mental health, perspective

Dust in the Wind

This past 15 months has been a train wreck on so many levels relating to school work for one of my kids. The train wreck has left carnage of a new kind spewed in or around my vicinity. My home. My email. My car. My inner circle. Just in abundance in my life.

When did it all begin.

Out of school without notice last year. The unknown. That’s when it started. 60 days. We got this. No it’s 90 days really. Or maybe 120 days but who’s counting. Not me because it’s temporary. Pain is temporary, right?

Into a summer semester for two classes to get ahead. Sounded simple pre-pandemic when it was arranged. Of course, in ordinary times taking extra classes is no big deal. Add a pandemic and your world is shaken to the core. Isolation. Digital learning when you need human interaction. Anti-glare glasses are now needed due to extended learning time online.

Back to school in fall of 2020. Out of school again after a few weeks. Rules change. Deal with it! You pull yourself together to get through that semester. Back to school again in the new year. Fresh start you think. Fear, anxiety and so much more as kids drop like flies in your class for being contact traced. A ruler is now a measuring stick. If the ruler says you are quarantined, off you go. No questions asked.

Fear. Shock. Isolation. Anxiety. Back online you go. What other choice do you have. More self-learning. More self-discipline. Is that too much to expect at my age? 

Shut out again. No people. Lack of purpose. Why do I need to do work. Digital sucks the life out of me. Kids are mean on Zooms. I can’t ask questions. Learning is hard. I’m depressed. Learning math remotely. Learning an advanced foreign language online. I feel alone. Lost. Depressed. Anxious. Scared. Failure is not an option. Or is it? Who cares. Who really cares. I was put in this box. This virtual box.

My parents hound me. My teachers hound me. It’s never ending. The counselors are over burdened. Expectations are still high. Everyone cheats. What is right? What is wrong? Is it over yet? Did I even pass? This year really sucked. It sucked for my kid and it sucked for my family.

Summer break. A reset button of sorts. Travel. Fun. No have tos. That’s what the doctor ordered. That’s what mom needs. That’s what I need. 

I need my friends. I need my social connections. I just want to hang out at the mall again. Maybe go to a movie. Maybe just not being trapped in the pandemic bubble. The virtual bubble.

College is in sight. My gpa needs an inflation pump. I need my sanity. I’m not alone. Many have side effects from the pandemic. Everyone has their own story.

Cheers to summer vacation and the shit that is in rear view. All of it. Good riddance. All I see is dust in the wind.

A special shout out to those of our readers from Singapore. We appreciate you visiting.

Bye Felicia!

perspective

Doctor Doctor

A not-so-well-known fact about me: I’m a doctor. No, not the kind of doctor that prescribes medications or carries a stethoscope. I’m a doctor of the mind – a PhD. Earned in 2012 in Language and Literacy Education from the University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!)

Why do I bring this up? Recently I read an op-ed and surrounding arguments about our incoming First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden, and whether or not she should own her “Dr.” title. The author raised all kinds of small-minded reasons why she should drop the Dr. title, even calling her “kiddo” at one point, as if her using the title she earned was childish and deserved a patronizing pat on the head. The arguments he made only showed his own shallow thinking and aren’t even worth reviewing here. Still all this made me mad, and also made me reflect on my own title.

I’m not going to bother to defend the work it took to earn my title. Six years, countless courses, teaching, publications, awards, etc. I have an obnoxiously long academic vita that does that. In some ways the PhD is a measure of stubbornness and I earned that through and through. I also won’t argue that all Dr. titles are worth the same. Especially now, when we see even more brightly how health care is heroism, I can’t even begin to equate what I have with what they can do.

What my PhD shows is that I have learned how to think. I have learned how to collect data, analyze it, theorize it, and write about it at length. When I earned that title, I knew that it was one of the few things no one could take away from me. I am one of the two “Drs.” in my building. Maybe it won’t surprise you that a school actually makes a big deal about a doctorate. Yes, my kindergarteners call me Dr. Friese. (Sometimes, with a wink at Southern custom, they call me “Miss Dr. Friese.”) For a while I wondered if the students should use my title or if it really mattered, but now I think it’s good for students to see that thinking is valuable in all areas of life. If they love that kind of advanced-level thinking and intellectual work / play, it can be pursued in countless contexts. Doctoring isn’t just in an office or hospital. We don’t all wear scrubs (and special props to those who do!) The more people see different possibilities, especially kids, the better.

On the flip side, Dr. has its downsides. I can be a total snob about things. I can’t unsee typos on a professional document. I ask too many questions at times, which can lead to the “analysis paralysis,” or being so stuck in overthinking I don’t get anything done. (I’m trying to remedy this with my OLW this year: DO!)

I also know that titles aren’t everything. Several people I know are much smarter than me learning from the school of hard knocks or lessons from in the trenches. I’ll be the first to argue that my classroom smarts doesn’t always help me “in the streets.” I embody the absentminded professor stereotype in many areas of life. Many will make a better living and a happier life taking paths that don’t necessarily lead to titles, certifications, or initials. So a Dr. isn’t everything, but it is something and it was the right challenge for me. Whether it’s initials or just more digits in your bank account, I’ll honor what you have earned.

What bothers me most about how this writer treated Dr. Biden is the tone and the underlying sexism of it all. As if being First Lady should make anything else she does or has done take a back seat. As if prioritizing her work as a highly educated educator is sort of laughable. As if the title conferred by marriage is the one she should favor over the one she earned for thinking, writing, and persisting. How many times have I gotten mail directed to Dr. and Mrs. instead of Mr. and Dr. or even Dr. and Mr.? Why does doctoring default to men? Why should women minimize what they earned when it takes nothing from anyone else? Sometimes I even minimize what I have earned myself, if I let the opinions of others invade my mind and erode my confidence.

When I taught at UGA, my students called me Beth. It was a personal choice and I had my reasons. These days, if someone calls me Mrs. Friese at work, I don’t correct them but my bosses often will if they hear it. Although my interests have taken me elsewhere, all this has revived my thinking about that title, what it means, and what it’s worth. Some might say I don’t use my doctorate, but in many ways I use it daily. I think. I write. I argue. I reason. I plan. I observe. I analyze. Every. Single. Day.

So yes, you may call me doctor. If you don’t, it doesn’t change who I am or what I’ve earned. In the mean time, I won’t waste energy worrying about what you think of me or my title. I’ve got too much to plan and DO to fret over small-minded guys.

mental health, Uncategorized

Gift of Words

I’ve mentioned the challenges of working in an elementary school during this time of COVID. Telling the kids to spread out. Masks all the time. So. Much. Sanitizer. Constant changes. One of the reasons I wanted to work in an elementary school is honestly because it seemed playful and fun. That hasn’t always proven true, and this fall has been even less fun than usual.

In typical years, the time between Thanksgiving and Winter break at an elementary school is equal parts festive and frantic. We have 15 days to cram in two month’s worth of learning and celebrating. The schools I’ve been in go all out with decorations, which means trees, menorahs, stockings, and so on. It’s also the wrapup of the first half of the year, so we pile tons of tests in there just to add to the excitement (and panic).

This year was different. Widespread testing is postponed or canceled for the most part in elementary schools where I live. And when I got back from Thanksgiving break there were no trees going up, no stockings… maybe just a handful of stars and tinsel in the hallways. The lights and energy of the holidays are usually palpable when you walk through the front door. This year no one would have known it was December.

My job has changed so I am not telling stories to kids anymore right now, so no Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Christmas tales. Last year I made a tree out of ancient textbooks. I also have a little sliver tree with international ornaments. The kids love these touches. This year I didn’t find time with all my other shifting responsibilities.

Every year has also brought a dress up countdown for teachers, 12 Days of Christmas style. We all wear red one day, silver the next, silly socks on Tuesday, crazy hats Thursday. I wore my tacky Christmas sweater on the right day and I was the only one who did! Most of us are so tired and beat up we are just lucky to be dressed and physically present. December, such a special, silly time of celebration and connection, was just more show-up-and-get-it-done days.

The twelve days also bring treats at times. Hot cocoa after school. Cookies in the mailroom. Pancakes from the local breakfast place. I generally skip all that since too much sugar makes me sleepy. But one morning, when I returned from my morning outdoor duty all dressed up in my tacky garb, a piece of paper caught my eye. It was a paper, to me, thanking me for my gift of flexibility. A quote from Picasso about finding your purpose and sharing it. A short explanation of how I have adapted to every role and challenge this year. An appreciation.

It was a simple thing. A word. An acknowledgement. A recognition that in this crazy time, I have played my role as best I can. And what I do matters. Then I noticed that every teacher’s door in the school had a similar paper.

I made excuses the rest of the day to walk around the building, dropping off items or doing other errands. But what I really wanted to do was see other colleague’s notes – what gifts did our administration identify in them? Kindheartedness. Generosity. Passion. Good humor. Creativity. I nodded my head at each one. Maybe not what I would have said is most important about that person, but each one still rang true. Some of them made me laugh since they were gifts I often struggle with. Efficiency. Patience. Productivity. Focus. Again I nodded, but understood why those weren’t top of mind for me.

This has been a year of challenges. My job has changed at least weekly, sometimes daily. Stress levels have brought patience muscles to their breaking point for many, even me. While the cookies and chocolate are sweet, the gift that meant the most to me was just some words and the knowledge that what I am doing is seen.

Who around you needs to be seen? Who can you lift up with a word or two? Who brings a gift to your life just by being in it? I hope you’ll take a minute to let them know this week. Words are precious gifts.

challenges

Pretend It’s Normal

It’s not quite the end of 2020 and there are about ten thousand phrases I’d like to forget with the new year.

Here are just a few, besides the obvious social distancing:

Abundance of caution – “Out of an abundance of caution, we’ve postponed another event you’ve already planned for / paid for / trained for / committed to indefinitely.”

A little different – “Thanksgiving / the holidays / Disney World / The Peachtree Road Race will look a little different this year, but…”

A year like no other…the list goes on. I want it to stop.

But the one that is like a dagger to my lungs is just the word “normal” in almost any context. Yes, “new normal” is annoying because it implies that this is going to drag on and on forever. But just the word normal is even worse. Especially in my work environment.

“We want it to be like a normal school experience.”

Say what you will about science and politics. What we are going through is not normal. I’m hopeful it’s a once-in-my-lifetime occurrence. Walking around in masks, keeping 6 feet apart, sanitizing a million times a day, kids unable to move as they please or need to, feeling suspicious every time someone sneezes…none of this is normal. Dear bosses…Evaluating how or what I am doing based on “normal” standards is also silly. Thankfully, our state lawmakers came to their senses and made the high-stakes tests high school students take at year end irrelevant to their grades. Take it all as just data, not as a way to penalize kids for situations they didn’t create or choose.

People are doing the best they can. And now more than ever that can be a messy, unpredictable, incomprehensible jumble. Forgive it all. Accept it. This goes for my attitude toward myself, too. Keep going. Lift others up when you can. That’s all I can do.

So when you say you want it to be more normal…I want work (and grocery shopping and traveling and everything else for that matter) to be more like a “normal” experience, too. I wish none of this were happening or that I could wave my magic wand and have it be over. Voila! Normal!

Not that easy. Hopefully we are on the way to a better normal in the near future. But for now, can we please just treat this like the anything-but-normal experience it is?

What pandemic words and phrases make you ragey these days?

giving

Cheering People On Who Need It

You never know who it might be.

Maybe it’s the co-worker everyone finds annoying because they seem to be so hypersensitive about the pandemic and germs and social distancing and sanitizer.

Maybe it’s the colleague who shows up on time every day to his job, doesn’t necessarily go above and beyond but quietly and dutifully does what is required.

Maybe it’s the person who is constantly cheering everyone else on. Posting photos with wide smiles. Positive quotes.

I know each of these people. And I know they are each suffering in their own ways. Do you know these people? When you look around, really look, do you see them?

Yes, I have that co-worker who keeps his door closed. Who was afraid to come back to work and still has those fears but needs the income and benefits. Who people roll their eyes about in conversation because he wants his room cleaned multiple times per day.

So what did I do? I wrote him a thank you note. I complimented his work to my boss. I went out of my way to appreciate him. He is not having an easy time.

The person who is always positive? Once in a while she gives a glimpse into her struggles. She drops a hint. But then she keeps on encouraging. I see a bit of myself in her. Or the person I hope to be. I try to tell her often how much she is a light in my life. It reminds me of someone like Robin Williams, among others, who seemed so funny and light and full of life. Sometime there is struggle there. Who might be putting on a brave face?

It’s the “in the middle” or “under the radar” people I have been trying to look out for lately. Those who are just going through the motions. Nothing unusual. No big highs or red flags. Maybe they’re just kind of invisible.

How are they holding up? Are they barely holding it together? I worry about forgetting people. I worry about people feeling alone and forgotten. When I text to check in on someone and it’s been a month since I’ve heard, I know I need to do better.

I have the fatigue that many others do. The whole thing is wearing on me. My gratitude muscles are sort of flabby. They aren’t as strong as they used to be. I need to keep reaching, stretching, and extending them.

Look around you. Do you see any of these people? How can you give them a lift, show appreciation, let them know they are seen?

The holidays will continue. Think of some unique ways you can lift people up in these draggy times.