“Somehow we’ve come to equate success with not needing anyone. Many of us are willing to extend a helping hand, but we’re very reluctant to reach out for help when we need it ourselves. It’s as if we’ve divided the world into ‘those who offer help’ and ‘those who need help.’ The truth is that we are both.” — Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
Asking for help is something with which I’ve always struggled. I want to be the strong, independent, empowered woman who can figure things out for herself.
Last weekend, however, I got a crash course in both asking for help and in the humility it takes to do so.
This fall marked the beginning of my first year as a full-blown, certificated, training-wheels-off teacher. To make a ridiculously long story short, it was not a healthy environment. Most of my colleagues were truly wonderful and helpful people. However, where I needed it most, I felt isolated and unsupported. I received a lot of surface-level offers of assistance and lip service, but after 4 p.m. each day, I was on my own. I begged for help I didn’t receive.
Still, I trudged through. Everyone warned me the first year of teaching was the hardest, and clearly teachers survive the year or there wouldn’t be second-year teachers. This must be normal. I’ll figure it out on my own. Everyone preached the importance of self-care, but even with the little bit I carved out for myself (namely, watching Gilmore Girls while eating dinner), I was falling further and further behind in grading past assignments and in planning future ones.
Some nights I didn’t leave school till 8:30. I was throwing up every morning from anxiety, and eating next to nothing because of it. I gave up coffee because it easily triggered my gag reflex. (If you know me, you understand how big of a deal giving up coffee was.) I would fall asleep fine but wake up after two hours, worried about lesson plans. Some nights I never got back to sleep.
I was miserable; all day, every day.
My teaching, as you’d imagine, was affected. I wasn’t confident in my lessons, or the lessons I borrowed, and it showed. As my confidence slipped, students took advantage. Classroom management became a struggle in just about every period of every day. I felt I was being chipped away at little by little, until there was simply nothing left to give.
While I didn’t have suicidal thoughts, I wanted to run away all the time. I wanted to escape. I fantasized about getting into a car accident just bad enough that I wouldn’t have to go back to school.
On Saturday morning, after failed attempts to find a therapist in the area, the prospect of walking out my door and into school for my 27th consecutive day simply became too much. I had an anxiety attack. By shakily singing hymns, I was able to focus just enough to drive myself to urgent care. Even in that state, it felt liberating to be able to drive somewhere that wasn’t my normal home-to-work, work-to-home route.
At urgent care I learned I had lost 20 pounds since the start of school.
Now I am surrounded by people who love and support me. My parents have been pillars of strength for me in a time when little else makes sense. I’m asking for the mental health help I need. I’m talking to friends. I’m journaling. I’m getting back into nature. I’m taking a dance class.
That’s not to say I’m healed. Depending on the hour, my confidence in myself as a teacher and as a human is carefully stitched together and too fragile to test out. I’m grieving my job and how I expected it to work out. I miss the co-workers who tried to help and whom I had started to see as friends. I feel guilt that I’ve failed them and (most painfully) the kids. Today I feel less broken than I did yesterday, but let’s be honest: this wound is just a few days old, fresh and raw and painful to the touch.
And so I implore you: Ask for help. Don’t try to go it alone, even if you think you should be able to, or that “everyone else” would be able to. Do what you need to. A little bit of time now will save you much greater heartbreak down the road.
I started my search for help by searching my insurance company’s website and filtering the list of services by my location and counselors accepting new patients. You could do the same, or else find King County, Washington State, and national crisis hotlines here.