Mental health and the working life #MHAW15
Being a young teacher has it challenges, four in 10 newly qualified teachers ‘quit’ within a year. The long hours, the stress, the pressure and the low pay all take their toll. Like most of my colleagues I have always managed to face these challenges head on and with the help of people around me. But what happens when you are feeling so low and helpless that on a regular basis you contemplate ending it all? Or more seriously even attempt to end it all? It’s not like you can go to the doctors and they can give you some magical pills that make it all better like a common illness. It’s the sort of illness that drives you insane wondering how on earth you got here in the first place.
Well my story begins shortly after having surgery to repair my right eye socket after being attacked by a drunken man in Southend. He had successfully managed to remove any sort of bone that was keeping my eye in its place with one swift punch from behind my head. Thankfully he was arrested and convicted of GBH but this is a side story. While recovering back in the motherland of Wales I attended a rugby game with a buddy of mine with who I hadn’t seen in three years. We had a selfie and posted it on Facebook. Little did I know that something so harmless would start the process of me starting my walk down the road of “mental health”.
A colleague of mine took this photo and reported me to HR who on my “back to work” meeting had presented this photo of me blown up to A4 in front of me. I was accused of being “unprofessional” whilst signed off sick and was duly presented a “letter of expectation” much to my shock.
I knew immediately that I had to get my union the NUT involved. My rep at the school was fantastic. He marched right into their office and accused them of entrapment to which the school quickly backed down. I knew at this moment I had to be involved in the union more actively.
However from this moment I was now a marked man. I was made to feel that no matter what I did in school, it wasn’t good enough. My marking wasn’t good enough; my appearance wasn’t good enough; my prep wasn’t good enough and I was even pulled to one side by my head of department who told me that the Senior Learning Team (SLT) didn’t approve of me being on the BBC website in the office during my lunch hour!
I felt stabbed in the back by my colleagues in my department. I felt like I was a worthless rubbish teacher who harmed children’s education instead of improving it.
I hated going to school. I couldn’t face the people who had made me feel like I was worth nothing and it constantly played on my mind. I would wake up crying in the middle of the night, I was shaking every morning driving into school and worst of all I would go to bed thinking about ways of taking my own life. I didn’t want to live anymore.
I did what anyone would do in this situation. I confided in the people around me who I thought were my friends at the time. I told them my thoughts and how sad I was. The reaction I got was quite surprising. They distanced themselves from me, I wasn’t invited out anywhere and I was even told that “You are seen more as a burden and we don’t want to deal with you when you start crying”
I was destroyed. I had never felt so lonely. To me it was quite clear I was a burden and no one would miss me. I read a few articles about drowning and apparently how peaceful it feels. I had made my plan.
Upon my return to Wales in the summer I ventured down to Aberavon seafront. A beautiful seafront that stretches for a few miles across. The beach was deserted except for a few surfers down the beach. I stood there crying my heart out and the scene perfectly captured how I was feeling. Completely on my own with no one around me and no one to notice what I was about to do.
I took my car keys, wallet and phone and placed them on the beach and went into the sea. Shaking with fear and disbelief at what I was about to do – I froze once the water got above my ankles. Still crying uncontrollably, I dragged myself back to my car where I phoned the Samaritans and spoke to a lovely guy for 40 minutes who suddenly made me feel like life was worth living. This one man who I never knew the name of saved my life and whoever you are I can’t thank you enough.
It was still tough after this. I still felt lonely and would cry a lot on my own but I suddenly felt purpose. I was thankful I had my best friend Emma who dragged me to the doctors where I was diagnosed with severe depression and placed on anti-depressants. The medication has been amazing for me. Ever since taking them (started last September) I have never felt suicidal once. I have never felt sad inside. I have never even contemplated harming myself. People refer to these as “happy pills” and yes, they are right, they are my happy pills that keep on the right path and I am not ashamed to admit I have sought help.
I am not ashamed to admit I went to the point of self-destruction and returned a stronger man. I am not ashamed to admit I take medication and I am not ashamed to admit a woman called Emma is my rock and has saved me on countless occasions. I can’t thank the NUT enough for all the help and support they have given me throughout this whole ordeal. We are stronger and together and cannot let the workplace become a hunting ground.
So what’s the point of you reading this? Well I don’t want you feeling so alone you don’t see any other way out. Please ring the Samaritans. Please talk to your doctor and more importantly please don’t hide it.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.
This week (11-17 May) is Mental Health Awareness Week. If you want more information on the week, or sources of advice and support on mental health issues, visit the MHAW15 website.