There is something so horribly physical – actually painful, often acutely so – about post-traumatic muscular kick-back. It is a form of anxiety with which I am all too familiar – and it is, to me, utterly overwhelming and very difficult to handle in any kind of mindful, let alone insouciant, way.
Let me explain: The whole process of resuming my teaching career, albeit on a part-time basis, has been overwhelming, both emotionally and physically. I became incredibly tense beforehand, on both occasions, and was very nervous, and barely slept, the nights before going into previously-unknown schools. The disruption to my routine (in so far as I have had one) has been a huge shock, and I have known, at some level, that my muscles and nerves would, inevitably, have their say eventually; they always do.
Both teaching days, I was up by six in the morning. It all felt so weird, as if I were a different person, an Alienora I thought I had left behind. Climbing into formal clothing felt strange. There was a stiffness about it, a lack of freedom, a tension – and the old pull between understanding that I need to look professional and wanting to simply be my usual self.
Adrenaline surges were vast throughout both days – but, while Tuesday was good, Thursday was the kind of nightmare all teachers, no matter how experienced and talented and able, face from time to time and dread with every fibre of their beings. I had occasion to comment in a recent post about the effects climatic conditions have upon teenagers – and Thursday was rainy with a high wind, absolutely the worst kind of weather in which to meet unknown children and attempt to teach an unfamiliar subject.
I shall say no more in terms of detail, concentrating instead upon my own response. I felt completely overwhelmed, terrified, so tense that I could have been carved from wood and bubbling up with oceans of tears. Failure seemed to be staring me in the face. My new start, I feared, would finish prematurely.
When I got into the car, to drive home, I had to stop after a few minutes because the tears started and would not stop. My teaching blouse was sodden within seconds. But, back driving again, I realised that this sorrow had touched a spring far more profound than the immediate incident; I knew that I had been feeling overwhelmed for a very long time, and for a variety of reasons – and that the loss of control in the lesson actually triggered, and echoed, a far wider spectrum than that produced by a less-than-successful teaching experience.
We teachers fear losing control of our classes. It is, perhaps, the most fundamental fear in teaching. For all our bluster, and education, we are one against many – and our bluffing teeters on the edge of profound vulnerability all the time. We are open to abuse, even assault. Being adult, having degrees, trying to engage with the children – none of this guarantees our success or our safety. It it, consequently, very easy to feel very small and easily broken when things get tough: To feel totally overwhelmed by the strain of having to keep the wild animals in their cage. As it were.
Fear of abuse lies at the heart of it, I am certain. And this is very painful territory for me, for many of us. Being overwhelmed by stronger, more ruthless adversaries has been a constant theme in my life in recent years – and the fear of certain personality types is an ongoing battle. It is easy, when threatened, for me to slide into a state of paralysis, to see myself as weak, useless, ineffectual, doomed to fail: To become, in a nutshell, overwhelmed by past programming and unhelpful habits.
Today, the pain has been bad again, as my muscles – so cramped through fear yesterday – spasm and whinge and moan. This morning, walking Jumble, I had the closest thing to a full-blown panic attack I’ve experienced since moving to Glastonbury – and, yes, I was tempted to give up my teaching plans, to give in to the fear.
But, looking at it logically, I have a 50% success rate thus far – and I can hardly make a valid judgement of anything after only two days. I am, as I have intimated on here many times, easily overwhelmed and very prone to a strong, usually unpleasant, somatic response. My body screams when my mouth cannot.
To me, one thing is very clear: It is time I faced this fear of being overwhelmed, of losing control, of being attacked and abused, laughed at and ridiculed. It is time I realised that the bad moods, nastiness and malice of others directed at me do not mean that I am necessarily at fault – or that I am a feeble, pathetic human being.
We all feel overwhelmed at some time in our lives – and often expend great energy trying to pretend that this is not so; trying to put on a brave, or hard, face; hoping to convince others, if not ourselves, that we have rhino-thick hides and are tough as the proverbial old boots.
So, this time, I am facing it: Yes, I felt, briefly, not just overwhelmed but, actually, obliterated. It hurt, horribly. It was a blow to my self-esteem, my confidence, my security. But, glancing back over the past year or so, such blows have been frequent – and often far more truly devastating than Thursday’s moment of misery. Of course, my body has no sense of relative values when it comes to threat: It clenches the muscles into excruciating knots, and pours out the gallons of adrenaline, regardless..
I will not flee, however. I will not run away from this fear of being overwhelmed by a stronger, attacking other human being. I will not back away from my terror of losing control in the classroom of my life. I will not give in, even thought the orcs of pain pull viciously at me and waves of anxiety climb and climb.
Better by far, I say, to be capable of being overwhelmed by life than to live in a constant state of unfeeling satedness, underwhelmed by everything.