I want to preface this personal post by saying that I’m sharing this so that it might help others who might be experiencing similar thoughts or feelings. I am not a mental health expert, but I am sharing my experience.
When I started My Lipstick Letters around this time last year, it was born from a place of hope and creative joy at night. During the day, I was working at a Title 1 high school that served as the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life for 3 years. Racing to every academic finish line and “saving” as many students as I could, I was burned out and bitter from my job teaching to a challenging population. The trauma that my students came from was too much for me to handle (verbal, physical, and substance abuse, homelessness, teen pregnancy) and I was experiencing some pretty intense physical manifestations of anxiety.
During these last 3 years, I dove head first into self-care strategies at home, blogged about happiness here, took one Mental Health day off each month, and consulted with mentors at work to do the best I could in such a reactive environment. It was certain that this job triggered stress and anxiety, but what I didn’t know is that it also led to depression.
I’d never experienced depression before and didn’t actually know I had it until I left that job. Have you ever experienced something called Situational Depression? That’s what I had and here’s what it felt like:
- I lost interest in taking care of myself. I would wake up with a racing heart and struggle internally whether or not I should take the day off. I wouldn’t let myself eat breakfast because I didn’t think I had time or that I deserved it. This deprivation left me hungry and cranky to start the day. I would work through lunch and skip it often due to meetings and poor meal planning at home.
- I was constantly crying during my planning time. At first, I was very careful to not let anyone see me upset, but as this past year (my 3rd year there) continued into the spring, I started to lose my ability to hide it. Multiple co-workers consoled me and commiserated with me at times.
- Even though I was the role model and adult figure in my classroom, I felt foggy and forgetful. While I was extremely prudent about hiding this stress from my students, some of my students picked up on my energy and one class even made me a giant card with sweet wishes written all over it.
The thing is, I think they knew before I did. I knew I was stressed out to the max and that I wanted to leave for a new job, but I had no idea that it was depression. I thought that this feeling of drowning was my life. I found myself feeling ashamed of my stress. Why were my co-workers smiling at meetings and acting like everything was just fine while I was fighting the urge to breakdown after dealing with a student’s outburst in class just 5 minutes before? Looking back on that time now, I know that it was situational depression because my behaviors matched all the symptoms (and my therapist pointed it out a few months later).
If you’ve read this far, you might be wondering why I chose to share this. The reasons why I’m sharing are:
- Depression comes in many forms and in many disguises. While my home life and blog life were going splendidly, my work life felt like a battleground. You can have a fantastic marriage, supportive friends, zero family drama, and still be in a cloud of depression. This was my life.
- Fighting off stressful feelings only gets you so far until you have to make a change. I was fighting so hard to fix all the problems(systemic and otherwise) in that work environment. While working there, I never gave up nor did I stop caring, even when my mental health suffered. I only cared about how my students were connecting to my lessons.
- Therapy and self-care are important. What’s more, it typically takes an outsider to look at you and help you make necessary changes if you are dealing with mental health issues, including environmental stressors (like mine).
- Finding a hobby that I was passionate about helped me get through each day. While I was experiencing brain fog and stress tears on a daily basis at work, I was also a really happy person once I got home and started blogging.
To wrap it up and to move on towards next year, I will share a few takeaways I’ve learned from 2018.
- If you are in a tough place right now, it will get better. I left my stressful Title 1 school and ended that chapter of my life. I applied to several schools and landed my dream job 6 months ago. All of my depression symptoms are gone and I actually experience joy (along with an easier population) at my new job!
- Nurture the people who care for you when you’re down. My marriage to Charlie started right as I landed my Title 1 school job. For the first 3 years of our marriage, he would find me at home and do everything he could to cheer me up, including hugs, funny dance moves, and ridiculous impressions of me. While it wasn’t his job to make me happy, he did it all the same. Without him, I would’ve skipped town and quit halfway though the school year (I’m not kidding).
- Be grateful for what you have right now, even if it’s a less-than-ideal job, home, health, or financial situation. Tomorrow is never promised!
If you got this far, thank you for reading this personal post. I hope that this honesty will help those who need it right now and I hope that we all can start 2019 with a clean slate. My 2019 intentions are all about cherishing this sweet spot in my life that’s full of good mental health and community. Happy New Year!