anxiety

A Letter to My Student: Dear S (2nd grade)

(Over the holidays, and maybe beyond, I want to write candid letters to students I have had. Some I have taught for a day, some for a year. These are things I wish I could have or would have said to them. An arbitrary initial has been chosen to ensure privacy. The grade is when I taught them. )

Dear S,

It has been over a year and a half since I met you and said goodbye to you. Our 6 or so weeks together were not easy, but they were good.

When I came into your class, I knew you would be hard to pin down. You had a lot of anxiety about reading, a lot of crap going on at home, and a hard time expressing yourself. And you didn’t know me from Adam. We pushed through and forged a trust.

You were important to me. My hard kids are always important to me, but you even more so. Your young aunt was taking care of you because your parents couldn’t. The time I put in to help you feel safe and successful is not time I put for every student. It was a gift I joyfully gave to you, whether it felt like a gift or not.

I spent most of the school day, especially reading, watching the door across the room in case you tried to run out. I spent a good chunk of reading lessons teaching in front of the door, watching you tip over your desk and chairs to see if I would come stop you… so you could run out. I’m sure it did not feel like it at the time, but these were my ways of loving you.

Your life was out of control, so I gave you as much control as I could. You had your own nook in the classroom. You got learning options other kids didn’t have and time with friends in class that others didn’t get. You needed to feel safe in my classroom, and I hope these things helped to that end.

But because your life was out of control, I needed to give you boundaries. You couldn’t do whatever you wanted. If I gave you two choices, you couldn’t pick a third. You needed structure and accountability. I know you were angry with me when I would hold the door shut so you couldn’t leave, but you needed someone to give you a firm, “No.” Those days were hard. It did not make me happy to set and hold those boundaries, but you needed them.

On our last day together, our whole class got to say goodbye. It absolutely broke my heart to watch you and C hug each other and cry. I had never seen you sad before. Angry, happy, tired, but never sad. The two of you cried for nearly 10 minutes. Not dramatic tears but good, honest, hurting tears.

My prayer for you is that you find more friends who you love and who love you like C. My hope is that you find a teacher and parent in your life who loves you enough to ‘teach from the door.’ And when they give you boundaries, I pray that you can trust that they love you and might have some wisdom to offer.

You got dealt a hard deck in life. Trust and love are going to be hard for you. But they are so worth it. The feeling of being safe is worth the risk of heartbreak. May God lead you to safe, loving people.

I miss you.

Love,

Your second grade teacher, Mr. Johnson

Anxiety

It starts with a mental list. Things I need to do, things I should do, things I should have done, things I didn’t do, things I did wrong. It begins to swirl inside my chest making me feel at once hollow and yet like there is a vice and vacuum gripping and swallowing my insides. Like I am empty and emptying simultaneously.

But the vortex consuming my thoughts and energy does not end. It sits like endless, destructive white noise. We cannot cohabitate, so I develop coping mechanisms. Movement drowns out the noise, but I must have somewhere to move to. Walking through my apartment is out. Dishes, need to do. Laundry, should do. Bills, should have done. Walking outside sometimes works.

Sometimes I sing to make a competing vibration in my body. Instead of the vacuum dictating the movement in my chest, my lungs and vocal chords can take over. Sometimes. Other times, when it is too strong, I literally grunt to dispel the noise and energy.

My go to, however, is technology. I learned why this week as I was avoiding dishes, laundry, and bills. When I watch a tv show or play some stupid flash game online, my world becomes the size of my computer screen. For this window of time, there are no dishes, only falling Tetris blocks. There is no laundry for me to put away, just what Lucy is hanging out to dry. The white noise is cancelled out because its sources are pushed from my mind for a few precious, quiet, minutes.

But it soon returns. I don’t do well in silent spaces. I sometimes play the fireplace on Netflix on repeat. I have a hard time with the simplest of tasks. Today I left a binder of music in the front seat of my car because carrying it up to put on my piano became one more ‘Thing I ________.’ And rather than deal with it, I needed to get out of my car and walk to my apartment door. Movement with a destination. It was the more manageable option. And we’re talking about a binder here. A 1″ 3-ring binder. White. In case you care.

Knowledge is power right? So I know how anxiety feels. And I know what I do and don’t do about it. So next steps:

I should…

I should have…

I didn’t…

I can’t…

Man, this is gonna be tough.