Mental Health, Grief, and Teaching Stress

Discussion in 'General Education' started by Melrachelm, Oct 22, 2019.

  1. Melrachelm

    Melrachelm Rookie

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    Oct 22, 2019

    Hi all,

    I just made an account so I could post this, after reading some of the excellent advice on other threads.

    I am in my 4th year of teaching orchestra. My mental health was never the best throughout my teen and college years, but it took a steep decline last year, and has taken another hit this fall with the passing of my mom on August 13th this year (the first day of school). My diagnosis is somewhere between major depressive disorder and bipolar II, although there is no definitive at this point (the bipolar aspect has been a recent development). I'm both on medication and attending therapy twice a month, neither of which seem to be helping (although who knows how bad it would be without it).

    I feel so worthless and ineffective in the classroom. I've started having panic attacks during the school day where I feel paralyzed, and I feel like I'm on the verge of a mental breakdown, whatever that is. As soon as I get home from work, I just want to go to sleep - I have been trying to make myself go on walks and volunteer once a week at the animal shelter, but work is racing through my mind constantly. I can't even escape in my dreams, as they are frequently focused on work and so realistic I almost can't tell them apart from reality. Since I teach orchestra, I have to be up in front and energetic for every single class, from 5th grade to high school.

    I am starting to feel that my students would be better off with any other teacher - even if it wasn't a music teacher. I know that the consequences for quitting in the middle of the year are huge; that it impacts student learning, that I'll likely never get a teaching job again, that I'll have to face all the people in my small town knowing I'm a "quitter," among other things. Even with all those things in mind, it's starting to look like it would be the best for me, the district, and my students.

    I feel so burned out, lost, and just down all the time. Does anyone have any advice for me? Either what I should do generally, or any tips for surviving a mental health crisis while working? Or has anyone had a similar experience and had it improve over time? Should I just try to hang in there? Am I being totally selfish?

    Thank you all for any help, sympathy, advice, whatever you can offer. I appreciate it so much.
     
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  3. RainStorm

    RainStorm Phenom

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    Oct 22, 2019

    I'm glad you posted. First off -- if your mental health worker can't identify whether you have clinical depression or bipolar II, you need to get a better mental health worker. Sorry to say it just that bluntly, but it is true. The differences are major. You mention racing thoughts, and troubled sleep -- both are signs of bipolar II. If you have bipolar II, you need more than one type of meds to cope with it.

    Second, get to a psychiatric pharmacologist, who can help you get on the right meds, and meet more often with your talk therapist.

    You sound like you need a major med change. Please don't make any major life decisions while you are in this state. This is not reality talking to you -- it is your illness.

    If you have bipolar II, you need both anti-depressants AND a mood stabilizer. Are you on both? If so, they may need to try a different combination. They can also add an anti-anxiety med, like Ativan, to help with anxiety attacks and such.

    If you need to, please take a medical or FMLA leave from work while you get meds balanced. Making major life decisions in this state is not what you want to do.

    You've made a start -- by reaching out here for help. Now get on the phone and get an appointment with your psychiatrist, tell him (or her) exactly what you said here, and get your meds added, changed, or adjusted. Until that happens (and it can take 2 full weeks on a new med before you see any sign of it working) take medical leave so you don't screw-up your full-time job and livelihood.
     
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  4. Melrachelm

    Melrachelm Rookie

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    Oct 22, 2019


    Hi there,

    Thank you for your response. I appreciate you taking time out of your day to write. I have an appointment Thursday to work on the medication side of things, so hopefully that helps. Unfortunately, the other appointments with the talk therapist are booked up for the next two weeks, so that one will have to wait.

    Mostly I'm just trying to figure out how to survive until then. I feel like all of my students can tell what an awful job I'm doing, and can all see through the facade I'm trying so desperately to maintain. It makes facing them every day so hard.

    Thank you again for your input.
     
  5. RainStorm

    RainStorm Phenom

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    Oct 22, 2019

    Here's how you survive until then -- take a leave of absence immediately! Call in sick. Most places require a note if you are gone 3 days or more. When you meet with your doctor on Thursday, ask him for a note -- he will give you one. It can be quite generic -- XXx is not able to return to work until xxxx/2019 due to an on-going medical condition. Give it directly to your admin or your HR department. Do not, repeat do not, tell anybody it is because of mental health issues! The stigma is still there! Your principal or HR will figure this out based on the letterhead of the doctor's office, but legally, they aren't allowed to share this information with anybody.

    Stay away from work until the meds are leveled and you start to feel better.

    When I was right out of college (after getting my masters) I worked as a life-counselor for people with clinical depression and bipolar disorder. I'm not trying to "diagnose" anything, I'm just telling you that the signs of an impending job disaster are all there. Please, now is the time to act

    I'm telling you that based on the tone of your post, this is going to spiral, and you need to get yourself away from work until this is properly treated and you feel better. You could end up doing something that will endanger your job. Trust me -- you can't afford to lose your job (and health insurance) right now when you need it the most. We all face crises in our lives -- it is okay to accept that you need to take care of you right now.

    If you really have bipolar II, and I'm in no position to tell if you do or don't -- but if you do, you have got to get this under control before returning to work. Don't lose your career over this. When things spiral, they go from bad to worse so quickly. You won't recognize it until it happens.

    I'm rooting for you! Please keep in touch!
     
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  6. readingrules12

    readingrules12 Aficionado

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    Oct 22, 2019

    My advice is to keep discussing the situation with the doctor and see what he/she says. If the doctor really feels that your health situation is such that you should leave the classroom, then yes you need to seriously consider it.

    Where I live in music teachers are very hard to get, and therefore they are often given a fair amount of flexibility. Not sure if that is your situation, but you might be able to push for a lighter work load.
     
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  7. Melrachelm

    Melrachelm Rookie

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    Oct 22, 2019

    Thank you for your post. I am not cure how lenient my district will be... I missed one professional development day last year, and this year so far I've missed one teaching day (and while I was home, I had to watch the email chains of them desperately trying to find someone to cover my classes, so that was really guilt-inducing).

    I will be in touch with one of the doctors this week - luckily we have Thursday and Friday off, so I can hopefully get some clarity over the long weekend.
     
  8. creativemonster

    creativemonster Comrade

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    Oct 23, 2019

    I have nothing to add - just glad you posted and glad you are going to seek help. Bravo to you for taking all of the steps to take care of yourself. (and I agree with the advice of not making major decisions right now.) ehugs to you.
     
  9. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    Oct 24, 2019

    I agree with Rain when it comes to your medical doctor choice. You need a psychiatrist who specializes in pharmacology for depression and bi-polar. The wrong meds can mess you up more than the illness itself.

    Now about the job.....

    There is a difference between quitting and taking medical leave. You are entitled to FMLA if you are full time and have worked for at least 1 year, I believe - it may be 18 months. They cannot have negative consequences to your job because of it if you have all of the appropriate forms filled out and signed by doctors and submitted to your district. I believe they may also have to offer you your medical coverage, but I don't know the cost. On return they need to provide a similar position.

    If you are so bad you can't function, you need to work with your medical professionals to get the right help and to get a leave. Financially this is a problem many times, but your health is most important.
     
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  10. GeetGeet

    GeetGeet Companion

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    Oct 24, 2019

    Please please go to a psychiatrist and ask about medication. Your situation reminds me of when I did my student teaching—my depression and anxiety was over the top and I almost couldn’t function, and my cooperating teacher actually suggested I try a different profession. I was devastated. I then went to the clinic at my grad school and they prescribed the medicine I still take 15 years later, and I am so glad I took that step. To this day i’m so thankful for that clinic, because without their help I could never have survived as a teacher, but now I get consistently great observations and I literally look forward to work (just hate getting up at 5 am, but whatever). Teaching has fulfilled me in ways I never thought possible. Had I not gotten that medication I don’t know where I’d be, to be honest. I struggled for many many years prior. You can be ok, I promise. Just keep looking for the thing that actually helps you.
     
  11. Tired Teacher

    Tired Teacher Cohort

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    Oct 25, 2019

    I am so sorry things are not going well for you at this time. I am not a great fan of meds because I have seen them cause worse problems in people. I am aware some people swear by them working though. There is a possibility the meds are making you feel worse. I would hope you would take medical leave, see the counselor as often as possible, play w/ the animals at the rescue daily, and start doing things you enjoy. See if you really need the meds. If they are supposed to be helping you, have you ever felt worse? Please try not to worry about what other people think. No ones opinion of you really matters in the scheme of things. <3
     
  12. geoteacher

    geoteacher Habitué

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    Oct 26, 2019

    While this can certainly happen, I would suggest that you and your doctor make this decision together. Yes, meds can cause problems for some, but for others, they are truly a lifesaver.
     
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  13. Melrachelm

    Melrachelm Rookie

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    Oct 27, 2019

    Hi all.

    Just an update - and I really appreciate the support that has come my way from this thread. Honestly, just being able to talk about what's going on is helpful too.

    I went to see the med specialist and they changed my medication, which seems to have had a positive effect so far (although I realize that could be a psychological trick from me wanting it to help so badly). Tomorrow, I am going to go to work and see how it goes. If it's a total nightmare, I'll be taking at least Tuesday and Wednesday, maybe more, off.

    I've also reached out to other orchestra teachers close by and expressed to them the way I feel about my program and the anxieties present there, and they said it sounds like I don't have anything to worry about - that my program is fine and I'm probably teaching okay.

    Again, I just want to say how much I appreciate everyone's responses on here... it means a lot to know that total strangers can be so kind. Thank you.
     
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  14. RainStorm

    RainStorm Phenom

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    Oct 27, 2019

    Thanks for letting us know. I hope things continue to go well.
     
  15. TeacherNY

    TeacherNY Phenom

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    That was smart to reach out to other teachers. Sometimes we are our own worst critic and hold ourselves up to impossible standards. The problem is that most teachers never get to see other teachers in action and see what they do in their classrooms once we have our own classroom. I would love to spend 10 minutes in each classroom in my school just to get a sense of where I stand. Do I do enough? Should I scale my lessons down? Who knows? I do the best I can with what I have.
     
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  16. Melrachelm

    Melrachelm Rookie

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    Nov 11, 2019

    Update #2, I guess.

    The first med change was a bad fit, and I ended up taking more than a week off of school to deal with it. Now I'm taking an extended leave, like someone suggested above, that I probably should have taken in the first place. I just wanted to believe so badly that I could tough it out - and it turns out, I couldn't.

    Current stressors are an overnight trip that my students will be taking without me in less than two weeks and how to finish up prep for that while I'm not actively in the classroom. I'm communicating with the teacher who has agreed to take over the trip - but there's still a lot to be done on my end.

    The district is looking to find someone who can take over my orchestra classes and at least kind of teach them (strings is a bit of a speciality) while I'm gone. Again, the worries of if my classroom is prepared to have a guest are pretty overwhelming.

    I'm meeting with my medication specialist tomorrow to see if these new meds (that I started a week ago) are a good fit. It's an antidepressant and a mood stabilizer.

    I'm still very frightened that when I return, I won't have solved all the problems and I will end up back where I started. It's a scary time that may end in my resignation anyway.

    Thank you all again for the support and advice. I am trying not to worry, but there are just a lot of loose ends at work that I feel responsible for.
     
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  17. RainStorm

    RainStorm Phenom

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    Nov 11, 2019

    Mel,
    I'm so glad you took medical leave and are getting your meds straightened out. That, alone, will make a huge difference. But honestly, I think you are still under too much stress. If you are on a medical leave, you shouldn't have to be dealing with all of this -- especially not planning a trip for students! If you aren't well enough to teach, you probably aren't well enough to deal with the stress of planning. The school or the district needs to deal with replacing you and all the hassles -- that is their job! Again, have your doctor write a note.

    I know you are worried about having to resign. But leaving for a medical reason is far better than being "fired for incompetence" or whatever thing they may come up with. You can bare this, so stop letting the fear stress you out even more. Resigning a job for a medical reason is not something to be ashamed of. I hope it won't come to that, but if it does, you can bare it -- I promise you, you can.

    Personally, I think you are coping amazingly well. You are taking all the steps necessary to get where you need to be. Your body is fighting you right now, and you are managing anyway! Kudos!

    Please hang in there, and if these meds don't work, keep trying. When you find the right med combo, your life will be dramatically different.

    Don't give up!

    I'm rooting for you!
     
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  18. Tired Teacher

    Tired Teacher Cohort

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    Nov 11, 2019

    When I 1st saw your update, I was thinking the same thing that Rain said above, but unsure if I was correct. It seems like you are still taking on a lot of responsibility. I think legally, if you are on medical leave, it becomes the schools problem, not yours. I am pretty sure it is against policy to even contact teachers on medical leave. It may be dependent on a union, but after 2 weeks plans are submitted, I think they have to leave you alone. Don't let them make you feel guilty even though I know it is hard.
     
  19. RainStorm

    RainStorm Phenom

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    Nov 11, 2019

    If you are on an emergency medical leave, they cannot require ANY lesson plans from you.

    Stop letting them stress you like this!
     
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  20. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    Nov 12, 2019

    If you are on full time FMLA you are not legally allowed to do any work for your job. Why are you doing this work? Why hasn't it been handed over to someone else in the school? Surely someone is capable of planning. It isn't teaching students to play but organizing a trip.
     

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