It’s been one of those weeks. Actually, it’s been one of those weeks for quite a while. Words like cancer and early onset have been used regularly. Words that are out of my control, things I can’t fix. There are things in school that have drained my reserves too. I will readily admit I’m not sure I’ll ever find the professional emotional distance required to stop myself worrying about children when I leave the building. Am I doing the best I can to support them? What if I had done this instead?
Why then, did my reserves run dry on Thursday? On Thursday, tumour and childhood leukaemia were added to the list of words that were out of my control, and very fortunately replaced with encephalitis on Friday.
Thursday had me in tears at my physiotherapy consultation, where I was told that what we are doing is not working. While my core strength is much improved, the pain levels aren’t. Her initial optimism at getting me into heels at Christmas has been replaced with “sell them, you’ll never wear them again.” This might sound very silly but that was heart breaking for me. I always wore heels. I’ve played football in heels, refereed tag rugby in heels. I love my heels. Oh, and “maybe it’s time to start thinking about long term effects of your job.” Stop doing what I love? No chance.
Thursday was also the day I found out I’m moving classes after half term. I totally understand the reasoning behind it, and while I know I should take it as a compliment to my skill set that the SMT believe I am capable of what is being asked, I’m also very sad that I’m leaving the class I’m with. Every day has been challenging and exhausting, and I have loved it.
It all just got a bit much, and I knew I needed to take a moment or two for me. I had promised myself that this half term I would take the time I need to heal myself and rebuild my resilience.
And that was totally the plan. But life had other ideas.
At midnight on Friday, my partner and I opened a bottle of champagne with my step-son to wish him a very happy 18th birthday. He was delighted. We sat together, talking and laughing, and told him no, he had to wait until morning for his presents. When he’d gone back upstairs, my partner thanked me for the idea. For me, it was simple. We’re awake, he’s awake, it’s technically his birthday, and it means champagne. Daft things like that leave lasting happy memories, and we can never have enough of them. That was the only time we saw him smile and mean it on his birthday.
Saturday morning brought the devastating news that his best friend had taken his own life on the Friday night. A friend he had been out with the day before and had a great time with. A friend who is his sounding board when his anxiety becomes too much, when he needs to talk.
As we waited for his mum to arrive to tell him, I did the only thing I could think of. I put the kettle on and I willed myself to be strong for everyone else. I don’t think I ever envisaged a time that I would hug my partner’s ex, but it seemed like the most natural thing in the world yesterday morning.
I cannot put into words the pain on his face. I cannot describe the sound that came from him as he realised it wasn’t a sick joke, he was being told the truth. It’s like his internal candle has been extinguished. It is heartbreaking to know that we can’t take his pain away. No magic kisses or plasters will fix this. It’s too horrific to even contemplate what his friend’s family are feeling. And there is a tiny voice in my head saying “thank god that isn’t us.”
I do know what I’m feeling though, and amidst the sadness, there is one word that stands out. Anger. Pure, unbridled anger at the education system and mental health system that is failing our youngsters. An education system that is piling pressure on them to pass AS levels or leave, despite A Levels being a two year course. That’s not to help them, that’s to help schools sort the wheat from the chaff so their data looks better in the league tables. A mental health system that has 18 month waiting lists for appointments for vulnerable children who need access to support instantly. Giving them tablets isn’t enough. Expecting families, friends and teachers to get them through until a professional can help them simply isn’t good enough.
My anger has refuelled my reserves. I’m lucky that I am actually pretty resilient. I’m lucky that I have a wealth of support when I feel it’s running out, and the ability to ask for help when I need it. I know that it doesn’t make me a failure or weak any more. But not everyone has the ability to ask for, or accept, support when they need it most. Something needs to change, now. There needs to be qualified mental heath workers in every school to help our children cope with the pressures life puts on them. Mental health should have the same speed of access to medical care as cancer. Both will kill if left untreated. Both are as devastating to the sufferer and their families and friends.
How many more vibrant young people are going to have their resilience worn away to the point that dying seems less terrifying than living?