Sunday, March 1, 2015

Restarting the Serotonin Factory (Teacher, Interrupted)


This is the second time I’ve tried to write a back-to-the-Factory post. The first time I tried, school tumbled out onto the page in a way that was unmanageable and had to be put in the Box of Things to Be Worked Out Later by Unseen Forces.

About a month and a half ago, I had a dream that a conversation with a troubled, anxious student cause me to get out of a car on a deserted highway. I took the nearest exit, which ended in a dirt path and then nothing. That’s where I am, pathless, for the first time in I-don’t-know-how-long.

I don’t know if it would be called a breakdown these days, if we call things breakdowns anymore, but one week I was jollying myself along, working almost every waking hour, breathing on the restroom floor to keep myself from fainting, doing the every two weeks or so sob-at-work thing, whispering a parent out the door who’d come up to threaten someone else’s child, and then I was…done. I couldn’t put my body or my soul through it. I couldn’t make my brain be in the straight jacket of the Standards anymore. I couldn’t make myself give the tiniest shred of a fuck about the PSSAs or rituals and routines, or how to solve the pencil problem. I looked at my students’ latest petty theft and thought “They. Are going. To take. Everything.”

I put myself on extended leave on Feb. 9th and a few weeks later, a nice doctor verified it: “acute stress disorder” and “recurrent major depressive episodes.” There’s an antidepressent prescription waiting for me at the pharmacy, but I’m too scared of the side-effects—what if I’m one of the suicidal thoughts and actions people, or if my brain decides to poison itself with serotonin? That’s just too much irony for me.

After three weeks of rest, it’s time to start thinking about the next phase of my life. I don’t know what it looks like, but do I know that for the past few years I’ve tried to murder my own sensitivity. I want to find ways to honor it instead. The thick skin everyone’s been telling me to grow for as long as I can remember is not coming, and trying to make it happen has only made me more ragged. I care deeply about what everyone thinks, says, and feels, even if it’s wrong, even if they’re eight. I take things personally because we’re all, despite the forces and standardized tests that would like us to believe otherwise, vulnerable, breakable, real people.


From deeply embedded in the School District of Philadelphia, it’s hard to imagine any place in the world where a delicate little seashell like me could find meaning and employment, but I have to imagine that there’s some productive way for me to make myself at home. Brene Brown says he therapist once told her something like, “If you feel like a turtle with no shell in the briar patch, maybe just get out of the briar patch.” In the fog of depression, it all looks like briar patch, but maybe there’s a meadow someplace out there with my name on it.

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