Yesterday I did something that I hadn’t done for almost six months. It was something I had been wanting to do for some time but hadn’t been in a position to be able to. It was an incredibly strange experience. I hadn’t expected it to feel so strange. I didn’t expect it to feel normal but I hadn’t expected it to feel so strange.
Yesterday I went back to school. For those of you who have not been following this blog, I’m the Head of English in a middle school. My mother thought going back would be quite emotional and I don’t know if she was right. I left simply feeling strange: not sad, not elated – just strange.
It was one of those occasions where there is a direct contrast between the well you and the sick you. When I was last there I was sick but had been running on adrenalin for so long, other than feeling a little tired, I didn’t feel sick. To return yesterday – sick, showed me just how ill I have been over the last few months. I am making progress but I am nowhere near the bright, energetic, dynamic whirlwind I used to be. The whirlwind was noticeably absent yesterday but the sick girl was not. Yes it is a little sad but it is not the prevailing feeling. I know the whirlwind (in some form) will return and for that to not be me now seems just natural and again realistic. The whirlwind too needs to go into my neatly labelled box – Not for you, just yet.
It was strange to be around the people I used to spend so much of my day with; it was strange to be in the building; it was strange to hear the kids say, “Hi, Mrs Ironside.” My world has been so different from that world, for what seems such a long time now, it felt simply strange to be there.
Don’t get me wrong, it was lovely to get hugs from staff and have my students excitedly ask whether I was back and was I going to teach them in their next lesson. It was great to feel missed and wanted. You forget very easily how thrilling it is to have kids motivated to do a lesson largely because they love the way you do it. It didn’t feel sad however to have to tell them I wouldn’t be back until September. It seemed realistic and the most natural of statements. It was sad to see that some were disappointed to hear this.
It was lovely that one parent, who has M.E., months ago wrote a note of support for me and the student finally got to share it with me. I had always known she was a carer for her mum, I just hadn’t known why. I can now see her in a very different light.
I do wonder however whether any staff looked at me and thought, “she doesn’t look ill.” An understandable thought, as indeed I don’t look ill a lot of the time. I also wondered whether people noticed the lack of energy and how much quieter I was. Did they notice by the end of my hour there how much I was struggling? I am sure those who know me best did or if they didn’t, they did not doubt my authenticity when I said I was beginning to feel tired (slight underestimate there – exhausted more like it!).
It was hard to see my classroom, being a bit OCD, not exactly as I would have liked it to be. I have always liked to have things exactly in the right place, my tables exactly straight and all my books extremely tidy. Teachers have different mindsets and all the mindsets are probably right. Mine however is a tidy classroom produces a room in which students can feel more secure. They always know where everything is and therefore it is one less thing for them to think or worry about; therefore, producing a more productive educational environment. There are many teachers using my room now and so there is no one person responsible for it. My perfectly laid out classroom is tidy but not perfect for my OCD brain (this only exists in school!). If anything was emotional that was – I tried not to look!
The one thing I was hit by more than anything else was that I am no way near ready to go back to work. I spent 55 minutes in the school. Walked to my classroom twice and sat in the staff room for the rest of the time. By the time I signed out, I was on my last legs and had to go back to bed for three hours on return. I knew it would tire me out but I had not anticipated the true extent of my exhaustion. I didn’t get near collapse but I feel that if I had stayed there perhaps just thirty minutes more I would have.
To return to school and work even for just an hour a day will require significantly more reserves than I currently possess. I knew the road ahead of me was long but perhaps it is a little longer than I anticipated. Oddly this doesn’t make me feel sad or worried. Again it just seems realistic and right. It too is in that neatly labelled box – Not for you, just yet.