all this out – it’s like poking a wound that’s inside, it causes an ache in my chest even this many years on. My experience has damaged my love of teaching, it damaged my confidence and it’s damaged how I work with other people to a degree. I couldn’t even drive past the building at first.
It took over a year of therapy, and it was only in September 2016 I took the last of my medication to the pharmacy for disposal. I’m better than I was, and one day I hope to be able to talk about it without being angry or crying.
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