Monday, December 3, 2018

Interesting Questions Answered Pt. 1

It turns out that I'm only good at writing deep philosophical posts examining my life every once in a while. Other days, I start to form a thought and it stalls out in the face of exhaustion or other weird things like having a job.

So in the event that I can't get together enough brainpower for a full thought but still need a daily blog post, here are a bunch of partial ones in the form of...

An internet survey!

Yes, these things that tend to circulate around the internet on various platforms; first email, then Myspace, and then Facebook (and even Tumblr for a time). Honestly, they were a major part of my experience in growing up on the internet and I love them. So I'll be answering questions from this list, 10 at a time on days that I have a lot going on.

Here we go!

  1. What was the last picture you took with your phone? A picture of my cat, Lorelai, sleeping peacefully on my lap.
  2. Do you know any big gossips? Yes, schools tend to be hubs of gossip, though I try to avoid it when possible.
  3. Have you been pulled over by a cop? Yeah, a few times, mostly for speeding (once for going 2 MPH over the limit, but it was in Oregon and in a construction zone, so I don't really count it cause the cop let me off with a warning). I haven't been pulled over since 2012 though and I'm looking to keep that streak strong.
  4. Do you know your heritage? Genetically - Scottish, Irish, Finnish, Bohemian, Filipino, and a couple of unknows tossed in. Culturally - very American, with an affinity for bagpipes, scotch, and Guinness. Though I do love me some adobo and lumpia when I can get it.
  5. What have you always wanted? Did you ever get it? Well... I'm pretty sure one thing I always wanted was to have a serious relationship with a person who not only gets me and all my weird quirks but also loves me and all my weird quirks. And I've definitely got that now in Marie. 
  6. What kind of sickness have you lied about so you wouldn't go to work? I used to try to pretend to be sick to get out of doing my schoolwork, but it doesn't work as well when you're homeschooled and pretending to be sick mostly just means you can't go and play with your friends when you're done. I don't think I've ever pretended to be sick to get out of an actual job though. At most, I've timed my travel plans poorly and not made it back in time after a break or vacation.
  7. What was the last lie you told? I told myself that I would write a full blog post before I went to work today. Clearly, that worked out.
  8. Have you ever danced in the rain? Yes, and sung in the rain too.
  9. What is your blood type? My philosophy in life; B Positive.
  10. Have you ever been in a car accident? Yes. Nothing major, just a few fender benders. 

Well, that was fun! Now I can go to sleep guilt-free, and hopefully tomorrow I will finish the thought I started to compose today.

Until tomorrow.

What Next?

As mentioned in Sunday's post, a lot of my time this year has been spent asking the question, what next?

What could I do when a job that I sacrificed a lot of time and personal hobbies for cut me loose?

What could I do when that job is in the career field I'd worked towards since I was 19, and my confidence was shaken?

What could I do about the fact that hiding my identity from nearly everyone in my professional life has caused me to lose sight of it in my personal life as well?

I've always been pretty good about picking myself up after a setback and finding a way to move forward. I trained myself to view failure as an opportunity to learn and I value hard work to accomplish goals. The first thought I had when I got out of the final meeting with the administration was decide that I was going to work on my Masters research, get straight to finding a job, dig my room out from the piles that always accumulate when I'm stressed.

But. There's always that but.

In this case it was the perfect storm of a few factors:

1) As mentioned, I had gone off my meds about 6 months before, cold turkey. If you know anything about meds designed to treat mental illness, you know that was a stupid ass thing to do. Which I know, but had conveniently forgotten.
2) I do a couple of things predictably when I'm overwhelmed. First, I compartmentalize my emotions so that I can focus on day to day tasks, like planning, grading, actually teaching the classes, meeting with colleagues and parents, etc. Anything outside of those tasks goes on the back burner until I can deal with it. Then, if I'm tired and not forcing myself to deal with it, it builds up and will eventually take me out.
3) Teaching is stressful on the best days. First year teaching is, by all accounts, three times as stressful by default. Teaching in a place where you don't feel like you have a ton of allies on the staff just adds to that. So... I wasn't dealing with anything that wasn't absolutely necessary to doing my job.
4) I put every ounce of energy into keeping that job for months, and when I was cut loose, and suddenly had a lot of time on my hands, I ran. Ran from the barrage of emotions that was nipping at my heels, ran from having to face the consequences of ignoring myself for 6 months, and sunk into a depression that was almost as bad as when I lost my sister and nephews in 2013.

So I played a lot of video games, watched a lot of Netflix, and read a lot of trashy novels. And I also made zero progress on any project that could eventually get me out of my funk, like finding a job or working on research. I just couldn't find the motivation, and believe me, I tried. I tried every single day.

The only difference was that this time I at least knew to do some things. I knew that when I didn't show signs of bouncing back after a month or so, I needed to get myself to counseling and fast. That helped some. I also tried to force myself out of the house for stuff, though some days that didn't work out super great. I went to camp, I volunteered. I tried.

So the question remained, what next?

I found some of the answer with Marie, for sure. Having a future to plan for with her has been some motivation to get myself in order. Another piece was found when I finally managed to get a job working in after school care, which is what I was doing before teaching. It's a familiar rhythm, even at a different location, and that's helped ground me a little bit. It's also helped me realize what I actually missed about working with kids.

And the rest I'll have to tell you about tomorrow, because I'm writing this on my phone and it's not playing nice with the app, so I will come back to this when I'm at a computer.

Until tomorrow.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Hope Springs Eternal

Well well well, what have we here? A mostly unused blog? What? Never!

Actually, all the time. But it's the Holidailies season, so I'm back! I am very excited, even though I totally missed the first day of the month because my NaNo hangover took me out. 

It is what it is. I'm over it. It even fits with my theme today, which is hope.

I'm going to start out and say that it's been a bit of a roller coaster of a year. There's not a hugely detailed record of my brain-space last year around this time, because I was so crazy overwhelmed that I think I managed maybe one or two posts before dropping this project in favor of all the work I had to do at that point. [Edit: I looked, and I was wrong, I got zero actually posted, but I do have one draft that shows the intention was briefly there.]

If you've been wondering what's been up with me, here's the Cliff Notes version:
  • January 2017 - Got my teaching credential finally!
  • June 2017 - Signed a teaching contract with a conservative Christian private school to be their 9th Grade English Teacher.
  • July 2017 - Got assigned a senior girl's Bible class as my non-subject matter specific course.
  • August 2017 - Found out that the Bible class was also more or less a Home Ec/How to Be a Good Housewife class. Laughed at the thought of me, Lifelong Defier of Gender Roles, trying to teach a group of girls how to be more traditionally feminine. Decided to go with more of the worldview, critical thinking, and Bible focus.
  • Fall Semester 2017 - Struggled a good bit with the Freshman English, but in ways that are fairly typical for a first-year teacher (I thought). The senior girls turned out to be a tougher nut. Besides knowing more than me about most of the "practical skills" I tried to teach them about things like cooking and entertaining, they could not decide whether I was teaching too much Bible or not enough Bible. And either way, I definitely wasn't teaching the Bible they were used to. The death knell was when I shared this brilliant article about Advent being a Feminist Expression of God to the world. The most conservative of the group did not appreciate that it, 1) Used the "F" word, 2) Was written by a woman *gasp*, and 3) Doubly terrible, written by a woman who claimed to be a preacher AND queer. So...
  • January 2018 - Got told within two weeks of the start of Spring semester that I was no longer teaching the Bible class. Took it as an opportunity to focus more on my English classes, and get to know more of the students because I was assigned lunch yard duty in place of my teaching time.
  • Spring Semester 2018 - Did my best to address my struggles in the English classes, asked for help consistently, searched out resources and advice from multiple sources, and was still struggling to keep my head above water. Couldn't figure out why. Asked for more help from the administration...
  • March 29, 2018 - The administration's response to my requests was less of a, "we'll help you get through the rest of the year" and more of a "Nope, not worth it, see ya!"
  • April-August 2018 - I'm pretty sure these months existed. I may have even done something in them. I know that my brother got married, and I spent a couple of weeks at camp. Past that, it's all a bit of a blur. Except for one thing. I did start hanging out a lot more with friends, in particular, one writing friend, who I taught how to drive stick in July and August so she could borrow my car to get to class when her Fall semester started up.
  • August 29, 2018 - Finally fought through my haze enough to see that I was actually extremely attracted to said friend, and officially asked Marie to be slightly more than that.
  • September 2018-Current - Finding my feet again, career-wise, and with my mental health. Made much easier by the fact that I have an amazing girlfriend by my side, and she has helped me reconnect with some of the things that bring me joy, like being in a choir and leaving the house to do things on occasion. 
A few things to add to that: 

First, I have a lot of feelings about the mess with the school I was working for. Many of them involve words that are less than kind, but I'm hoping I got most of those out of my system in the nine months since the shit hit the fan. I will say that upon lots of reflection, both on my own time and with trained counselors, I acknowledged the parts of the experience that were undoubtedly my fault or a result of my choices. One choice that doomed me was going cold turkey on meds for my depression instead of getting the prescription switched over to my new insurance. Not a great plan. Also, the school was true to their stated identity and purpose, and I mistakenly thought I could manage to fit in well enough despite some fundamental theological differences.

For instance, I knew that I was bi a full two years before I was hired at the school. I had made my peace with it, but had not - at that point - taken any steps to be in any relationship, let alone one that the school definitely wouldn't approve of. I thought it would be fine because I had not technically stepped over the line. 

It was not. 

It is very emotionally exhausting to be in a place and culture where you know that a good portion of the people who currently find you a fairly decent human being would turn on you in a second because they believe God has told them to. Also, there's nothing like being tossed into a community almost exactly like the one you grew up in to show you how much you've grown and moved away from some of their beliefs since high school. Knowing the language isn't enough when you use the words to mean very different things. 

Which brings me to hope. 

There were a lot of moments in the last year and a half that I felt totally hopeless. More hopeless than I'd felt in years. And yeah, teaching is stressful, but I loved the things about teaching that I always love about it; connecting with students, being a listening ear for them, having my classroom be a safe space for students to be themselves, and teaching them how to communicate more effectively through English. Throughout the year, my classroom became a hangout spot for a number of students, and I welcomed it. It was the bright spot that often gave me hope when nothing else seemed to be going right.

What caused me hopelessness was, in hindsight, feeling like I didn't fit in. I had a cordial relationship with most of the staff and an "actual conversations that cover deeper topics" relationship with a few. But I never felt fully comfortable unless it was just me in the classroom because I had to be guarded about so much. Can't let them know that I'm a left-leaning moderate (and leaning farther with every passing month), that I support and consider myself part of the LBTQ+ community, that I hang out with pagans and atheists on the regular and don't go out of my way to evangelize to them, that I think that Evangelicals are generally good people but a lot of their theology rubs me the wrong way, or even that I am pretty charismatic and radical in my expression of my belief.

Tl;dr, no part of me fit in, except things that I'd left in the past. Not my theology, not my political beliefs, not my strongly held convictions, and definitely not my own identity. And that disconnect was always going to manifest itself in a more difficult time in the classroom.

It took me a while to understand this, to be fair. I was shaken to the core when they asked me to leave at spring break. I missed the kids the rest of the year, even though I made an effort to make it out to sporting events and the school play until the end of the school year. It really wasn't until August that I really appreciated the freedom from the theological boundaries. It meant that I could do something when I looked at this beautiful woman I'd been hanging out with for like, 8 hours at a time some days, and thought, "huh, maybe I always want to spend time with her because I am falling in love with her... OHHHHHHHHH!" 

And while I'm sure there will be a more in-depth post about Marie in the future, the main thing the start of our relationship signaled to me was hope that things could actually work out. Up until we started dating, I was almost thinking about leaving teaching for good, going to something else like social work or being a school counselor, where I could still work with kids, just outside of a classroom. I had no idea what goal I should be reaching for or where my future was leading. 

With Marie, I have some more confidence that I know what at least part of my future will hold. It helped me have a little more security to look at the experience with my previous job and have some hope that I will find a way to work as a teacher, in a school that I love, and do what I feel I was meant to do. 

Hope is beautiful that way. It can take something you thought was totally dead and breathe life back into it. It can refresh you, even when you feel like life has taken every single thing you hold dear away from you. There's a reason it lives with Faith and Love in Paul's list of things that will sustain you through life's greatest trials. And I am thankful for Hope showing up in my life, even when I stopped looking for it. 

Until tomorrow.