5 Tips for Being a Teacher When You Have a Mental Illness
Teachers are a whole new level of humans. The patience, knowledge, wisdom and sense of humor a person has to have to survive the jungle of public school hallways is unbelievable. It’s hard enough with crowded classrooms, catering to students who are educationally three years behind sitting next to an advanced kid who is throwing things across the classroom because they are so bored.
But now, imagine doing all that while struggling with anxiety or depression. Imagine having a panic attack in the middle of a math lesson. Timmy is fighting with other students, Bella is crying because the ladybug in her pocket died, Kenzie has to go to the bathroom, and you have got to teach them to count to 100 because your observation is tomorrow… But you’re having a panic attack with nowhere to hide.
Or maybe anxiety isn’t your issue. Maybe you’re severely depressed and simply don’t have the energy to deal with these kids. Maybe it’s all too much and you are hiding in your reading corner and crying while the room is metaphorically going up in flames.
But I’m here to tell you, you’ve got this! Whether you are a teacher who is struggling or a college student wondering how on earth you will be able to be an educator, you can do it! Here are some simple things you can do to make teaching with a mental illness just a little more possible.
1. The buddy system.
It is crucial to find yourself a teacher BFF who knows what you’re going through. My best teacher friend is across the hall from me, and when I am in panic mode I step across the hall to chill out, or she will poke her head in to check on me. Plus, she is a kindergarten teacher and 20 miniature hugs can cure a lot of things. This is also great if you need someone to watch your class for a few minutes while you go cry in the bathroom.
2. Secrets don’t make friends.
This goes right with number 1, but find yourself a network of people who know what’s going on mentally/medically with you, who can help you in a time of need. Don’t hold back. Make the vice principal, the school nurse, secretaries or whomever you feel comfortable with know. My librarian saved my life by dragging me into her office and force-feeding me hot cocoa. Be vocal when you’ve got a rough day ahead.
3. Accommodations and modifications.
This is my favorite idea. We have accommodations and modifications for our kiddos on IEPs, 504s, ESL and even our students with anxiety disorders sometimes get a little more encouragement or attention. So should you. What accommodations and modifications do you need for yourself? A clean, quiet space? A darker classroom? A special chair? Brain breaks? Your own fidget toys? Write them down and make them happen!
This honestly goes for everyone, but especially for those of us with anxiety or depression. Take care of yourself and treat yourself before, during and after work. Take your meds. See a counselor. Grab your favorite coffee and donut on the way to work. Put an essential oil diffuser in your classroom — you’re not supposed to, but we all do it. Get a fancy water bottle and drink water all day. More water means more bathroom breaks for you, which is a nice two-minute vacation away from your classroom. When you get home, put on your favorite explicit music and have a glass of wine. You do you, honey. Take care of your body and it will help your mind.
5. Plan, plan, plan.
Seriously, plan ahead. My favorite new thing is taking Sunday afternoon to super prepare for the week, not only picking out outfits but actually trying them on. This really helps when depression has me glued to the bed or insecure about my clothes not fitting because antidepressants made me gain weight, or panicking about how late I am. Plan your lessons. Plan your outfits for the week. Plan your lunches. Plan a mental health day if worst comes to worst. Plan your classroom management. You will thank yourself when your principal pops in unannounced and your kids are doing an activity instead of watching Magic School Bus while you hide under your desk.
Obviously, these five things can be done by anyone and are not the only things that can make your life as a teacher with a mental health disorder easier. They are simply what works for me. Always consult your doctor if you are struggling to get through the day and they will help you find a treatment plan that works for you.
Photo by Nicole Honeywill on Unsplash