Invisible Things, Part 7

I felt a bit better a week or two after I talked to the doctor. I tried to put the conversation out of my mind. Thinking about it was soul-sucking, and I had work to get done, regardless of how I felt. I am good at getting work done regardless of how I feel.

I called my supervisor and said I wanted to quit the police class. He asked, quite reasonably, why. I said that my schedule was too full, and he said he’d talk to the police. The following Tuesday, per his advice, I went in with a CP and told them I couldn’t teach in the evenings. The chief of police said agreeably, if with some regret, that the officers had to work during the day and we would not be able to do the class if I couldn’t teach evenings. Then a few days later one of the officers showed up to my supervisor’s classroom and practically begged me to continue teaching. My supervisor took a look at my schedule and cut back some things at the school, saying I was team teaching too many hours and needed to do more community work. I told him I wanted to do community work that was not English teaching, but the point didn’t seem to come across. I finally agreed to teach half as many hours, earlier in the afternoon.

It didn’t make me feel any more comfortable in that classroom. It didn’t address the real qualms I had — either about the value of the class in the big picture, or about my skill as a teacher.

Meanwhile, I tried to exert what control I could over my nerves. I kept a mental list of priorities (sleep, eat, exercise, work, socialize…), but it was hard to prioritize individual tasks, or to decide what I should do at any given moment. I’d be preparing a lesson for the police course, say, when I’d suddenly remember that I hadn’t made idiom cards for my methodology class. Which was more important, the one that was due sooner or the one that took more time? Which did I care about more? I cared about nothing in that moment except how stressed the problem made me.

I had the same problem with exercise — which always helped me relax in the States, but which was more difficult to focus through without a dojo to practice for and work in. I’d be in the middle of a workout when I’d suddenly remember a work problem, or a friend I’d promised to call, or I’d realize I had plans later that evening and wouldn’t have time to cook dinner. Suddenly the other thing would become infinitely more important than what I was doing and I’d abandon the workout to complete it.

In a spirit of grim defiance, I started to keep a list on my laptop of all the moments I associated with anxiety[1]. I wrote a dozen entries over the course of a month — some recording single moments, others the summation of a week’s events — but, while it gave me a concrete record of something that looked like anxiety, it didn’t actually make me feel better. I felt like I was dwelling rather than addressing the problem constructively; as if explaining the thing in detail somehow trapped me in it. I suspect that feeling is part of why I struggle so much to talk about it at all. Still, the journal gave me a better certainty of my own sense of what was wrong, and I thought I could show it to the PCMOs when I went to Ulaanbaatar in December. It did a better job of conveying what was wrong than anything I could say out loud.

Meanwhile, gradually and hesitantly, I started to confide in a few close friends, all of whom had experienced depression or anxiety at some point in their lives. I did a better job explaining to them than I had to the PCMO — I didn’t lock up as much, because their response wouldn’t have the same repercussions on my service and because I had a lot of trust in them — and received pretty much the same response from each: Yes, that sounds like a real problem. Yes, that sounds like anxiety. Yes, you should talk to somebody about it. And yes, I’m here for you.

[1] Quick sampler of those moments: being upset to the point of tears when a teachers’ party conflicted with a police lesson; waking up in the middle of the night feeling stressed and unhappy; dreading returning to work after a break because of a nebulous sense that something will go wrong; worrying about my relationship with my landlady, which I’ll discuss in detail in my next post.

One thought on “Invisible Things, Part 7”

  1. It’s too bad that the doc was dismissive on your first visit . . . although it’s one down side of a doctor who doesn’t know you. She probably had no idea how hard it was to say anything at all!

    I think keeping a list was a good idea. Having that concrete record, so that you wouldn’t later think “well, something happened, but I can’t quite remember what or when, and I’m sure it wasn’t as bad as I recall”.

    Or maybe I’m the only one with a creative memory 😉

    Thanks again for sharing!

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