Category Archives: Mental health

Mental health and how I deal with mine.

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.

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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!

Exercise – week three

Germs have dominated week two and also affected week 3. We have got out for some gentle walks in the open air at Durlston and Studland Bay. Walking and being outside has always been good for my mental wellbeing and it offers the chance to look about us at our great surroundings here in Purbeck.

Today I travelled up to Fleet, Hampshire to look at a second hand fatbike, but only 6 months old. It was all that I was expecting, so once home a quick lunch and then out for a first ride.

I set off from home and stayed offroad for the first 4.5 miles. The return journey included more road but despite 4.0 inch tyres the low gearing made it easy to ride. I got wet and muddy and had a great time.

In total an 8 mile ride and there will be more like this soon too.

Reminders – positive ones

On Twitter yesterday a Depuy Head teacher that I used to correspond with about various education ideas remade contact. He commented how he had read my blog up until the point that I left social media for a while as teaching as my core thing imploded. In chatting it made me realise that now after two years I have actually moved on. I have landed very fortuitously living in a coastal area, I have the finance to support our life and when I work I can choose to do things I like.

Today, wondering how it might make me feel I scrolled down through all of my blog posts on here back to 2011 and revisited my 365 photo blog that I started blogging with on a platform called Posterous. Then I imported the content into WordPress and Mishmashlearning was born out of my first experience presenting to education peers at a Teachmeet in Feb. 2012. This caused some reflection on how much went on and changed between 2012 and 2016 for me to leave teaching all together. I wasn’t getting upset which is a relatively new feeling, teaching is over.

I read on through 2012 and the amount of initiatives I was aware of and trying to bring into school while discussing ideas with professionals I admired online and in several cases met at education events in the next four years. I still feel passionate about Solo Taxonomy although I resist applying it to everything I do now, I just know that my enjoyment of learning new skills and ideas has transferred into my boat work and art.

So many thanks Dan B. for a prompt.

Parenting after they have left home

We have two sons. One no longer lives at home. He chose a different lifestyle to ours. He is only too willing to dismiss our lifestyle choices. He is an adult.

We have two sons. One no longer lives at home. He has many issues including mental health issues, a drug habit, homeless. he is an adult.

Two statements both true. Do they evoke different responses? Possibly. Key words that get a reaction. Today like on many other occasions a sudden message that he wants us to sort out help for him.

Issues with that;

– we haven’t made direct choices for his actions for at least five years

– he rejects our lifestyle and choices

– when offered help it has to be on his conditions so usually fails very quickly

– lies about current drug situation

– he thinks we have an endless supply of money and influence

– he won’t actually approach for help himself except under his conditions (see above)

Why am I posting this? To be honest I don’t know as I don’t seek answers, I don’t think there is a clear one except that he needs to take responsibility for himself. More of a vent after an afternoon where I became concerned he might “go for” a member of the public because of his mood so ended up in a phone trail to where he was to look after people.

I used to work too much, I may have contributed to his issues but there is no clarity. I just get wound up, snappy with those around me, all for someone for whom my decisions aren’t acceptable but I am expected to help them out while being bombarded with random insults.

I could drive to his side of the country and be there in person and it would just be the same except face to face, no difference.

Loud frustrated scream like noise at this point……

Vent over.

A good way of feeling relaxed – Alpaca walks

Today, Anne took up her birthday gift of an Alpaca walk, she had to cancel back into November due to very strong winds and rain. Today we went to a local centre at Longthorne Farm, just north of Monkey World in Dorset.

We were to walk with Harry and William and Anne was to lead Harry. These two young males get on famously apparently. We were given lots of facts about Alpacas which I admit I generally let roll past me. Very calm animals with “teddy bear”like coats. We were allowed to stroke their necks. William was fairly “talkative” throughout the walk. The biggest noise was the tanks passing to their training grounds, the Alpacas took it into their stride as for them it must be a familiar sound.

When an Alpaca decides it wants to eat, drink, scratch you stop with them, a mind of their own but no mean spiritedness at all. We got to feed them in our return too. When we left I felt incredibly at ease and we will be back again.

Stopping in the cool stream and having a drink.

Time for a group photo.

Harry.

Harry allowed Anne to stroke his head, William wasn’t keen although he allowed his ears to be stroked.

William.

Feeding for two.

Harry demonstrating how Alpacas settle similarly to a camel.

I have had allergy issues with horses at sanctuaries before that meant I couldn’t visit. The Alpaca wool is hypoallergenic and I had no trouble being around them.

A big thank you from us both to Longthorne, Farm.

2018 review and going into 2019 (Nurture 2018/19)

My New Year’s blogpost I have now done for several years but in a different format as no longer in education but balancing my life is always a priority.

Work

AndyKnillArt celebrates its second anniversary on 31 January 2019. Initially my aim was to see if I could sell some of my art. Those who have followed this new path for me will have seen that I have achieved this aim consistently. My art year includes:

January

: ending the previous year’s Artisan on the Beach in the Shore Road Huts on Swanage. In 2017/18 I was awarded the title of Artisan of the Year for my enthusiasm, dedication and general “artyness”. Tomorrow, we complete my second Artisan of the year event and this year I have been one of two artisans serving on the working party and I took on the named role of event organiser. My role has been social media marketing and care of our artisan team during the event. A role I have generally enjoyed.

: drawing the next two designs for the “Santa over Purbeck” Christmas card series. In the 13 months of sales of this series it now approaches 400 card sales, a great success with many ideas to take the idea further.

: starting work toward Purbeck Art Weeks for the year.

: for 2019, continued participation as an artisan and member of the collective at the Purbeck Artisan Yard, Church Street, Wareham where I have been full time since March 2018.

February, March and April

: continued time for art work development

: Purbeck Artisan Yard

May and June

: participation in PAW (Purbeck Art Weeks) as an Open Studio when I welcome visitors to our outbuilding and my exhibition and possible sales of my work and art catalogue to date for 16 consecutive days.

: Purbeck Artisan Yard

July, August

: continued time for art work development, this may include PAW sketching events

: Purbeck Artisan Yard

September to November

: helping to organise Artisans on the Beach if I keep my working party place.

: continued time for art work development

: Purbeck Artisan Yard

December

: Artisans on the Beach participation

: Purbeck Artisan Yard

In the last month I have celebrated my gross sales income exceeding £5k and enjoyed my first month where my art income exceeded £1k.

Clearly a positive direction to take and I really enjoy my art for the help it gives me with relaxing too.

Wareham Boat Hire with Matt and Julie Jones. In 2018 I completed my second season, a wet April but then from May to September the weather meant record numbers of customers throughout the season. I worked three days a week in 2018, however my duty commitments at the artisan yard means that I will go back to two days per week in 2019.

I continue to love the outdoor nature of the work, standing in the river, talking with passers by and customers and guiding on safe use of our fleet of craft. I have learnt many skills and I look forward to my third season in 2019.

Both of these offer much free time which has been spent with family, especially Anne and is a priority going forward as we continue to explore Dorset.

In 2019 I also intend to start my life as a retired teacher by taking up my teacher pension at 55.

Family

2018 started with Dad’s funeral and his ashes being interred with Mum’s. Family came from New Zealand and Canada and from the UK. An end of an era which at the end of the year sees No. 4 (family base since April 1975) sold (subject to …) and sharing of family heirlooms, nostalgic items. A new era starts for us all as a family.

Contact with Jonathan our eldest continues to be patchy. This year he announced his marriage to Sarah. We have visited and remained in contact as has Kate my sister. His journey going forward needs to be driven by him.

Here in Dorset the tri-generation household has its peaks and troughs but has settled more.

Exercise

Sea Rowing

Difficult to commit when doing art events, summer boat job etc so I continue to train with the men’s squad when I can. My only regatta participation in 2018 was our Swanage Supervets in October which enjoyed superb weather for the second year. I bought a Concept2 ergo from a fellow club member, but it is still underused somewhere between the worry of over exercising and never actually starting.

In 2019 a more balanced approach I hope.

Cycling

I cycled around Poole Harbour in February with Dave Furmage and achieved 34 miles with no long term after effects except no repeats. I also cycled the Ulwell to Corfe Castle ridge after a steady push up to the ridge itself. I cycled a handful of times to work in Wareham.

So in 2019 I need to cycle more and drive less.

Kayaking

Limited use again but some trips on the Frome pre work in my Triumph 13 SOT (Sit on Top). I also paddled more in Swanage Bay including some trips with Anne too. This is an area we want to repeat more in 2019. Anne has taken swimming lessons alongside this ambition.

Other

We have done some local walks but all fairly short. I want to get out on longer exploratory walks like one I did to Kimmeridge and back via the coast path this summer and combine walking, drawing and photography. I do need to swim much more too.

Learning

This continues with my art skills and my work developing as noted by several friends arty and not. My business skills have developed and I have found some of my teacher admin. skills useful at the artisan yard and for Artisans on the Beach.

A clear target for 2019 is to explore online retailing of my work more thoroughly. I also want to develop my boating skills and qualifications too subject to time commitments.

Connections

Being in business has meant reestablishing an online profile both blogging, sharing my art, using Instagram as well as Facebook and Twitter. This has also led to reconnecting with friends of old and has led to several friends visiting including teaching colleagues from my first post over 30 years ago.

Health

Staying uninjured physically is a key ongoing aim now to allow more time outdoors and also during the boat season. Mentally there are still ups and downs but on the positive side I have ended 2018 on a reduced doseage of my antidepressants and less need to attend support group meetings.

Going forwards

The key priority is to spend lots of time with Anne especially, forge more friendships locally and get out in the great Purbeck air and enjoy our new home to the full.

Thanks to anyone who actually reads this. Feedback welcomed as long as constructive.

December and Christmas

Hello mishmashlearning, not seen you for a while. I now blog more frequently about my art through http://www.andyknillart.com.

So December – last year I took part in an event in Swanage calls Artisans on the Beach for 7 weeks. By the end of it I was announced as Artisan of the Year and it was suggested I should be on the committee / working group for the proposed 2018 event.

It is now 2018, I am one of two artisans on the working group. This year the Artisans on the Beach event started on December 1 and finishes on January 2nd after about 5.5 weeks. I have also become named event organiser from the artisan aspect and taken on tasks including the social media marketing on Facebook and Instagram.

I have at last arrived at that old phrase transferable skills – organisation, spreadsheets, social media work etc , when someone praised my organisation skills I was at pains to point out the demands were less than those needed for a days teaching. I am enjoying my role and will be asked no to be considered to repeat the role for 2019 and possibly subsequent years.

My art is also found at the Purbeck Artisan Yard, Wareham. There I have found myself producing admin. Documents again for the same reasons and those skills again. My artwork is d finitely selling more in my second year. I have greatly increased the range of my work available and initiatives like Christmas cards started for December 2017 now account for a third of my card sales of over £2k.

I am back doing winter training with Swanage Sea Rowing and haven’t injured myself so far, so fitness is increasing gradually. I hope in 2019 to be out exercising much more.

Memories – December has been a difficult time for my family the last two years. Mum passed away in 2016 and last year at this time I sat by Dad’s side before he passed away on Christmas Day. I had a dip thinking about this last week while at the huts one day. I now feel in a better place but will miss the family gathering in Broadstairs even though I found them hard myself from a mental health perspective. Mum and Dad both believed in an afterlife, so I hope they can communicate with each other easily again and are happy with what they see their offspring up to these days. Clearing the family base as it is now sold (almost) turned up many memories and items from their lives and their families too.

My eldest has made changes in his life this year but is still difficult to communicate with, I wish him all the best and stay in contact when possible. My youngest took on a job this year and has shown much maturity about work and maturing in some ways. My mother in law at 96 continues to thrive but it would have been nice for where we live now for her to have retained more of her sight so that she could see the birds and wildlife more easily.

Finally Anne, my fab wife of 25 years now who I am getting to know again now that work is not a barrier that separates me from the family as it had a tendency to do when teaching.

So Christmas Day rest well washing up for me tomorrow. Then back to the hut but hopefully a focus on positive memories.

Seasons greetings to anyone that still follows this blog.

Andy

Dreams? Nightmares? Self doubt?

I last posted directly on this topic in June 2017, here we are almost 11 months later and my last section of sleep included a “dream” that led to an upset me waking to start a new day. I still have “nightmares” which I think are based around my self doubt about if I was contributing in my last 10 years of teaching in the way I thought I had.

Was I doing any good for my pupils? Yes I cared but was the subject side good enough? I know that I struggled with the changing focus away from the individual child to the piece of data and its relative place on a “progress” chart. I taught people and parenting two sons with additional needs made me very aware of this and how trying to fit all children into predetermined shaped slots did not make sense. I myself was a peg that didn’t fit slots.

I clashed with managers, I challenged decisions but offered alternatives which didn’t always help my popularity. My enthusiasm for investigating new ideas made me friends internationally across the globe online and at a variety of education events but my interest and passion was questioned in the places that I taught within.

My mental health and parenting needs at home didn’t fit the right slot. I was open about my issues, uncomfortably too open for some that I worked with. I was the victim of bullying in at least three schools and my nerves and anxiety was fraying. In conversations with other teachers online with open mental health issues I discovered that working through up to 7 breakdowns that led to extended weeks / months off was rare, should I have gone sooner? To be honest I don’t know. I snapped in the end and know that I could never return to the pressures of the classroom. This all happened before I was ready or prepared for it. I am in my second year now of pre-retirement earning some money through part time work.

I have discovered that I can do other things, I can enjoy free time in the week and School term times. As I have typed this post a fight returns in me that yes I did a good job, sometimes even better but teaching broke me over my 28 years. Here is to hoping the dreams fade with time, my self confidence can build and I stop looking back as much.

Taking the time …

A lot fewer blogs recently and generally for positive reasons. It is now almost the end of April. I have been working back on the boats on the river Frome for about a month. Weather has been variable affecting shifts but twice I have arrived early and before I open up I have taken a kayak out for a short paddle downstream to the First river bend to the right and where Monarch the steamboat is moored.

I have pulled back from rowing commitments as I realised I had over committed myself and the art, boat job and flat decorating needed to come first.

So now,we have a flat with the agents to rent in Swanage with decorating done. My second season of work has started with the boats, I have work in the Purbeck Artisan Yard and I am planning my studio for PAW 2018. The next month will get busy as the lead into and then the PAW fortnight.

Taking time out as a couple means that Anne and I need to take time when available to do things. Recently that has included drives out with lunch fitted around an art errand usually including a trip to Art2Card in Upwey. We like to visit Craig’s Dairy milkery and enjoy a bacon and dorset blue vinney panini. On Thursday we fitted in a trip into Weymouth and explored the south side of the old port. We discovered Revolver, a record store with vinyl, a coffee shop and retro items too. Then our walk extended to beneath the Nothe fort and a great lunch at the Stone Pier cafe with a view across the town and towards Durdle Door. We also found a new art store in ArtyCrafty.

Another recent trip for a car service was combined with a walk and picnic lunch in the New Forest. This afternoon we popped into the Artisan Yard to restock one of my cards and also enjoyed an hour paddling upstream on the river Frome from Wareham. Most of these activities have been on weekdays which in my previous work existence I could only do in school holidays. Today a Sunday afternoon on the river instead of planning and marking.

Our new life offers a great location and a variety of opportunities and it is gradually rebuilding my mental strength.