Corinne Settle, SSAT Senior Education Lead, writes honestly about her own mental health journey.
In the last 20 months I have written honestly about my own mental health journey. I’ve been quiet for a while, because, like for so many of us it’s been really tough. But like so many, I compare my challenges with others and feel I really shouldn’t complain or bother others about it. Hiding away feels easy and safe, but it can become a habit which isn’t always healthy. That narrator inside your own head doesn’t always speak the truth. Mine can be vicious.
My role here at SSAT means I have the incredible privilege of speaking to teachers and school leaders across the UK and beyond. Many of the teachers I have spoken to have commonly used one word to summarise this time – hell. Not the word I expected, but an honest and explicit summary of what has and is still being survived. We have all been through so much in our personal and professional lives.
I have had emails from colleagues whose challenges have had me in tears, yet each and every day they return to the classroom, often too quickly after bereavement and trauma, to support and educate the learners they care for deeply. I know from personal experience that this can be a very welcome distraction from overwhelming personal pain. But time and space are needed for healing. You need to choose to make the time now, not later. If you leave your body to decide when this is, it will be at the most inconvenient time, and you can’t just ‘push through’ it.
In my first blog I wrote about the need to take the superhero pants off and put yourself first. I look back now, that blog was published in March 2020. Wow, none of us could ever imagined what was to come when I talked about teachers being superheroes. But I do feel that the word has lost its meaning. Teachers are a thousand incredible words and superhero really doesn’t cover it; it doesn’t come close.
My last sentence in this first blog was “Look after yourself first, before helping others, so we can make the biggest difference for our families, students and community.” Over the course of the last 20 months, you have made an amazing difference. Please don’t doubt this for a second. But I expect that this, for many, has been at a cost to your health and well-being.
First aid: help given to a sick or injured person until full medical treatment is available.
We all have our own version of first aid when we are struggling and this has been what has got us through. We now need to move beyond this, together, outside of our own heads. As we look towards Christmas, I would ask you to do one thing. Be your own superhero, your own champion, be a giver to yourself. Not just for a five-minute break or a pamper session. Commit to yourself something bigger. Please don’t lie to yourself and let that narrator say that it will be ok, ‘I just need to get to Christmas’. Over two-years ago at the very end of the longer summer break, I broke and I didn’t see it coming. This is one of the hardest journeys I have had to take sitting alongside bereavement and miscarriage.
What do you need now for you right now?
In my second blog, I talked about keeping myself first, the hard bit. Now over a year and half later I am still working on this, moving slowly forward. In this blog I shared the Wheel of Life. This activity has had a lasting impact. We do have a finite amount of energy and it can’t all be given to others; we must keep some for ourselves. I also shared some strategies that have supported me in this process of moving forward.
Plan for rest
If you are tired and exercise has gone by the wayside, don’t ask yourself “why am I so lazy”. Ask the question “why does my body need so much rest right now?”
Rest for many will not be packing out your Christmas diary with dashes around the country visiting and catching up with family and friends. There needs to be balance between seeing those you love and caring for yourself. After not being able to have a proper Christmas last year, the temptation is to go all out this year. Take a minute to ask the question, what’s best for you? What do you need now (other than a lottery win)?
Right now, for me, I am working on comparison, or more importantly stopping it. Comparing myself with others leaves me paralysed. It takes away a bit more of that finite energy that I must spend on myself and it makes that negative voice a lot louder. I have discovered open water swimming and am loving it even more as the temperature drops. I come out of the water with a sense of achievement, a beaming smile, and numb feet! I have created a playlist called ‘shush you’. A selection of songs to hush that inner critic and remind me of the incredible strength I have and the unwritten wonders yet to come.
I have got this; you have got this.
Focus on you, reach out to loved ones, talk. What matters to you matters to them.