It is around this time of year that I start thinking about being well, and wishing that I, and my family, was. Not that we are particularly poorly, only mildly under the weather, you understand. Considering the date, we are remarkably fit and well. Mid-December hasn’t always seen me, and mine, that way.
There was the year of the freezing fog, when A had a cough so bad that he missed (much to his not so internal pleasure) the school Christmas carols. There was the year that, during our post-return-home-early-from-the-end-of-term, Sam declared he felt a bit sick and proceeded to hose me down with a seemingly unending stream of vomit, the only advantage of the situation being that my presence saved the sofa from an early grave. And then there was the year, following a crowded Christmas dinner at the in-laws where the heavily pregnant me discovered that the ear-ache was, in fact, sinusitis, and that R, the two boys and me took a reluctant Boxing Day trip to Sainsbury’s in search of analgesia.
Part of the problem, you see, is that I have always been a bit rubbish at looking after myself. I thought that I had learned my lesson and finally got to grips with the word ‘no’ when I was still working full time and over committed myself with the guitar playing and singing at the weekend, leaving me little time to prepare my lessons or have a moment to catch my breath, but not so. It took, in the words of my family GP, an introduction of the germ factory that is my son, to get me to rate my health a little higher.
Although I don’t like to buy into stereotypes, there is something about Down’s syndrome and germs that puts us all under strain in the winter months. Sam has a small head, and part of that means that all the little tubes in it, the ones that carry the snot and the infection away, are smaller too. They don’t work so well and stuff gets stuck and festers. Add that to a depressed immune system (more so than the typical vulnerability of the very young), and tired, worried parents, and you have a recipe for hospital. Such has been my anxiety that, and after two stays on the ward in that quiet week between Christmas and New Year some might say that it has been justified, my wellbeing has been the last thing on my mind.
And teaching or other jobs where you care for others is no better. I can’t count the number of times I have accompanied carols with a raging sore throat and temperature. As the person playing the piano in the days before canned music was the norm I believed that I was indispensable, but on ordinary days, with nothing special about them to mark them out from any other, other than the day to day keeping up with the plans, teachers are the very worst at struggling in to work, passing their germs about, keeping on keeping on until they reach the holidays. At which point they are generally iller than they might have been and return to work feeling exhausted and anything other than refreshed.
Teachers are always so busy, so pivotal to what goes on in the classroom. The lessons live in your head, despite making them as clear as possible on the standardised form; being part of a written medium they are always open to interpretation. The children rely on you being there, a constant presence who sorts out the squabbles and ensures calm reigns supreme. When supply teaching is dominated by agencies who send a different person each day, there is a very real need for continuity, lest you come back to chaos. And all of that is before you get to the challenging children and the equally challenging adults.
Teaching and parenting, especially parenting a child with additional needs, are hard work, and the parenting part is not one you can leave at the end of the day, or take satisfaction in the payslip. Neither are occupations that can be carried out successfully when you are struggling, either mentally or physically, and it has taken me a long time to learn this lesson.
So today, dear reader, as I contemplate the Christmas disco I am missing out on because my ears are full of fluff and my throat is sore, and inspired by @MartynReah and his #teacher5aday here is my hard won wisdom on keeping well and being well.
- Learn when to say, ‘no’. It might be that party invitation, it might be that extra meeting, the request for home made cakes for a cake sale, or the sudden need for fancy dress or a Christmas jumper. Know your limits, and stick to them.
- As far as you can, get an early night, work on getting the children to learn to sleep, and to self soothe themselves back to sleep. Everything looks worse through the red mist of sleep deprivation, everything is more difficult, and if, as we have been, you are going through bad night times, take it in turns to be on duty if you possibly can.
- Watch the symptoms. Do you struggle with anxiety? Has that headache or that twitchy eyebrow started up? Is your throat sore? How about that rash? All of these are signs that something is up. What about the little ones? Are they at the tipping point from unwell to hospital admission? Know the symptoms, go to the doctor and don’t leave unsatisfied. If this means going to see a particular doctor, one who knows you and knows your family, do that. Nine times out of ten, those of us with responsibility for a child with fragile health will know, having seen them head over the frighteningly fast precipice to seriously poorly many times before.
- Spend time with people who matter and who you matter to. Friend, lover, son, daughter, mother, father; whoever it is, find them, let them help you. Have a laugh. Enjoy their company.
- Don’t beat yourself up. We are not super human. We may have heavy demands upon us, but in the end, we can only do what we can do. There are not 25 hours in every day. Doing what you can and forgiving yourself what you can’t is plenty.
In the end, giving yourself a heart attack thanks to a punishing school run, or finding yourself in the hospital attached to a nebuliser while being told off by your GP who has followed you there to make sure you do as you are told are prices not worth paying for the illusion of the perfect mother, everything to everybody. The perfect teacher? Who is this creature? I don’t know her, do you?
I’m not going to go on about eating well and drinking enough water, staying off the alcohol, exercising eight times a week etc etc. Let’s face it, this post is about survival. Get a takeaway to tide you over, just don’t make it a habit.