Over the past 6 months, I feel like my brain has had a
little reset in terms of my resilience and emotional response to things.
2 things have happened in that time: I climbed a mountain (no, literally) and I had a difficult conversation.
I’ve always been the kind of person that buries themselves in work – after all, it’s got me out of a lot of bad things, and into a lot of good things instead. I definitely have done this in the last few years. I’ve given everything I’ve got to becoming a good teacher, but I don’t think I realised until recently how much I was using it as a blanket for the mess inside my brain.
3 years ago I finally separated from my family for good. It was a horrible experience, and was compounded a year ago by my mother’s death. I felt awful. She died without us ever having a last conversation… you know, that last film-like moment to make up, and I’ve been carrying it ever since.
It’s important to acknowledge that grief can come out in a lot of ways and I think I have realised that my grief crutches are working excessively hard, food, and drink.
In July last year I was lucky enough to visit Peru. It’s been on my list since I was 7 (after seeing a fold out of Machu Picchu in the National Geographic) and I was EXCITED about it. Now it turns out, I suffer really badly from altitude sickness. I did not know this until we landed in Cusco, I went to the bathroom and nearly passed out. Cusco is absolutely beautiful, but I was exhausted constantly and really struggled after 1 minute of walking. We then went on to Aguas Calientes, the hometown of Machu Picchu. Being significantly lower in altitude, I could breathe! We were there for only one night and boy, did I sleep well.
The next morning we headed up to Machu and it was singlehandedly the greatest moment of my life. I’ve been so blessed to travel like I have (especially as I only got my first passport aged 21!) but this was THE moment. Standing at the entry at 6am, seeing it covered in ethereal cloud was incredible.
Mother Nature though, was not on my side. The weather sucked. It really did. It was humid, but it was pouring. We’d already pre-purchased tickets to climb Huayna Picchu (the mountain in the pictures behind Machu) and I had started to have regrets before even stepping foot on the mountain.
Despite this, we started to ascend. It was difficult. The
stairs (if you can call them that) were soaking; there’s no rope for a lot of
it so my hands were wet and muddy; I was boiling but couldn’t take off my rain
coat because the rain didn’t stop and it HURT. This was my first day in almost
a week of being able to breathe, but I felt weak (as I’d barely been eating
because the altitude killed my appetite) and this just felt like too much.
Alongside this, I hadn’t worked out properly for a very, very long time, and
ultimately was not prepared for the difficulty.
There was one moment that I’ll remember forever. About 70% of the way to the top, I stopped. I just couldn’t do it… but the only thing worse than carrying on was getting back down… and I couldn’t do that either. I had to keep climbing.
This 90 minutes felt like the worst in my life. I HATED it…. But I got there! Yaaaay… except… the insane view of Machu I was hoping for was replaced with a wall of grey cloud. You couldn’t see even a hint of an alpaca… and I had to get all the way back down there (which looks impossible and involves a route called ‘the death stairs’, so I wasn’t feeling too positive about it).
During the descent (much, much easier), the rain stopped and there was a picture perfect moment where the cloud cleared and I could see Machu. It felt so good to see that with my own eyes. In real life. Right there! All of the pain, the stress and tension left me in that moment.
This was the first time I felt I achieved something physically. I know I’m a hard worker and mentally fairly strong… but no clever spreadsheet or good lesson idea could get me out of that climb. I had to grit my teeth and get through. Recently in times of difficulty, I’ve thought about that moment, the 70% up-the-mountain moment. Everything else pales in comparison to how difficult that was. It’s made me change my perspective of what I can and can’t achieve.
So I’m 50% there. My brain has changed a little bit.
But the other 50% happened recently and I think –dare I say
it- the worst of my grief is over now.
I love my school. I really do. I work hard and I – like all of you – do that for those young people I see day in, day out. However, there’s no doubt it’s a lot of work (Saturday school every week/7:30pm finishes if you take prep etc). Now again, I don’t mind this. But last term I had a conversation that made my brain stop and reflect. I can’t write the details here, but afterwards I felt like I could see the wood for the trees again. It wasn’t a positive conversation, but it felt like an affirmation that I can stop. Those closest to me have said I seem totally different since that conversation and I feel it. It was enough to snap me out of my mental rut. It made me realise that I can work, and work, and work some more… but the outcome won’t make me better. Only I can do that.
My favourite person always says ‘your success is defined by the number of uncomfortable situations you’re willing to put yourself in’ and I feel like I’ve truly started to understand that. I feel as if my anguish, guilt, and self-loathing are disappearing more every day. I feel more inclined to look after myself; to leave work at 4pm for a gym class; to not worry so much about others’ responses or projections onto me. I think I forgot how to feel at peace mentally. I don’t just mean happy, because I am – I have such a beautiful life that I never believed I could have, but my brain was never quiet. In there, always, was a voice nagging me for being a bad daughter, for letting mum down, for being so selfish, for being totally undeserving of any success or joy… I felt guilty about everything (seriously. Holidays, fancy dinners, new clothes, my insanely beautiful new flat… you name it, my brain targeted it). That voice went on and on for years. But between that climb and that conversation, it seems to have disappeared.
I know this blog is often about teaching… but sometimes you have to stop being Miss Hampshire-Dell, and look after Lauran. Replace that with your name, and make 2019 a year of self-love.