Category Archives: Mental health

Mental health and how I deal with mine.

June 2017, April 2018 and now tonight

This has been the worst post-teaching nightmare ever – I died in the school building, my SLT covered it up and I never got home to my family, most importantly to my wife.

At the moment I am meant to be distracting myself with some “silly games” but my mind won’t let go of my feeling of resentment that I taught until I broke, so the last time was definitely a “breakdown”.

People have said nice things and paid compliments and I can accept some of them but I am conscious that my professional relationship with senior managers unravelled in four schools in my career. The ones where I also suffered breakdowns as I tried to balance being a workaholic with being a parent of two young men and having a loving and very patient wife. I wasn’t there enough for my family.

I have shown myself that all the times I thought maybe teaching isn’t for me that I can and have done other things, not to a standard of supporting a family but I didn’t have to keep the label “teacher”.

I am left with many questions, questions I should ignore, blank as they don’t really need answers, or they can’t change anything.

The positive, in all of this I no longer feel the need to end my life, that is a huge difference to some of the lows since I left teaching.

For others, if you are in teaching, have had a breakdown, struggle with mental health please be careful. Self care first, family if you have one second and teaching third. I never got that order right.

Politicians and all your jibes at the teachers who are not in the Outstanding schools do not help. We now have a national education system rife with mental health issues for staff and students – that is not success.

Why blog? Because it is still cathartic for me, I know few people will see my posts, it doesn’t matter, it’s my blog and I can define success. Now for a hot drink and some point I will try to sleep again and hopefully this time I will wake up and live on.

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School holidays…

Oops these don’t apply to me but many friends in education have clearly been stretching themselves to reach them. For me the difference is that the boat hire shifts in Wareham are now going to be so much busier and this week a heatwave too although luckily Dorset has lower temperatures than where we lived previously.

I don’t actually have holidays as such and I don’t have a 5 day working week either. I now have my teacher pension and sometimes adjusting is confusing. I am not complaining I assure you.

A typical week at the moment sees a sensible Monday with maybe some chores or tasks in Swanage which has to include visits to friends in their shops and a cafe break at Java. The evening up until the 19th August is two hours of quite energetic kayaking with H2O adventures taking part in the River to Sea course that Steve runs. I am rediscovering skills I have forgotten or not used as my own kayak is a sit on top, or learning new skills. We are a group of six and the time spent on the Frome is proving very enjoyable.

Some examples;

Tuesdays are boat shift days and we are now firmly in the 9.30 to …6ish shift patterns. If I wake early enough I cycle to work and enjoy a swim in the river beforehand if the tide is suitable. If I am tired I drive. As I said above,we now enter the summer holidays so shifts will become busier. From the 30th kids club moves to Tuesday and I will spend 9.30 to 10.30 on the water and expect quite a lot of water fights to go on as is usual in the holidays. My energy levels after kayaking on Monday night have been lower so I will need to be careful to get as much sleep as possible.

Wednesdays vary, today I feel very tired so am resting, other weeks it may include a trip out with Anne in the morning. At the moment I am helping out by facilitating at the WarehamDepression support group on the second and fourth weeks of the month.

Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays again vary and will usually include some time out with Anne. These depend on artisan yard duties and I am currently on a run of three working weekends with either extra boat shift or artisan duty.

Sundays are boat shift days again and I try to cycle where possible, usually after upto a nine hour shift I Bly cycle 5/8 miles home and then Anne picks me up, I cannot face Kingston hill yet this summer.

Visits away from Purbeck – not often but we live in such a wonderful place already.

Taking time to stand and ….

Life is often rushed. All the time I was teaching and increasingly in the second half of my career as I took on additional management responsibilities I was often plagued by the feeling that my work was incomplete and I should do some more. It wasn’t doing me any good as the free time was reduced and I didn’t relax properly. I became more short tempered too.

Now my life has changed so much. I don’t know that I could hold down a full time post as I can’t focus fully for long periods. It is a relief then that many years of being told I should pay into a pension scheme has paid off for me.

Life is not wealthy but nor is it poor. I am much more time-rich and also can do two jobs / roles that I enjoy in my summer boat job which is part time and my art which continues and is creative when I am in the right frame of mind.

I now have time and do increasingly spend time standing or to be honest sitting and looking around me. I don’t often analyse what I am looking at as I did when I was teaching but I do wonder now if it is something I might represent in a piece of art.

Today Anne and I went to the Summer Festival at Sculptures on the Lakes our towards Tincleton, Dorset. We drove through roads enclosed by trees with tree cover overhead, something we both find restful. The sculptures were in many cases beautiful and as the quotes in the gallery barn said, brought to life by their surroundings.

We spend more time exploring our area and stopping. If you don’t stop often, please try to do more – notice your surroundings.

Can you? Would you? …. Yes / No

These questions and similar became the bane of my life in the past. I had the tendency to say Yes when I should have said No. Our family social worker when adopting over 20 years ago used to say to Anne and I, “can’t you two just be?” and often the response would be no.

Why? We had plenty on our own plate with my career’s demands and the needs of the boys and … but often we found scraps of time to support others because by working as a team we could back each other up. Eventually it started to backfire and we started to say No more often, or attend meetings and sit on our hands so we couldn’t volunteer to do more.

So when my career crumbled back in 2016 – see previous posts from November plus 2016 and April 2019 – a change of status… the answer had to be a definitive NO.

Life has changed since.

From November 2016 I joined the Swanage Depression Support Groups and then helped when the Wareham Depression Support Group started. These two groups were part of me taking control of my depression and working to improve that aspect of my life and its impact on those around me. Eventually after about 18 months to 2 years I found hearing many similar stories over and over was not helping my recovery. I still attend when my life wobbles, we have hosted the May social for the last three years and now, particularly, my free time means that if a meeting’s cancellation becomes likely I am happy to stand in and help by facilitating the meeting be it in Swanage or Wareham. I did one of these back in May for Swanage and last night I ran the Wareham meeting. Groups like ours are not run by professionals but fellow sufferers who speak from experience, we support each other and we welcome others who need friends in their time of need. Last night reminded me yet again how special that link is.

Wednesday had been due to be a quiet and restful day only through a combination of circumstances I needed up attending a meeting in the afternoon and evening too. I actually came away refreshed mentally from both of them.

So what did I do in the afternoon? The first working group meeting for Artisans on the Beach 2019. Yes meeting in June to discuss the beach hut arts and crafts event for December. An event which exists to encourage locals to develop with their hobbies.

In 2016 I sat on the seafront with new friends very fresh from my November breakdown and leaving teaching, I drew a piece of the Swanage Beach Huts – my first piece to sell in 2017. In 2017 I took part, I was almost hyper at times, energetic, enthusiastic, drawing out in the fresh air, wearing outfits that caught people’s eye and I ended the event as ‘Artisan of the Year’. In 2018 I had become one of the two Artisans on the working group and we added some changes and structures to the event which continues to grow by reputation for participants and visitors.

In 2019 that role continues – my art hobby has become “AndyKnillArt”, I do two main events a year with PAW (Purbeck Art Weeks) and Artisans on the Beach, I also exhibit and sell my work year round as a member of the Purbeck Artisan Yard, it will never be a full time job, nor will it stop me pursuing other ideas but it is a channel through which I share my creativity and I love it.

So…?

I attended two meetings …. I said yes. Does that mean I now say yes to every opportunity / query? No, I don’t. I need my free space to explore, relax, enjoy. I have earnt that right after 28 years teaching, after 20+ years of parenting and seeing both our sons live elsewhere.

Moving forwards

I am investigating more ways to use my motto “ArtForFun” where I host activities for any age to do some art for the joy of it, no judgement, mindfulness, relaxation, … whatever suits. This is also not going to turn into a ‘crusade’ that sucks me into overcommitting myself timewise and emotionally. I will do it from time to time, e.g. every time I do a duty at the artisan yard I post on the AndyKnillArt Facebook page so that passersby can drop in and have a go. When I do events like PAW and Artisans on…. then I can offer it again. I don’t want it formalised into an activity which engages all those officialdom forms and risk assessments and … been there, done that, thrown away the uniform. As the ‘tag’ suggests it is about “fun”.

Many years ago after working in outdoor pursuits prior to my pgce (teacher training) I adopted the motto “Life is not a rehearsal”, I now have time to enjoy my life, I live in a location where I can enjoy my life, I have Anne whom I enjoy life with. So sometimes I will answer yes to queries. Often I will say no because I need my enjoy life space now.

For you

Are you a yes, a no, a mixture? Volunteering makes our society work. It is the glue that supports communities. Please consider saying yes occasionally, but at a scale that you can cope with.

Thanks for reading

Andy

Art focus

I am currently running my Open Studio (22) as part of the Purbeck Art Weeks (PAW19) and am blogging daily with linked posts on Instagram – @Andy.Knill and Facebook page – AndyKnillArt.

If you wish to see the posts there are all linked on the Facebook page or http://www.andyknilllart.com.

My art started for my mental health and mindfulness – it still is and I am keen to spread the message that “Art is fun” at all events that I attend.

Andy

The power of a blog

Yesterday, I was in a very low place, I blogged, I talked about it with Anne, I recovered enough to start doing some items on my to do list. It helped …

Ups and downs, all in a day.

Posted blog this morning, did some jobs on my list, didn’t all go well and end up frustrated and annoyed at self, day became lost to darkening mood and find myself looking out at what I know is a beautiful view.

A low “fug” descends but I know that tomorrow I may well feel much better. Afternoon sleep needed but mood stays low. This rollercoaster hasn’t dipped like this for a while. Able to reassure myself that I am not suicidal and don’t want to end everything although financially I can leave the family in a better position now.

This is not a post for likes or responses it is a self flush out.

Mental health and the moods linked to it are part of me. Roll with it. Today if I did everything in my head I might give up my art or at least sharing it with others, give up my part time job, retreat from the world and not inflict myself on others. Friday I shall be at a local venue offering some adults why I think art is about fun and doesn’t have to be a serious endeavour. I will be there and we will have fun but right now I just have to stop trying and sit.

Freeletics return and health plans

Last week I did a Comeback week that included exercises never set before – I was surprised to be set clapping push ups when I struggle with push ups. Whatever, I completed the week and now should be doing week Seven, I find at present I am lacking in energy and then fear I can not complete sets well enough.

Also for June we have decided that Anne and I both want to lose some weight so a diet will kick in that means cutting out the cakes and tubes with the lid that pops. So over the summer I hope that diet and exercise can combine to give me more energy and a slimmer middle especially. I am posting about this then I hope it can be a positive reminder.

Last Autumn I reduced my antidepressant dosage and had considered reducing it again this summer, at present that plan may go on hold as having some lower reactions to events, but an aspect to be reviewed up until the end of October as a possibility. I acknowledge that antidepressants are part of my life and have been for over 17 years, but reducing my dosage would be a sense of moving on.

Around the Freeletics commitment I am now back to working at my boat job with Wareham Boat Hire, shifts will become increasingly physical as the season moves towards the school holidays. I have also cycled one way, one and three quarter ways to work and back with Anne collecting me and the fat tyre or cyclo cross bike. The intention this season is to cycle more often and my Hartland / Middlebere route is 9 miles each way.

Continue to follow for progress, I look forward to being able to do sets of burpees without crawling through them etc..

The difference a status can make…

I returned to the UK on Monday to read an article on the BBC news page again about why many teachers say they want to leave the profession. For those readers who have only known me since my art “phase” Jan 2017 onwards, I used to be a teacher.

Over a period from 1999 to 2016 I had about every three years a breakdown that disabled me completely. I would have to have time off work before returning. In this time I started to take antidepressants because my first solution increased exercise failed to have enough effect. The first break was only six weeks, the longest break about three and a half months. I always went back because teaching was my vocation, I could not see myself doing anything else.

In my last three posts additional pressures outside work significantly increased and I was struggling. Until in 2016 after a particularly painful period in my last school in London where I felt I had virtually been pushed out of the door, I moved to Dorset and to what either had to work or I would have to stop teaching. Several factors made the start of the new role have additional pressures that I could not cope with. They had given me a named person to talk with if feeling that I was struggling with my mental health, which I had been open about in my interview and application. I couldn’t admit to them or even to my family at the time, back in Essex, that I felt suicidal on a regular basis after about 5 weeks in. It all “blew up” after ten weeks in, the offers of help that came were too late and from the wrong people, I.e. not the ones who had been the primary causes of my stress in addition to my own thoughts.

I left and made the very sensible decision that I could no longer cope with the stresses of a job that in its purest form, I.e. teaching 11 to 16 year olds I still loved with a passion. It was the ridiculous obsession of measuring and reducing individual pupils to the status of “data” that I could have no part in.

So now a broken ex-teacher I had to restart a new life in a new place and an inability mentally to cope with full time work. Due to a combination of circumstances from January 2017 to April 2019 I felt like a person who had “failed” at the vocation I loved. I could accept feedback from ex- pupils and colleagues going back over 30 years, however I still couldn’t consider a full time role or what to do. I have rebuilt a new life, I am now an artist and have sold well considering my starting point. I have a summer seasonal part time post I love, but I was no longer bringing in a steady income. Savings and careful financial management has meant we have survived.

So how has my status changed? through 28 years of full time teaching we were always told how the teacher pension scheme was a good one to be in and to keep paying into. When I left teaching an ex colleague pointed out I could claim a reduced pension from 55 years. On Tuesday April 9 while on our first fortnight’s holiday away from home in 21 years my status changed. I am now a “retired teacher”, I will have a steady regular income, I will still work at my art and summer job because they help give me enjoyment and fulfilment. I do feel guilty that mention of such a luxury is not fair on many friends locally who are self-employed and don’t have that security ahead but I know I worked hard for this and now my status change means I can now leave ex / couldn’t hack it – teacher status is gone. I paid into a scheme for 28 years and now I have payback.

So really this is a self-indulgent post in many ways, but I think it offers something to others too. I see a teaching profession, not just in the UK but in many countries, where fellow professionals are put under so much pressure in the name of “performance” that the profession is haemorrhaging staff far too fast.

Every generation of children is currently being out under too much pressure. The result an education system that is flawed. With an increasing ageing population we need a good workforce to contribute taxes to run our countries. To achieve that we need to value the members of that workforce. So many years of the jokes about how many weeks holiday teachers get every year, but ask those same people why they are not teachers then and a very quick about face about how they couldn’t do that job.

If we want a healthy, happy and skilled workforce then we need to put less pressure on those individuals as they grow up and are educated. To achieve that we need a healthy, happy, skilled and valued workforce to pass on that education. Unfortunately I see a world full of words and good intentions but little change. I still follow some debate about education because it has always been important to me and always will I see fellow professionals open up about their mental health struggles as I did through this blog and on Twitter – but the support comes from those under pressure not those causing the pressure.

Please can the powers that be wake up and start a new process for change, it is time.

Freeletics training

So I am onto week 3, this week Friday will see me trying to run 1500m “like an athlete”, a sluggish one. I am enjoying the challenge of the exercises four times a week. Sessions are usually between 20 and 30 minutes.

My flexibility is improving and I have even started a new Pinterest board for stretching exercises to start using to work on my shoulders and neck which have caused sleep disruption for several nights recently. I am also aware of the need to loosen my hips and as my core starts to develop to add more strength for sit ups especially.

The runs have so far been mainly on the Houns Track path and so far I have been lucky not to scare any walkers as I attempt to “sprint” 200 or 400m and “run like an athlete” for 800m.

Some of the exercises are becoming easier to correct form and technique and I am keeping up the pace on most things.

No photos as I said last time, Anne took some pre Freeletics pics on day one and we will do a second set when I complete the first 12 week programme.Admittedly less eating of treats would accelerate any change but I am not ready for that yet!