It’s a bloody battle in my head right now; so many parts are activated and playing up! I’m (well a dominant part of me at least) having a bit of a crisis of confidence at the moment and this is fuelling the internal anxiety fire in a big way. I’ve been feeling pretty overwhelmed and useless these last couple of days – which was not helped at all by my inability to talk about what I wanted to in therapy on Monday – and got stuck in procrastination mode for most of the morning.
For those of you who don’t know, back in the days before I had kids (also read ‘when I was young and vibrant’) I was a secondary school English teacher (Oi you! Don’t judge the poor writing, spelling, punctuation, and grammar!). I went back to work after my maternity leave when I had my daughter but resigned almost immediately. My little girl was really unsettled in nursery and was so upset that she would wake every half hour through the night crying; all that would settle her back to sleep was breastfeeding.
I was completely knackered after a month of being up pretty much all night and we felt terrible seeing her so distressed. It’s heartbreaking to see a baby in distress and to know it is you that is causing it. We found a childminder who could do one day a week and my wife took days off on leave each week to reduce the time our daughter needed to be in childcare but things weren’t right and it was just horrid.
The last thing I ever want for my children is for them to feel alone or abandoned – I guess that comes from being all too familiar with those feelings myself. Our confident and happy little girl was not herself at all. People said ‘she’d get used to it’ and ‘to give it time’, but I think you need to trust your instincts as a parent (and as a human being) and do what feels right to you.
I know a lot of people thought I was insane when my wife and I made the decision that I would take some time out of teaching whilst we had our family in order that I could be at home with the kids. I know they thought we were being soft and pandering to a grumpy baby. But I know that little girl better than anyone and she was not ok. She was not a fractious baby and she was a good sleeper – until I went back to work. I know what it is like to be shoved from pillar to post, after school club to childminder, to empty house with a key, and I have never wanted that for my children.
It’s not been easy. Losing my salary has meant life has changed massively. We used to go on big holidays twice a year to 5* hotels – skiing in the winter and sunshine in the summer. I had a new car. I would shop a lot, eat out a lot, just not really worry about money at all.
Since I stopped work the best we’ve managed is basic holidays in the UK in static caravans, my car is falling apart (I actually reversed into a granite post this week so it’s proper fucked now!), and shopping is a thing of the past. Credit cards groan under the pressure but hand on heart I can say that prioritising my child’s needs has been the best thing I have done. Why? Because not only have I done what was right for her, it looked after my needs too. I couldn’t bear knowing my baby was unhappy each day when I left her and knowing that I have a securely attached, confident, little person now is just the best. In fact I have two of them.
Some kids handle nursery with no bother and that’s brilliant, but my kid didn’t. I don’t judge people that put their kids in care at a young age, most people have no choice, and so it seems strange that it is ok for people to judge my choices. As it turns out my daughter took to preschool like a duck to water at three years old and my son has been going since he was two. They are both well-adjusted (if not slightly bloody irritating!) kids. It’s all about timing and knowing what is right for your child. Blah blah. Don’t get me wrong I am not a model parent. I do the best I can – sometimes it’s good enough and sometimes I fall short.
Anyway, that’s enough of that. This isn’t a bloody parenting blog!; it’s a mental health rant! So what’s the story here? I’ve been out of the classroom for five years now. I miss it. I miss the kids. I really miss the money. I miss feeling like I have a purpose other than being a mum (although the fact that I am personally trapped in a perpetual cycle of trying to find a mother in my therapist shows just what an important job being a mum really is). I miss the banter with my colleagues. I miss feeling like I am good at something. Don’t be fooled, though, there’s a great deal I don’t miss: politics, parent/teacher evenings, not being able to pee when I need to, report writing, staff meetings!
For the first couple of years when I left school I did some private tuition for students who were heading into their exams. Then I got sick with Lymphoma and took a break from it all. It’s been two years since I finished my treatment and I very recently (the last month or so) decided it was time to get back into the tutoring. Basically an ex-colleague set up a tutoring agency and was looking for English teachers. It makes sense. I can work around being there for the kids as the work is largely in the evenings. It’s pretty good money for an hour’s work, too.
Anyway, I dusted off my teacher persona, went and had a chat with my friend, and signed up to share my knowledge with kids again. Ha! Poor little buggers! It’s funny, whilst ‘teacher’ is a hat I can put on with ease, I was really aware of how heavy it feels on my head the moment I put it back on – ok that’s a bit of a shite metaphor but there you are. Whilst part of me loves talking about English and helping kids there is also another part that needs to be great and that is a huge pressure. And yes ‘great’ is the right word.
I am a perfectionist by nature. I like things to be right. I have high expectations of myself but at the same time I am crap crap crap at getting down to work. I am basically a perfectionist with a huge procrastination streak attached. I know why this is. If I don’t give myself enough time to do something and it goes wrong, or I fail, then I can blame it on time management rather and being lazy rather than actually being useless. I am so afraid to fail that I daren’t even really try. How sad is that?
The ironic thing is, I have never failed at anything really. I am capable and competent. A high achiever. But I put myself under a great deal of unnecessary pressure and stress. For example, I always leave things until the very last minute. I didn’t do any research/reading for my Masters thesis until three days before the deadline and then wrote the entire thing from scratch in 24 hours. I was absolutely shattered having not slept.
I was anxious for the few weeks leading into the deadline but it still didn’t feel possible to actually get down to work. It’s always been the same. I sometimes wonder what life would be like if I gave myself adequate time to do things and put myself under less strain? Although part of me wonders if I thrive under pressure and just need to accept I am the way I am.
So, last week was when I suffered a massive crisis of confidence. I was due to see my first student on Wednesday evening and gave myself the day to get sorted. Since I taught last the whole exam system has changed – or the grading has. We no longer have A*-U and instead have 1-9. Same same really. Anyway, I knew that the syllabus this kid was studying was all new and so I would have to find out about the structure of the syllabus and familiarise myself with how the exam papers were set up and what was being assessed and how. Basically, nothing I haven’t done a million times before in my job.
But for some reason on Wednesday morning I felt anxious and panicked. What if I couldn’t find what I needed on the exam board website? What if I didn’t understand the syllabus? What if I couldn’t work out how to apply the mark scheme? What if I couldn’t plan anything useful to teach in my session?…
I literally felt sick to my stomach. It felt like I had loads to do and that I just couldn’t do it. I was frozen. I had no self-belief.
That is fucking insane.
Like literally fucking insane.
I hate that my mind sabotages me like this.
I trained to teach in 2005 and taught for seven years before leaving the profession. I have trained and mentored trainee teachers. All my teaching observations have been either good or outstanding. I used to teach 150 different kids each week of all abilities including those with SEN. I would plan and deliver 23 lessons a week. My results were always great – the kids made good progress. Why on earth would I not be able to make sense of a sodding syllabus and plan a frigging lesson/tutoring session? After all English is always English. It’s the same skills just examined in a slightly different way.
I don’t know what happened.
All I know is that feeling helpless and useless activated the inner child and the inner critic simultaneously. The critic was berating me for being pathetic and incapable telling me I shouldn’t eat and to hurt myself; the little one was screaming that she needed my therapist ‘right nowwwww!’ I ignored the critic and told the child that I understood, and that I (adult) wanted our therapist too but we had to wait until Monday. She didn’t like that at all!
As it turned out, when I did manage to drag myself out from under the duvet, having spent a good while hiding with my soft toy rabbit, I was really productive. I found exactly what I needed, printed out and read everything I needed, and planned some work and made some resources. It was fine. I can do this stuff. Why then do I doubt myself so much?
The session (teaching, not therapy!) went fine, too. What else did I expect? Or more to the point why would I expect that it would be rubbish and I would be lacking or not up to the job? Why do I have this deep-rooted sense of not being good enough? Everything I have done and achieved over the years has come about through my work and my ability and yet, somehow I feel like a fraud. Part of me is certain that the next thing I do will expose me for who I really am. Someone will see through my façade and it’ll all come crashing down.
Part of me knows that it’s a distorted view of myself but there is another part that is adamant that it’s correct. That part is the one that fears being seen in therapy. I don’t want to be seen and be judged to be lacking, not good enough, inadequate. I want to believe that if I show myself to my therapist that she’ll see something that I simply don’t. It just feels incredibly risky because I don’t think I can cope with having my worst fears confirmed – no matter how unrealistic they actually are.
It’s tragic that, essentially, there’s a little girl inside me that feels desperately unloved. No matter how ‘good’ she is she can never get what she wants- and that is a physical demonstration of her mother’s love and care -her mother’s holding and containment. I have spent my whole life trying to be the good girl in order that I might get my mum to notice me and want to touch me. I have tied my sense of self worth to my academic achievements and being able to be self-sufficient when really my low self-worth comes from feeling unlovable. #motherwound
No matter what I achieve or how high I jump nothing has ever been enough to change how my mum is with me. Sure, she’s proud. And I am sure in her eyes I am ‘good enough’ but the damage to my sense of self was done so long ago that I can’t seem to get out off the track I am on. I can’t divorce myself from the idea that no matter what I do it is not enough to be loved…. and that’s why I am a fucking disaster.
How long is it til Monday? I could really use a therapy session! … but it’s set for blizzard conditions as of tomorrow morning so who knows if I’ll even get there.
This post is really just much ado about nothing!
Oh I know this feeling so well. I don’t even have anything to add I don’t think, because you just say it so well. I’ve always battled this feeling that no matter how hard I try, someone is going to figure out that I’m really not as good as they think I am. I suppose that’s my inner critic talking. You deserve so much credit for getting back into teaching (it’s such a hard and under-appreciated profession) and I’m glad you can recognize outside the moments of anxiety that you are capable and competent. Keep letting THAT voice be heard, maybe the critic will quiet down a bit.
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Thanks hun. I actually thought of you when I was writing this and about how you’ve been putting off applying for jobs. Sorry to bring that up. You are clearly very competent but something gets in the way all the time. It’s such a shame that we find it so tough to be on our own side. Not sure if I’m making sense – just woke up from a snow day nap! X
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We’ve got snow too! You are making perfect sense, don’t worry.
There is a name for this feeling, “yet, somehow I feel like a fraud. Part of me is certain that the next thing I do will expose me for who I really am. Someone will see through my façade and it’ll all come crashing down.” Imposter syndrome. We talked about it often in grad school because literally every single one of us felt like we were frauds just waiting to be outed. I think that part is actually pretty normal for people who are actually, genuinely quite good at what they do…
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That makes a lot of sense. I know a lot of people feel this way, and in my experience it’s usually people who really shouldn’t! It’s never the bloody useless ones; they’re there full of (misplaced!) confidence. Lol. Thanks for the comment, and letting me know the official name for my problem!
Omg! Yes! Lol that’s so frustrating. But good to remember, if we are feeling that way then maybe we are actually the ones who do have the gifts.
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You are an outstanding mother. And fuck the judgements from others. Some kids do great at nursery, and others need mummy for a bit longer, it’s about time people realised parenting is about attuning to the needs of each individual child and not a theory spouted by some ” tv nanny”.
You are also an amazing friend! And a great teacher by the sounds. So all this worry and anxiety is unwarranted. I wonder what all the energy being put into worrying is actually masking? What are you avoiding?
Yes there’s a fear of failing, but is there also a fear of succeeding? What does succeeding mean to you? Change? Something else?
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Oh that’s such a lovely thing for you to say ❤️. I’m so glad our paths crossed. You certainly keep me sane and balanced (!😜). I guess I’ll find out what all this is about eventually. If I can stick it out in therapy…ok! 😳