[Trigger warning: Contains frank discussion of anxiety. As both a superb educator and author of the highly-popular 2017 article ‘What it’s like to be a teacher with an anxiety disorder’, Kim Constable was invited by Innovate My School to write this article.]
On the one hand, I have really enjoyed the time at home with the cats, helping Gizmo get more comfortable being in the house when my housemate is around. I have had time to properly decompress from people-overload, as it has only been myself and my housemate around. And I have been able to start getting all those resources and ideas that live in my head out into reality.
However, this has also been an extremely anxious time. I know I am not unique in that: because of the virus and uncertainty from the government, but to be honest most of my anxiety wasn't around contracting the virus. I had bouts every time I had to go to the supermarket, but that was a fear of judgement by other shoppers. No, the majority of anxiety for me has been surrounding what comes after. After lockdown, after schools return and after life goes back to some semblance of normality.
I have become comfortable in my little bubble at home, just me and the cats. I don't have to worry about putting on the mask of being okay, even if I am not, I don't have to prepare to interact with people or overthink those interactions once they have happened, and honestly it has been a relief I normally only get in the summer holidays.
But I am well aware it can't and won't continue. My fears - and I use the word fear because I am truly terrified - are to do with face-to-face interactions with people. It's like the return after a holiday, with everyone asking what you did and where you went. Only this time it will be about what you will do now. Who will you see, where will you go, what are you going to do? That expectation terrifies me, because the reality is, my life won't change that much. I won't be hugging people, or going out to dinner. I won't be socialising with big groups of friends or havering parties, because frankly those things scare me.
My biggest worry is that I will struggle day-to-day with the new normal, and this will impact on my ability to do my job. That I won't be able to support my students upon their return because I can't cope myself. There has been a lot of talk on how we as teachers need to focus on the wellbeing and mental health of our students once back in the classroom, but we must not forget the staff as well.
I have been lucky enough that my counsellor has continued our sessions by phone through the lockdown, so I have been able to talk through my fears with her each week, to vent my frustrations. I still have those coping mechanisms I had before the lockdown, even if I am a little out of practice with them, but I know I will need to find new ones to cope with the new and ever-changing situation - and that is where I will need support and help.
I am very lucky that I work in an extremely supportive school, who are aware of my struggles and issues and have made accommodations for me to manage my mental health. I don't know if my needs will change once we return or if my current coping systems will be enough, but either way we will need to look out for each other just as much as we will be looking out for our students and not just because of COVID trauma.