Figety mind. Fidgety body. Uneasy. Unsteady.
I feel it in my soul, body, and mind when it starts to get cold. When it is frigid and stark darkness comes earlier and earlier, my brain often drifts away from its normal state of functioning. I get into the beauty of summer, then a little of fall. Work starts during then and usually rugby– my routine since 2007. I fall into this way that works for me. Fitness, nutrition, work schedule, etc. It is just the absolute soaring version of myself for the most part.
WINTER COMES/ THE SHIFT
This whole change of temperature and precipitation comes and it comes on slowly. The creeping in makes me miss it for a few weeks, miss that shift in my body, I mean. I see it happening but I don’t truly feel it right away.
With that shift to the dark and drearies of the time, when winter is coming, I always end up in some kind of funk. Whether it be fitness level, or activity level in general, it’s down. My overall ability to get things done is decreased or sometimes deceased. It feels like the day is so short, I run out of steam the second night falls. Night falls now sometimes before I leave work. I have to push myself to use the daylight before it’s gone.
I hate days where I didn’t get to feel the sun at all. Winter comes.
That whole shift and change messes with me and my whole aura. I am the kind of person who wakes up, makes the to do list, and gets it done. I feel like that’s the more math-y side of me. The type A, kind of organized and finicky– stricter with guidelines side. This is how I feel I start my day and I loosen my grip as the day goes on. At work, my hair is up, I think the expression is. I’m my most put together, my best productive self. As the day goes, I get more tired and just lose steam usually right at the end of my classes.
You see, that is ingrained from the first day of school. My body and mind adjust to schedules right away and I truly make it right until when I need to. I am an absolute MESS when I need to go in early or stay in later than normal. I am NOT good at 3pm faculty meeting. My brain fights me saying “I’m done! I did the thing today!” It messes with me– I preset myself for my schedule. I work at being flexible but change is extremely difficult for me. My therapist and I joke about needing to be flexible in 2020, which is funnier on some days than others. It is also certainly easier to be flexible some days and about certain things and not others. Did I mention I am finicky about some things? Yikes.
SPECIAL EDUCATION AND ME
Anyway, I think I work well with special education students because I have all of these modifications I make for my own life pretty naturally now. I constantly assess and re-assess what is happening and why my behaviors are changing. For example, I am working explicitly now at waking up early. It is something that I just lose if I don’t focus on it. I will do it for 2 days and then bomb it, and stay up until 2am. That is not conducive to my job, which is, in turn, not conducive to a good day for me or my mental health. When I have a crap day at work, after work sucks, too. I still want to go home every day and have a day I was proud of at work. The natural me loves the quiet of the evening so I need to continuously work to fight that cycle or I fall back. I need to continuously push for those things that are maybe not natural to me, but push my mental health forward in the right direction.
These are the things I teach my current students, but maybe learned from my past students in a decade of teaching. It is hard to say which came first, but I have certainly taught longer than I have been in therapy, longer than I have been medicated, and way longer than I have tried to truly evaluate my mental health or work on it. I have always evaluated the behavior and patterns in my students, however. That is something I am very good at. Every behavior has a function for them and I learned for myself as well. The beauty in teaching is that we keep learning about others and ourselves, a truly symbiotic relationship. You learn from me, I learn from you.
All of my issues in behavior, by the way, are things I have seen in students. Though I choose not to share my mental health trials and victories with my students, they sense I know about the issues they have. Students have always come to myself and my team of teachers because I think we exude non-judgement, or at least I hope so. When a student melts down because there was a schedule change, I am in their corner. When a student doesn’t want to go to a pep rally because it is crowded and loud, like me too– please don’t melt down. We can make a group and have board games in the cafeteria. No panic attacks on my watch. [Sorry, I LOVE being peppy– I do NOT love a crowded hallway.]
I just winged it for most of my life, but truly working on my mental health has been the most rewarding thing I have ever done.
THE ‘NOT TEACHER’ VERSION OF ME
My big shift from therapy talk that contributed positively to my mental health last year (and believe me, there is one every year) was getting my work done at work. That sounds obvious, but I am bringing so much work home right now. I didn’t do that before, which gave me the time to be just a person after work. It gives me time to be the ‘not teacher’ version of me and put that away. In rugby, we call it ‘leaving it on the pitch.’ Don’t bring the game into your life after. Don’t be pissed about the loss or the bad call, just let it go– instead shake hands and get a beer with the other team. Simple. Get them in the next game. Same principle with work here. You need to be able to step away so you have the energy for the match tomorrow.
You need to have time outside of your career to be all of the other things that are you. By getting work done and giving yourself the break to be you, you are better the next day. I am finding the more I try to grind into a day, the less I am able to grind or even teach the next day. I’m worn out. It lingers. The not teacher version of me dies every time I work past 7. She whines and dramatically says we are staying up until 2AM then. The cycle of disruptive behavior continues. The ‘not teacher’ in me needs time to breathe and be in my own space otherwise my messy mind stays messy. The ‘not teacher’ me getting out– well she declutters the mess in there.
Sometimes it is a push, but even forcing myself to go be that not teacher me does wonders. Forcing myself to take a walk after school. Forcing myself to get the sun I need. Sometimes it is work to make ourselves even do good things for ourselves and that is when we need to push especially hard. Make that plan to make that time for yourself and the things you love.
THE OUTSIDE WORK
My therapist and I went through the ‘what was going well’ list and we came back to that thing. We came back to the habits that were working and one was the routine of waking up early. As I expressed in a past piece, the art of not rushing around in the morning is just beautiful. You get to have space to breathe and peace. This starts the day in a way that is conducive to the best me. I love to de-clutter and come home to a space where I can move– not a cluttered mess. So I decided this is that small step to get back and I am working on it.
This is the beauty again in therapy. My therapist knows what used to work for me since she was there, too. She also knows what doesn’t work even if I push and push to keep doing it. I am so inherently me. Sometimes these behaviors creep back and I’m literally like:
GIRL WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?
This might be the most bipolar way of saying it, but it truly is me seeing me coming. It is quiet me seeing a HURRICANE, Taz-manian Devil, Kool-Aid Man version of Michie SMASHING towards her. We shake hands and pass off the baton. Relay race and here she goes, She’s off…
I am describing the shift to mania, which often comes directly before an elevator fall into anxiety. It is hard to always say ‘stop it’ right away when, to be honest, mania is so fun. The thing is if you know you are going to plummet, you’re less likely to keep wanting to climb the mountain.
The anxiety and depression of the bipolar– not so fun. This is why we medicate. This is why we avoid the high, even though damn it feels good. The meds keep you, in between, at their best. In between me is still pretty boppy so I’m okay with it. Also Boppy, in between me sleeps, so that is cool.
I will say there is always a slight spillover in the to do lists I create even at my best– spillover is next day stuff. I overplan just a little bit. However, spillover stuff is not usually next month stuff.
When winter comes though, spillover stuff becomes tomorrow stuff becomes ‘throw that in the garbage, did I really need to do that’ stuff.
This is when I notice. I notice when I fall behind. I notice when I am not having fun anymore. I notice when I am nervous and can’t keep up with my schedule. Noticing is the first step, action is the second.
Now, having these shifts are okay. I am not perfect and nor is anyone else. I know what true episodes look like and I also know what they feel like. This is a mere seasonal shift for everyone and because of my mental illness, it just feels a little more harsh for me.
The thing is, I am very aware and CONSTANTLY working on my mental health. This gives me the tools to cope with this normal yearly shift and so that is exactly what I am doing. I am doing it proactively and retroactively at the same time as again, I am always assessing where I am at. It is healthy for everyone to do that. Believe me, it makes things better for the people around you even if you are the sane of all the sane people, or whatever phrasing non-bipolar people would connect to.
SOME SIMPLE THINGS AND WAYS TO SUPPORT YOURSELF WHEN YOU ARE OUT OF THE IN BETWEEN
Here are some simple changes for a mind in distress and ways I got myself back together, in list form because god damn, I love a good list:
- YOU ARE THE BOSS SO BE EASY— be easy, Ms. Perfection. No room for you right now. We love ya, but just can’t do it. You are the boss of this life and you get to make the rules. The rules right now are less. We are doing less– that is the plan. We like plans so this is the PLAN now, and for now. You know this isn’t forever. Like that kid Annie said, ‘the sun will come out tomorrow’ literally and figurately in this case.
- KNOW YOUR BREAKING POINT— if there are dishes in the sink, I use paper products. Period. I am the boss, right? Well that is my rule right now because I know that my breaking point is when dishes spill out of the sink. Not only does that upset me and make me uneasy, but that is when it is so out of control and overwhelming that I know I won’t do it. Throw them in the trash. Learn your personal breaking points.
- SAY NO TO MORE WORK— just know you have to say no right now to more work. Have that in your head and set the boundary. By set the boundary, I mean communicate it goddammit. Do not tell people maybe. Communicate. There are probably precedents set in your life. If you normally do something, say you can’t do it this week. Getting pissed you always do it is stupid. Tell people you need help and ask them to do it until you get back to it. Communication is more simple than getting pissed, isn’t it? That’s my pro tip to all of you current or former passive aggressive folks. Again yay therapy!
- SAY YES TO HELP— absolutely accept help. Please do not feel like since you cannot provide help right now that you are not deserving of help. Let friends who can support you support you without guilt. If someone is offering, take the life preserver and get back on the boat. Yea, you can swim yourself to shore, but you’ll be sickly and disgusting by then. Gross. Not like the queen you are.
Reminder, your anxiety is telling you that people who are offering help don’t mean it and REMINDER THEY DO.
I hope this can be a little life preserver for someone today, because these were for me. Anxiety tells us all kinds of lies about ourselves and our lives, but if you work on the little things, the big shifts will come.