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Hidden Anxieties of Teaching

Arduous and challenging are the two words Nicola Louise uses to describe the teaching profession. But when she returned to the obstacles of this profession after having a child, she entered an entirely new realm of anxiety.

Teaching – the job she had loved – took her to a very dark and lonely place (“What No One Knew About ‘the Anxious Teacher’,” The Mighty, April 24, 2017).

In the first few weeks after returning to the classroom, she could feel herself slipping. When she had a day off, precious moments spent with her daughter were lack-luster. She didn’t feel present. She worried incessantly. Her thoughts would spiral and escalate out of control. Coping with the demons inside her was next to impossible.

But she didn’t show it.

“To everybody around me: family, friends, colleagues … I was in control. Inside, I was falling apart. I felt completely lost. I was broken,” she said upon reaching her breaking point.

Deciding to go on sick leave should have been the best decision because it provided her the opportunity to seek help, manage her anxiety and begin recovering. Instead, it made everything worse – it brought new worries and fears she couldn’t control.

“During this time, I craved some reassurance … A simple text message, phone call or even a comforting email to say everything was okay, to wish me well and to offer support. But it never came,” Louise recalled. “The alarming silence made my worries and fears cultivate and left me feeling incredibly isolated and alone.”

Anxiety often reaches a point when it turns into numbness. And without a support system, those feelings can become exacerbated. That’s why Mental Health First Aid is sometimes about just starting the conversation. While the benefits of the program have been touted at schools nationwide, it is also an important part of self-care – something Louise knows all too well.

In Mental Health First Aid, people are taught to identify when someone is experiencing a mental health problem and how to connect them with appropriate resources and self-help strategies. Initiating the conversation and bringing awareness to mental health issues experienced by so many is the first step in making an impact in someone’s life.

As Louise puts it, “There is always light at the end of the tunnel, but to make our way through the dark, we need those around us to guide us through.”