One Year into Recovery and Here’s What I Learned

My last day of teaching, March 6, 2020. A group hug at the end of the day with my 7th hour students (identities have been hidden for safety)

On March 6, 2020 I left my 8th grade social studies classroom, and my identity as a teacher, behind for the last time. Ironically just a week before quarantine sent everyone home, I went back on full time mental health leave due to returning suicidal ideation. After I tried to kill myself in October 2019, I spent the remainder of the semester on mental health leave, then returned in January as school reconvened with the end of winter break. Two months later, and the stress of teaching proved to still be too large a burden to bear while working on my mental health recovery. 

Next weekend, March 6, 2021 marks exactly a year since. This year has been the most transformative year of my life. So, I thought I’d take this opportunity to reflect on some of the lessons I learned that proved to be the most important to my recovery (note: healing is not linear, and my recovery is not over. I’ll honestly probably be in “recovery” for the rest of my life):

Lesson 1: Everyone has a story in their head that centers themselves in any situation (thanks Brene Brown, for the phrasing)

Every single person has a valid and unique perspective on every single event based on several factors. A combination of our individual genetics, childhood home environment, relationships, societal context, and trauma shapes our unique perspectives. This fact is one of my favorite things about humanity. This fact is one of the reasons I love meeting and learning from others so much; it has shaped my attitude as a lifelong learner.

Something I learned in the last year as well though, is that these unique perspectives also shape our ability to communicate and enter into relationships with each other. Your unique perspective and feelings about yourself often results in you taking the actions and words of others very personally. But you’re not alone. We all do this.

Why was this such an important lesson? By recognizing that everyone comes to the table with their own individual story in their head, it allows you to lay down your defenses and open your ears. By listening to the ego story of others, you can help them (and yourself) recognize where miscommunications are happening, and actually affect real healing.

This knowledge also helped me reflect on the stories I tell myself, and recognize when my brain may be lying to me. Now when I start feeling some type of way about someone else’s words or actions I ask myself if the situation is really about me. More often than not, everyone in the situation is just stuck in their own ego.

Lesson 2: Asking directly for and sometimes just taking what you want, works

No more bullshit in my 30s. This is the mandate I have set for myself. I lived my life with such low self esteem, I never felt worthy of just asking for or taking what I wanted.

I lived my life stretched as thinly as possible so I could please everyone else. And maybe, once I proved I was worthy, someone would give me what I wanted? Maybe eventually someone would notice all my hard work and give me a gold star and my wildest dreams? Maybe, if I just played the game well enough, eventually someone would recognize I actually deserved to win? 

This mindset was obviously problematic in several ways. First of all, how could anyone possibly know what I wanted if I never said it out loud? I was working my ass off, expecting some esoteric ultimate authority to just bestow me with my wildest dreams. All without even really knowing what my wildest dreams were. Spoiler alert: this doesn’t work.

Secondly, this way of thinking cast my worth completely within the control of others. It came from the self-held belief that I was inherently unworthy, and therefore needed to earn worth in order to earn anything else. Because I felt this way about myself, I put myself through a lot of bullshit. I jumped through unnecessary hoops. I got perfect GPAs that nobody cares about. I am a member of several international honors societies. I won a statewide award for excellence in education through my teacher’s union in my fourth year of teaching. I have a master’s degree in an industry I no longer want to be a part of. 

And I still wanted to die. Because I still felt unworthy. Because my inherent beliefs about myself were broken. In the last year I’ve had to acknowledge this truth. And I’ve had to reckon with the fact that, if I want something, I am going to have to either ask for it directly or take it for myself. And in order to do that, I need to figure out what I actually want, and then start to believe I deserve it. I have to believe I am worthy of setting boundaries and saying “no” to people. I had to learn a whole new language around communicating my needs.

My self esteem is still not “there” yet but damn, I have come a long way. Especially recently, I have finally started to go for exactly what I want in several areas of my life. And, so far, this plan has been much more effective. Not only for getting what I want, but for maintaining a healthy work-life balance as well.

Lesson 3: Radical acceptance is everything

I know I’ve spoken about radical acceptance on this blog before. I am not exaggerating when I say that radical acceptance is everything. Radical acceptance means accepting what you cannot control or change about a situation, and then letting it go. 

I am a self-identified control freak. Feeling like I am losing (or maybe never had) control triggers my anxiety and PTSD in intense ways. And I know I’m not alone. Giving up control is difficult for many people, for many valid reasons. 

However, just because we want control over something, doesn’t mean we’re going to have it. The opinions and behaviors of others for example, these are not within my control. They’re not within your control either. Your child’s sexual orientation and gender identity; also not within your control. How your neighbor cuts their lawn. The efficiency of Covid-19 vaccine distribution. Whether or not someone wants to be a mother. None of these things are within your control.

By accepting what we can’t control, we free ourselves from stress over them. Because the reality is, having anxiety about something won’t give you control over it. It won’t give you the results you want. It will just give you anxiety. 

By accepting what we can’t control, we free ourselves to find joy in what we already have. We free ourselves to find power in what we can control. We free ourselves in general.

During the last year of my life, I’ve not only had to learn these lessons, I’ve had to start acting on them. Full disclosure, it hasn’t been easy. Recovery is never going to be easy. Recognizing the validity of someone else’s perspective means recognizing that there is no absolute truth, and that binaries don’t exist. Asking directly for what you want takes courage and vulnerability. It takes risk. It is scary. And finally, practicing radical acceptance also means letting go of something you will most likely sorely miss. Radical acceptance triggers a grief cycle for that which you thought you always deserved (ie: a child who grows up and wants the same things you had) and find peace and joy with what you already have (ie: a joyful, self-actualized, queer child finally living their truth). However, by allowing myself the space and time to process my grief, by engaging in self reflection and self care, by relying on my support system and seeking out mental health services, I was able to learn these lessons and survive. And now that I’m 30, and I can feel these lessons sinking in, it’s almost like I’m thriving. Almost. 

Dear October, You Will Not Defeat Me This Year

Dear October,

You will not defeat me this year.

You used to be my favorite month. Everyone who really knows me knows I love designing a good costume. The macabre side of my personality gets to come out and play as you seem to be the only time of year others deem it socially acceptable. Not to mention the candy. 

But every year, for the last ten years, the changing of the leaves heralds a change in me; as if the waves of vermillion surrender washing over the trees triggers a shift in the tide. October is my high tide.

I can already feel it happening. I can smell Autumn on the shifting winds, feel the crispness creeping in. And I have to admit, I’m nervous.

October 26, 2020 marks ten years since I was raped at a Halloween party. Since then, you have become unbearable, October. The shapes and sounds of Halloween coming triggers me every year. Where once a well-decorated haunted house would give me butterflies with excitement, I now receive the familiar death moths of triggered PTSD. 

Triggering things just seem to happen in October.

In October 2016, tapes were leaked. Tapes containing the voice of a man bragging about sexually assaulting women. A man to whom, a month later, we handed the power over our country as if sexual assault isn’t a crime worthy of pause. 

In October 2018, a man was sworn in as Supreme Court Justice after weeks of public allegations of sexual assault topped national headlines.

In October 2019, I was volunteering at a Halloween event in Detroit. I was clearing empty cups off tables. A man twice my size, much more drunk than I, grabbed my hips and attempted to pull me into a dark corner of an empty mezzanine. I never learned his intentions, as the arrival of an angel, dressed like a devil, loosened his grip.

October 29, 2019, I walked into my school social worker’s office and burst into tears. I walked out of the psychiatric hospital two days later. 

But October 2020 is going to be different.

Today is September 4th (happy birthday Beyonce) and as always, the Halloween memes have already started. Cider mills are opening. I can see clusters of orange peppering the trees as I walk my dog in the morning. October is on its way, and with it, my preparations.

This year will be different because I am prepared. A major difference between this October and the ten previous is that others know. I finally let others in. I have a support system this year. Until I attempted suicide and decided to make my healing process public, I kept all of this about October locked up deep inside. And every year, I would silently fall apart in solitude while simultaneously gluing a smile to my face for others’ benefit. Not this year, October. Now people know about you.

Also, I have skills now. For better or worse, my mental breakdown forced me to seek help. October 2019 seemed to be the final trigger for real change. After attempting suicide, I had to go to therapy. And not biweekly, for an hour, where I usually chose to talk about work — as that’s from where I was always coming. Real, intense, full time therapy that forced me to confront the shit about October I spent ten years avoiding. And I built skills. Skills that I practice every day, skills that I can use as a buoy as this year’s high tide crashes in around me. 

If it sounds to you like I’m reassuring myself, I am. In all honesty, part of me is terrified of you still, October. I was really hoping I’d be more stable than I am by the time you arrived again. But if there’s one thing I’ve proven over the last year it’s that I’m a survivor. And I don’t plan on changing that any time soon.

See you soon, October. I’ll be ready.

Renea 

Fluid

I’ve always hidden half of me. Since I can remember, there are parts of my personality I’ve hidden, and other parts I’ve used like a defense mechanism to keep myself safe. We live in a misogynistic society. That means traditionally masculine traits such as individualism, competitiveness, and aggression hold value culturally and economically. 

As a response to this messaging, I have hidden one half of my personality from the larger world for most of my life. The characteristics I’ve hidden include:

  • Vulnerability
  • Sadness
  • Femininity
  • Humility
  • Silliness
  • Romance
  • Generosity
  • Grace
  • Queerness
  • Neediness

In order to protect myself, and win whatever game I thought life was, I projected these qualities instead:

  • Strength
  • Dominance
  • Possessiveness
  • Individuality
  • Arrogance
  • Masculinity

These are all inherent parts of my personality. But I wanted to fulfill some sort of vision of success. I wanted to be taken seriously. I didn’t want to be a “burden” or “inconvenient.” The interesting thing is, keeping half of myself shamefully hidden away created a self-fulfilling prophecy: I hid my femininity because I was scared of being rejected for my femininity, and I ended up being rejected my entire life for being a girl who presented as wholly unfeminine.

Because that’s the thing. I don’t wholly fulfill society’s definition of “woman.” And honestly, I never have. Part of why I think I’ve hidden my feminine side is because adopting it fully didn’t feel like “me” either. Basically what I’m saying is, I’m gender fluid.

What is gender fluidity?

It’s the idea that I don’t fulfill the societal definition of any one gender. 

I’ve felt this way forever:

The summer before fourth grade, I refused to get back-to-school shoes if they weren’t the light-up Vans from the boys section. I’ve been shopping in both women’s and men’s sections of clothing stores ever since.

I’ve never felt the maternal instinct to procreate. During early adolescence I was always confused when my friends would fantasize about their future husbands and children rather than climbing trees and digging for cool rocks. There was never a “stir” in my ovaries when I held my newborn nieces. I am bisexual. 

I chafe at domestic work.

I tend to be candid, direct, and blunt with my opinions and ideas; always expecting my voice to carry as much weight as my male counterparts. Only to be called a “know-it-all” or a “bitch” by all genders.

Even my body hasn’t felt completely “womanly.” I have endometriosis and PCOS; I’ve only ever had three natural periods. I am angular, broad, and flat from the waist up. I’m thick and round from the waist down. 

I’ve never understood what this all means to me. I still don’t really understand. I don’t feel wholly like a woman. I definitely don’t feel like a man. And I definitely don’t feel like I really fit in anywhere. 

Enter the term gender fluid. 

I have the femme expereince of being a woman; and all the consequences that come with it living in a patriarchal society (and all the privileges of being white because identity is complex). I present a feminine gender expression. But when I started working in circles of people who are intentional about asking for pronouns, I felt like a sham saying “she/her” and leaving it at that. 

The way we use gender in our society puts us into incredibly small boxes. By identifying with “she/her” I am giving others permission to make many assumptions about me that make me uncomfortable. By saying “she/her” I am betraying my identity. And then, when my masculine, competitive, individual side comes out, it unsettles people. It sometimes even makes them angry, or aggressive. Gender fluidity gives me the power to take back the narrative. It gives me the power to confuse people right away, and force them to come to terms with their confusion if we are to have a good relationship. It gives me the power to come out of hiding, and celebrate all sides of my gender identity. 

So, where does this leave me now? First of all, I’ve changed my pronouns in my email signature and social media profiles to she/they. I still identify with “she” because my lived experiences are important to my identity as well. I identify as “they” to be upfront about the fact that my personal gender identity is too dynamic to stay constricted within our gender binary. 

My goal has been to bring out my hidden side of my personality and put it on display. This is essentially what I’ve been doing already in my personal life over the last 10-ish months without realizing, as I literally became incapable of compartmentalizing when my mental health fell apart. Hiding like that forever gave me such low self esteem I tried to kill myself in October 2019. Stopping the habit was necessary for my survival.

I have felt like an exposed wound through this process; raw and sensitive. But, as I take stock of my growth so far I’ve noticed two overwhelming patterns that will be utterly essential to the next phase of my journey:

  1. Asking for what I want, calmly and directly, works.
  2. People like my vulnerable side.

It’s not necessarily that I always get what I want now, but I do more often.

I also haven’t completely gotten rid of my harder side.

Instead, I am learning to find self love in the fact that I can be both hard and soft at the same time.

I can be strong and vulnerable.

I can embrace my gender fluidity.

I can be myself. 

Disordered Eating and OCD: Please Don’t Congratulate me on Losing Weight

Side by side pictures from April 2020 and August 2020 that show the weight I've lost.
From my instagram @_r_d_b__

Changing in locker rooms, at camp, at sleepovers my entire life I would usually hear some kind of variation on “Ugh, I wish I was as skinny as you.”

I am privileged in that I have never struggled with my weight, and society has always rewarded me for it. 

But here’s the thing: societal beauty and weight standards are destructive for everyone. 

I have anxiety. Actually, I have lots of anxiety — four different anxiety disorders to be exact. Part of my anxiety is obsessive thoughts. My brain produces a couple specific thoughts that have taken root deep inside my sense of self. These are thoughts that have been there forever. These thoughts have influenced my behavior, made me lose sleep, made it impossible for me to get out of bed, made me feel like I have no control. They repeat on a loop in my head until I want to scream just to drown them out.

I can’t get rid of these thoughts, although I’m learning to stop them in their tracks. Within that process, I have begun to recognize the behaviors associated with each of my obsessive thoughts. And honestly, after 29 years of having anxiety, I JUST noticed that disordered eating is one of my symptoms.

Ok let’s back up. 

Why is this privileged skinny girl complaining about societal body image standards?

What does OCD have to do with all of this?

Think about it this way:

I’ve heard my entire life that I’m lucky because I’m “skinny” > being “skinny” is the goal > I obviously have to stay “skinny” > people are going to judge me if they see me eating like I’m not “skinny” > my brain with OCD > think about this every time I eat > stop eating in front of people.

Or this way:

Society reinforces the idea that I have worth if I just “stay skinny” > my anxiety gets triggered by something unrelated that I can’t control > my brain with OCD > obsessive thoughts over food (which I can control) feel safer than obsessive thoughts over things I can’t control > ignore your hunger > control your body > control restored > heartbeat returns to normal > stop eating

Then, after I stop eating for a while, I start developing anxiety when I go to eat at all. I’ll take a couple bites, trigger my anxiety, get nauseous, push my food away. In this way, my anxiety doubles down on my disordered eating behaviors and it feels like there’s very little I can do to get out of the cycle.

If you are a friend or family member and you’re reading this, please don’t freak out. The good news is I’m obviously working on this. Talking about my disordered eating has been difficult because of the privilege I know I have, but opening up about it has helped. I have an amazing, talented, knowledgeable partner who is trained in fitness and nutrition, and who always has my back. I have a support system that keeps me anchored in my worth, tethered to the knowledge that I am worthy of love regardless of how I look. I am grateful for the privilege I do have.

And, disordered eating needs to be a part of the larger conversation we have around mental health and eating disorders. We need to be more conscious of the ways we use language around weight. We need to examine our implicit biases with weight before speaking. We need to be conscious of the way we speak about weight, and ask ourselves if our words are productive, or if they perpetuate unhealthy bodyweight standards. We need to put more energy into self love. 

And we really really really need to stop comparing ourselves to one another. 

How my Triggers Slowly Unravel my Mind: a Metacognitive Case Study

Ok, so here’s how it happens:

The initial trigger is usually a miscommunication or something unexpected that makes me question a relationship.

Then I start over analyzing everything that has happened. I start building walls to “protect” myself.

These walls make me intensely fragile to any and all (even the tiniest of) triggers. And therefore the triggers start to pile up. And I start to get overwhelmed.

I start to question things that I’ve already figured out. I start to take everything personally. I make a career out of over analyzing every interaction to build evidence against myself. I obsessively try to read people’s minds and find all the places I’ve slipped up. I fall into all of the traps I’ve laid out for myself. I second guess all of the steps I’ve taken to guard myself against those traps. 

The next step is acting in ways I regret. I lash out at people when I’m really just projecting my own insecurities. I rehash every moment of my life where I’ve failed, or embarrassed myself. I make self destructive choices. I engage in self harm in several ways. 

These behaviors, and the realization that I’ve once again lost control, catalyze the synthesis of all my various anxieties into a viscous depression.

Lethargic, apathetic, exhausted. Depression will become my partner, my lover, my identity. I won’t be able to keep my eyes open for very long. I’ll need breaks from social interactions; leaving places early, going silent, wandering off to pet a dog midway through a conversation I lost track of minutes ago. Effort becomes physically taxing, sometimes even painful. Especially if I’ve successfully resisted the temptation to self harm, as the withdrawal gives me body aches. 

At which point it takes full time effort and some sincere grit to pull myself out of the hole I’ve dug. The difficult truth is: I do this to myself. This is my brain, and a combination of my genetics, and my trauma. This is me, reacting to triggers that are specific to my experience.

But here’s another truth I’ve learned:

Reacting to those triggers is not a measure of my “success” or “failure” as a good friend, a good partner, a good person.

I’m going to repeat that because I don’t entirely believe it yet.

Reacting to triggers is not a measure of success or failure.

Accepting that means accepting that I am responsible for my own mental health. That the reactions and feelings of others aren’t within my control, and often aren’t a reflection of how they feel about me.

How I’m working towards radical self-acceptance:

First and foremost, in order to accept these important truths about myself, and my mental health, and my strength, and my worth, I have to learn how to love myself. Without self love I’m never going to be able to accept anyone else’s love. Over the previous few months I’ve been slowly unearthing a fathoms deep sinkhole inside me I never knew existed. Each realization has triggered a grieving process that has not made coping with my social anxiety any easier. Each realization has simultaneously helped me recognize when my brain is lying to me because of my trauma. This is a good thing. This means every day I get better at recognizing when I’m projecting my own insecurities onto others. Which helps me catch myself like 80% of the time before I act on my anxious thoughts and become the burden I never want to be on all of my loved ones.

So I guess I need to give myself more credit. Yes, I am a fragile shell of my former self. And at the same time I’m practicing the skills I need to build the good kind of armor back around my soul. The thought patterns I need to trust my loved ones when they say they love me. To trust that their words and actions always come with the best intentions, and rarely reflect their feelings about me. 

I think my point, more than anything, is that gratitude is one of the most powerful tools I’ve found in this whole process. I didn’t realize that was the message of this post, until I arrived here myself. But, without the people in my life who are willing to hold me down regardless, I wouldn’t be alive right now. 

I’m not exaggerating for once. Suicide is always going to be present for me. A hard reality I’ve had to face is that I’ve traumatized my loved ones. I know that’s where their mind will go when I go off the rails like this. I can sense it in my partner as he starts to hover around me. He’ll become insistent on making plans for what I will do while he’s not home. I’ll get a few more random “I love you” texts than usual throughout the day. I’ll catch him staring at me, trying to hide the anxious look on his face. 

And regardless of my guilt, he stays. And so do so many others. Not all of them, but quite a few. That’s what I mean by gratitude. Regardless of my fragility, my neediness, my constant rollercoaster, I have people who stay. Who have stayed. And continue to stay. My inability to fully understand why is part of the problem to begin with, but it doesn’t mean I’m not completely, entirely, utterly grateful for those in my life who continue to carry my heavy-ass-self nevertheless.

My Dog’s Anxiety Ruined my Partner’s Night Last Night, and it was Hilarious

I woke up from a PTSD dream induced panic attack this morning, so I decided to write about something that brings me joy. My dog’s name is Goose. He is the worst. My partner and I adopted Goose when we were irresponsible college kids who had just moved in together. We were not ready for the responsibility of a puppy, and we were definitely not ready for Goose.

Goose getting ready to do our daily yoga

His paperwork said Labrador retriever mix. There’s no way this dog is a lab. I remember being at the shelter and asking my partner, “Does he have too much energy for us?” My partner, with big cartoon heart eyes assured me he didn’t. He definitely did (in our low moments when Goose is being particularly bad, I like to remind my partner of this conversation).

We never got a DNA test or anything, but we’re fairly certain Goose is mixed with border collie. For one, he looks like it. Secondly, he has more anxiety than any animal or human I’ve ever met in my life. And I have a lot of anxiety. Actually, our shared anxiety is part of the reason I fell in love with this damn dog, regardless of how frustrated he makes me. Goose and I get each other. He is a mama’s boy for sure.

His anxiety manifests in behaviors dogs don’t usually do. For example, when he goes out, whenever he goes out, he has to tear out of the house as fast as he can. He barks at the top of his lungs, lunges in a bee line straight at a tree, bounces off the tree, and shoots quickly off in the other direction. He does this so routinely, he has forged a “cow path” in a straight line in our lawn. He has also ruined every back doorway of every house we’ve ever lived in because of his jumping, barking, scratching, nipping insistence to GET OUTSIDE AS FAST AS POSSIBLE. He is very well trained. His anxiety just makes some behaviors impossible.

One of these behaviors is something that annoys the crap out of my partner, but that I think is hilarious and endearing. Goose is terrified of fireworks. For better or worse, this dog is my little sidekick. Whenever he’s scared he needs me there to calm him down. No one else can do it. Well, I wasn’t there last night.

I was at a social distancing outside barbecue with my coworkers last night. My partner got home from work around 8:00 pm. He cracked a beer, lit himself a bonfire, and sat down to relax in a house that he hasn’t had to himself in months. And that’s when the fireworks started.

Goose started pacing the yard. He couldn’t go inside because he can’t be alone when he’s scared like this. He would just pace the house and bark. While pacing like this when Goose is anxious, he tries to restore his sense of control by knocking things over. Weirdly dextrous for a dog, he walks around and either knocks over, or flips over, anything he can manage. Usually until I’m done brushing my teeth and can cuddle him into calmness.

Well, like I said last night, I wasn’t there. And my partner is not a good enough substitute for Goose. No amount of love from my partner will calm this dog. So Goose started pacing as usual, unstoppable with me absent. Knocking over anything he could find.

He attempted to flip the lawn chairs.

Knocked over potted plants.

He hopped up on the patio table, as my partner tended the fire, and knocked his beer off and onto the ground.

All while my partner watched helplessly on, starkly reminded why we nicknamed this piece of work, “Goose, the Ruiner.”

A Threshold Crossed

I have no idea how to start this post.

I quit. I quit teaching. The decision to do so is something I have struggled with for months. Considering I barely taught this school year because I had to go on mental health leave twice, I’m sure this decision isn’t surprising to many people.

I know this is the right choice. I am happier and healthier than I have ever been with my mental health as the focus of my life. The physical, mental, and emotional demands of teaching have grown beyond my coping skills at this point, and I accept that. 

None of this changes the fact that I am heartbroken over the end of my teaching career. 

I love teaching. I love the intellectual challenge of breaking down complex concepts to help others learn. I love facilitating adolescents in developing critical thinking skills through inspiring them to fight for themselves and their community. I love helping adolescents develop socioemotional skills through modeling values-based community building. I love providing adolescents the space and autonomy to explore their curiosities and apply their interests. 

I also love working with kids! I love having a work environment where no one takes anything too seriously because let’s be real, it’s middle school. Everyone is out of their mind on hormones anyway. I love making up secret handshakes with students, and seeing them make a beeline to me in the hall, at the same time between CCA and first hour, every day. I love recruiting the kids to help me play pranks on my coworkers. I love calling kids out when they’re flirting in class, rather than paying attention. I love making stupid history puns using lyrics from Lizzo songs, receiving love notes and artwork from my students, and taxing the students by making them share parts of their snacks in return for the privilege to eat in my classroom. 

One time, one of my students thought he was hilarious and dropped my purple, glitter unicorn tape dispenser out of my second-story window. I noticed it was missing, assumed student involvement, and used my entire prep time to make copies of MISSING posters for my unicorn. I plastered the posters all over my school and classroom. I sent out pictures of the poster to my coworkers (many of whom displayed them on their “bell work” slides all day). I handed out flyers during passing time. 

Missing poster for my unicorn tape dispenser

(Eventually a student found the unicorn on the lawn outside and we got to spread the joyous news before the school day ended).

One day, I decided the floor of my classroom was lava. I taught the entire school day without touching the floor of my classroom once (and invited my students to play too if they wanted).

I would always play music during independent work time. I would get so much joy out of watching kids, usually so consumed with being “cool,” dance goofily in their seats while they did their work. 

I loved stuff like this, and so did the kids. It feels amazing to work in an environment that allows space for fun. It feels incredible to engage a kid in deep, rigorous coursework by showing them you have a sense of humor too. And I realize that any environment I work in with my peers will be desperately void of these things that made teaching so exhilarating. 

I have so many feelings about this transition. 

I will miss teaching. I wrapped much of my identity up in being a “teacher,” I will need time to grieve this loss.

I also am completely terrified about what’s next. Mostly because I don’t really know what’s next. 

I know building a writing career is central to my focus for my future.

I know I’ve already dedicated my life to antiracism.

I know that mental health needs to be central to my focus for the rest of my life.

I also know I have a partner, 3 fur babies, a mortgage, a small chunk of student debt, and an unfortunate penchant for minor, clumsy, injuries. 

At this point the “plan” is to stay grateful, stay open-minded, stay inspired, and stay true to my vision.

And I’ll keep working my ass off to take care of the rest. 

4 Considerations For White People Who Want to Protest

I would like to start this article by saying I am not an expert on race/racism or allyship. I am one white person who has done my best to seek education (formal and informal) in order to live an anti-racist life. I am sharing these thoughts because I am a white person who has taken part in protests in the past as an ally. As a queer person, I have also taken part in events where I’ve seen people with cishetero privilege take up inappropriate space. Therefore, I try to be extra conscious about the amount of space I’m taking up when I’m participating in a protest as an ally. 

And I’m really hoping that all white people who want to protest alongside and in support of Black and Brown members of our community will be conscious of the space they take up while there.

More and more white people are attending Black Lives Matter protests
More and more white people are attending Black Lives Matter protests. Photo by Nicole Baster on Unsplash

1. Understand the Whole Issue You’re Protesting

If you think the publicized events you’ve been seeing on social media are ground in our current context, you need to do more reading. There is a complex, rich history of institutional racism being upheld by the police state. And it started in slavery, which is also much more complex than you learned about in school. 

There are so many print and video resources out there for you to educate yourself. Please listen to the voices of people with lived experience.

2. Check Your Motivations Before Attending a Rally/Protest

Why are you really there? Do you actually understand and support the causes put forward by the organizers? Or do you just want “credit” from your social media followers for being “woke?” 

Have an honest conversation with yourself. If your motives are the latter, stay home

3. Consider What Interactions With the Police May Look Like or Call For

More white people may increase police presence. Understand that a police presence does not mean safety for the people who organized this event. That’s the point.

If you are white, and you are not willing to put yourself at risk of bodily harm to provide a buffer between the police and the attendees of color, stay home. 

4. Talk Less. Or Not at All.

You may have feelings about the things you see and hear. That’s called white fragility. Get to know what that is, how to recognize it happening to you, and how to resist the urge to defend yourself. 

Because this moment is not about you.

I’m going to say that again. This moment in activism. This fight you’re trying to fight. IS NOT ABOUT YOU. 

Not all white people are bigots. Not all white people… fill in the sentence however you want. We get it. Talk to your therapist about your guilt.

All Black members of our community experience racism. That’s supposedly why you are at this protest, right? So, fight the urge to get defensive and listen. 

I’m Not Type A, I Just Have Anxiety

Those who have read my blog for a while are familiar with the fact that I’m an overachiever. I am a classic workaholic. Every personality test I’ve ever taken has told me I have a “Type A” personality. 

I excelled at school. I’ve exceeded expectations in all of my jobs. I have a reputation of being highly efficient, learning fast, sacrificing whatever is necessary, going the extra distance, and raising the curve for my peers. 

Being a teacher came naturally to me because I can multitask like crazy. Someone on twitter once said that teachers make 1,500 decisions per day. I have no idea if that number is true or not, but it feels like it is. I am definitely competitive, a perfectionist, critical of myself, impatient, energetic, and aggressive when it comes to getting the job done. All of these qualities are necessary when you are trying to appear “highly effective” on paper for your district and the state, make sure all students actually have an equitable chance to learn, and mentor each individual student through the hardest three years of their life. 

I took pride in my Type A personality. It made me excellent. I got honors. I won awards. I gave speeches. 

I almost killed myself last October. 

Honestly, our society values Type A personalities. They make someone highly efficient and productive; two things that fuel capitalism. What I’ve recently learned, though, is my Type A personality was made possible by unbridled anxiety.

I was a professional multitasker because I was obsessed with others’ approval. I literally felt like the approval of others was the only thing that gave me worth. I felt like once I had that approval, I had to continually prove I deserved it by earning it over and over again. 

I lived on a hamster wheel, in constant fear that I would lose everything I had earned if I dared to stop and take a break. I told myself that every mistake was a failure, and that failure could kill me. I embodied the Talladega Nights “If you’re not first, you’re last” mentality. 

Basically, I allowed my extreme anxiety free reign to run my life. I caught myself in the trap of constantly feeling worthless, not good enough. I carried the weight of the world on my shoulders when no one asked me to in the first place. I was miserable.

And, at the same time, why would anyone assume anything was wrong when I was doing so well? On the outside I was perfect. I was doing “it.” I was achieving my goals, supporting my family, and gaining approval from the people who “mattered.” 

Isn’t that what success looks like? 

Unfortunately, yes. This is what success in our society looks like. The narrative of the Type A personality is a convenient way to encourage at-all-costs productivity. As long as someone is productive, they are successful. 

By explaining my extreme behavior away with my Type A personality, I was able to hide my mental illnesses. I could avoid dealing with any of my problems and my trauma by adding more work onto my plate and being rewarded for it by my superiors. If I just kept going, and never stopped, I would never have to face my anxiety for real. 

I was winning awards based on my performance. My performance was fueled by my ability to pretend I wasn’t constantly on the edge of cracking, while I took on more and more work. 

And then I finally cracked.

And I’ve finally realized my Type A personality was really anxiety. And my need for the approval of others was trapping me in toxic cycles of thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. So I’m officially letting my Type A self go.

Type A Renea is gone. I put her to rest in the name of mindfulness, happiness, self love, and stability. 

I am already grieving her absence. It’s hard to let go of excellence. It’s hard to accept that living a healthier life means giving up what once made me great. 

I am definitely going through a major transition right now. Living a mental health-focused life forced me to make a lot of changes. Living mindfully and focusing one day at a time isn’t conducive to success in a capitalist sense, but god damn am I much happier as a Type B.

Brain Dump: All of This is Probably Bullshit

How am I to create 

Out of sawdust

And ruined plans 

When these four walls hold me

Static 

I’ve been thinking about history a lot lately 

And the patterns that form

With the revolutions of

The earth around the sun 

A sense of history

And womxnhood

And how when it feels like the world is coming to an end

It’s that, which has often been considered “womxn’s work” which will have to pull us back on track 

That which has been considered “womxn’s work” due to the incorrect assumption that womxn were the only ones capable of being feminine. 

Caring. Living communally. Feelings of connection, belonging, sharing, warmth. Banning together as a village to make sure everyone rises. 

It is the work that, since the beginning of Western industrialism, has been considered less valid 

Less relevant

Less valuable 

Less worthy

But it is the work time and time again that salvages the world from the scraps left behind by the conquerors 

Squabbling over resources that languish under abuse 

And gives us a fighting chance.

Because the “us” is a living organism

Just like the individual.  

I’ve lived a life feeling that industrial capitalism 

was the only way to contribute anything of worth to society.

My worth would be measured in productivity.

My productivity measured by dollars.

My aggressive masculinity (separate from my biological sex) was the only side I felt comfortable showing to the world.

My individualism

My competitiveness 

My desire to be the best, the favorite

The one with the most social currency

And everything else felt weak. Felt pathetic. Left me vulnerable to colonizers, conquerors, rapists 

My femininity (separate from my biological sex) felt weak, felt unworthy, felt disposable. 

My biological sex felt weak, felt vulnerable, felt ravaged, felt numb

So I grew a shell

And I tried to operate within an institution that I thought would allow me to use my 

Magic

Connected to my 

Femininity

And

My 

Womxnhood 

To still be excellent 

In a capitalist sense

But that’s not what teaching is anymore.