Milty Goes to Connecticut

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 29 2009

Discretion is the Better Part of Valor

(quoted from Henry IV somewhat loosely)

Very simple reason that I haven’t blogged in a while:

I’m no longer a teacher.

Or I’m not a teacher right now. This was initially as much of a surprise to me as it likely is to some other people reading this. About three weeks ago, Sept. 25 in fact, I resigned from Hartford Public Schools not entirely of my own free will. Since the beginning of my teaching career, I have become increasingly anxious. I’ve always been a push-through kind of person, evidenced partly by the fact that I haven’t actually taken a summer off since I’ve been teaching. I’ve always been very nervous and highly strung and ambitious and hard working. But there comes a time when your body says, “no more.” That time was Sept. 24.

As a friend of mine recently remarked, it a testament to the adaptability of the human species that we can come to see certain things as normal. For me that was being ultra-nervous, anxious to the point of ill, unable to eat normally and excessively weepy. Over the years, I had come to see those as just being personality traits. I would even joke about being nervous and highly strung. I don’t if it was moving to Hartford that amplified it or if it was living with other people cast it into sharp contrast but whatever the case, the anxiety became severe.

Beginning in September, I started losing focus – literally having trouble focusing my eyes. I stopped eating; I just couldn’t choke much down. I was exhausted all the time. What was alarming, though, was ending up in places where I either (a) didn’t intend to go or (b) didn’t recognize. My brain just didn’t seem to be working. I felt like one of those giant robots in a 50s sci-fi movie with the tiny person sitting up in the head controlling it with a joystick. Only, the person sitting up in the head – me – no longer had any control over what the robot was doing.

So September 24, I had a an anxiety attack or a brown out or something in class. Half the adults in the school happened to be there at the time because the 8th graders were attempting to eat me alive the first month of school. The lit coach took me to the nurse who sent me to the principal who made me fess up about being crazy. Instead of allowing me to take some time off to straighten out – which incidentally was about 4 days later when the meds kicked in – she forced me to resign. This is, of course, the short version, and as I am the protagonist, it’s told to put me in the best light possible. But, how good of a light is it really? “Ms. _____, I’m not incompetent; I’m crazy.”

So we come to the title, discretion is the better part of valor. There comes a time when persisting against all odds is foolishness, when it is time to stop for your health and sanity. For me that time had come. I don’t want to be weeping all the time for no discernible reason; nauseous; batty; unpleasant; stressed.

The other purpose for sharing this is about Teach For America. I’ve heard from many people that TFA treats people like numbers; they only care about data. I want to dispel that particular myth. Through this whole somewhat unbelievable – but thankfully short – meltdown, my program director stood by me, indignant on my behalf. (I wasn’t really capable of feeling much besides tired and sad.) I received an emergency release so that I can take this year to work at Borders, take pills and talk to the psychologist, so that I can return to the classroom fall 2010 and finish what I started. I’m certain not CM-16,456-08-CT to the people here. Turns out that TFA is actually a lot more understanding about mental illness than Hartford Public Schools.

This is pretty difficult for me to talk about because I feel that needing psychological care is often interpreted as weakness. It is my hope that people who struggle with anxiety or depression or any other mental health issue will not feel judged, not judge themselves and seek the help they need. At one point, I asked my psychologist, “could I have stopped this? could I have caught this earlier? did I miss the signs? was this somehow preventable?” She dodged the question possibly because the answer is don’t let it go until you pass out, stop eating or end up at the post office instead of the grocery store.

One Response

  1. Laurie

    I want to commend you for blogging about this very personal experience. I can only imagine how much of a difficult time you are having right now. Your writing about it is an excellent means of catharsis, and perhaps, will allow others to offer their support to you.

    Yes, it was preventable. Having said that though, go-getters and high-achievers don’t always pay attention to the subtle signs that are sometimes blatantly evident. We’re too busy setting, striving for, and attaining significant goals. We try to convince ourselves that our bodies are machines, and they aren’t. We push as hard as we can and even harder when those subtle clues start rearing their little stubborn heads. Then, before we know it, we’re down on the ground wondering how in the heck we didn’t see that brick wall in front of us.

    This experience is not a poor reflection on you or your mental abilities. Rather, what you experienced is very much a product of the culture in which we live. Give your recovery the attention and enthusiasm you’ve given to every other project or goal you’ve worked toward in your life.

    You’re going to be fine and you’re going to come out of this stronger than you ever were. You’ll be shocked at how much growth this experience will engender. Best of luck to you!

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Charmingly (maybe) Existential (possible) Musings (read: rants) on My TFA Tenure

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