Does anyone know? I don’t think so. I am pretty sure I keep up that convincing smile and practiced joviality throughout the day. If I do feel particularly overburdened, there is a small office no one goes; where I pretend to be doing some last minute marking at lunchtime. It’s easier in there because sometimes gets too tiring to retain vigilance about my outer appearance.
I don’t want anyone to know that I am finding it difficult, that this job is beating me down, that the criticism I get from my managers is squeezing the life out of me, that the low exam results my class appear to be heading for this summer is a permanent dull heavy fog over my life. I don’t want anyone to be aware that I can’t sleep after 4 or 5 in the morning because as soon as a sliver of consciousness slips into my head, a thought of the work I have to do that day piggy-backs in with it. After that instant, my mind has to pick and poke at the thought and Bang! I am awake for the day.
If my peers knew, a distance would develop between us. Casual friendships would become stilted. Conversations and eye contact would be avoided in the staff room or passing in the corridor. You wouldn’t really want to ask “How are you?” because you wouldn’t know what to do with my response.
If my managers knew then they would have a permanent personality weakness to hold against me in their minds. Sure, it wouldn’t be written down like that…. Certainly, the school adheres to a policy of mainintaing a work-life balance that ensures teachers’ lives do not become flooded thoughts of their job. Definitely, they would want to support me. But, under all that, unwritten to avoid accusations of discrimination and blotting the copy on their “Caring school ethos underpinned by Christian values”, SLT would see me as a weak link, one they would need to look to replace. If I cannot cope with the bar at the level it is, how am I going to keep up when it gets raised again (as it does every year) in September? No, if I have to have a day off to protect my mind from the surrounding, ever encroaching pressures of work, I would tell them I had been sick or had a small fever or something. I wouldn’t admit to being mentally ill, even in this minor way. That would be the end of my career in their eyes.
I know that it isn’t other people’s fault though. I know the only way to really solve this is not pills from my GP or for my peers and managers to change their attitude. I know that the answer lies within me. I know I have the potential to help heal myself. I know that the effort and skills need to come from me. I am sorry I am lying to you all. But at the moment I don’t really know what my next step should be. Maybe I will get a moment when my mind is clearer and I can see a possible solution. But not soon I fear; I do not yet have the courage to take that first step.
So for the while, I will keep on pretending, masking and hiding; I will find refuge in chocolate and wine, until I find the inner courage to say this out loud.