Chapter 2: The other side of the sweet spot by Sophia Johansen

Image by Nazim Zafri on Unsplash

thinking about writing – the joy of not feeling – anxiety through the ages – emotionlessness – publicly medicated – true exhaustion – distancing myself – good enough

 I’ve been thinking about writing this for a term and a half, and I feel like I still haven’t processed everything.

But I’m getting there.

I’m intrigued at how I’ve taken to being medicated. At first, I didn’t really notice anything much. I went to work, I did the work, I spoke to people, I came home again. But then I slowly began to realise that I was able to disengage from the sorts of things that had previously gotten me down, like the petty politics of the staffroom, that one arrogantly infuriating student who knows where all my buttons are, the constant, mostly low-grade irritation I have with my head of faculty because she and I are deeply philosophically opposed.

I was surprised to find myself content. I found myself smiling a lot, and that feeling hasn’t gone away.

Being able to float over moments that have previously affected me much more seriously, has also given me space to reflect on how long I’ve felt overwhelmed. Turns out it’s a long time. I thought it might have just been since I’d been teaching, but I’ve slowly been remembering other instances in my life where I’ve been so overwhelmed that I haven’t been able to function. Like the time I was dumped in the deep end with no support at a dead end job and had to take a month off on stress leave. Or time I lost it completely when I was stressing out about uni exams, yelling and crying to myself more than anyone, but my then-boyfriend bore the brunt of that one. Or the time I realised I needed to break up with my first serious boyfriend and worked myself into a panic attack that had me hanging over the toilet, retching my guts up. Or when I ran home from school in grade 6, unable to handle the stingingly embarrassing situation I’d gotten myself in. Or, more generally, when I encounter conflict of just about any kind, I freeze and find myself complete unable to articulate myself, or my flip side is aggressive defensiveness. So I guess it turns out I am an anxious person.

Something I struggle to identify with so much that I didn’t even want to write that last sentence.

I have no trouble, however, identifying as an emotional person; I feel so much. So when I realised, about three quarters of the way into Term 3 that I wasn’t feeling much of anything at all, I started worrying. It wasn’t a huge concern, like my previous anxiety-ridden experience – thanks Zoloft – but it kept niggling at me.

Until I had an argument with my head of faculty about why Shakespeare, despite its ‘literary merit’, is not an appropriate text for our highly multicultural cohort, many of whom don’t have access to standard Australian English. This then extended to a heated discussion about how film does indeed have literary merit and we should therefore be teaching it*.

I noticed three things about this particular experience. The first, was that I spoke up rather than just sitting there, feeling impotent and fuming silently. Because this is not the first time this conversation has occurred. The first time it occurred, two years ago, she questioned my ability to teach. In a faculty meeting. In front of everyone**. So while she outwardly invited discussion on whether or not to include the bard on our text list, really, we were just being told. This time the subject was raised, I asked straight away if this was another time where we were being given the illusion of choice and simply being told that something was happening, or we actually had a voice.

The second thing I noticed was while I felt impotent, and certainly spent a fair bit of time fuming, by the time I got home, I was OK. The last time we had this ‘discussion,’ my whole term was a write off. I dreaded coming in to work and avoided my head of English at all costs. This time, I was furious during my first class, but by the end of the day, I was fine.

The third thing I noticed, with some relief, was that I had felt. But it wasn’t the all-consuming, term-destroying, soul-crushing feeling of not being able to articulate myself and persuade; it was me, experiencing a perfectly justified emotional response about something that really matters to me. Instead of me reacting and overreacting, this was well-founded fury, and, even better, I was able to rage through it and release it after a day. It also helped to ease that niggling feeling that perhaps I just wasn’t feeling at all anymore.

Another thing that has helped me with this whole process has been being open about it. While I am certainly selective of who I tell, I am making sure I talk about it. Often. It has helped me to remove some of the stigma I have about being medicated, and I’m finding that a lot of people are quite curious about it, happy to discuss it, and really accepting of it. A surprising side effect has also been that I have discovered that three friends are on the same medication and we were able to have some great conversations about our experiences both on and off the drugs, and how things were going.

What I feel has been the biggest impact of this whole experience is that, through now being able to distance myself from those things that usually get me down, I have been able to recognise and appreciate some beautifully simple truths:

  •       Teaching is a skill and I am good at it
  •       A full term is truly exhausting, it’s OK to just roll through the last couple of weeks
  •       Everything I do in the classroom does not have to be perfectly planned and organised to constitute a good learning experience, and
  •       I am good enough.

* My head of faculty has removed film from the syllabus from Year 7 through to Year 12 because she believes it does not have literary merit. Don’t get me started.

** She later denied ever doing this. Despite the witnesses.

Sophia is deeply fascinated with the connections we make and have as humans, and words are her favourite way to explore and express this. She loves that she gets paid to analyse the world around her through literature; something she’s been doing her whole life anyway. She especially loves phone calls from her family asking her where commas go, and which is the correct there/their/they’re for the situation.