It was sleep he feared the most

It was sleep he feared the most. Those last few moments in the twilight between consciousness and slumber were dreadful. The dying embers of his thoughts tried desperately to glow brighter, to inflame his mind with the horrors of what was to come, to warn him. But of what?

The terror he felt had no cause he could think of, the horror no obvious source. Only that sleep would once again prove no respite. Come the morning, he would again be listless and wracked with pain.

The doctors spoke of insomnia, yet he slept. Indeed, his mind fought hard to elude sleep, but sleep would not be deterred. He slept, deeply (he presumed), but sleep did not bring rest.

The psychiatrists asked about his dreams, but there were no dreams. When he thought of this (when the terror of sleep and the agonies of the morning allowed) it troubled him. Surely he must dream? He had no recollection of any dream. He could remember drifting off to sleep, remember the inexorable surge of fear as sleep approached – but morning would be his next memory. The time from falling asleep to waking up was no more than an instant to him; no sensation of the passage of time, no dreams to punctuate his nocturnal woe.

In the morning his legs would be hot and sore. The soles of his feet, tender and swollen. Sleepwalking the doctors declared, they were sure of it. A careful watch of his chamber each night was swiftly arranged, and just as swiftly proved useless. The watchmen saw nothing, heard nothing. And in the morning? Pain. Exhaustion. The lingering feelings of terror, and foreboding that tonight would bring more of the same.

He slept in different rooms, different homes, but with no different results. Once he was strapped to the bed, as though living in Bedlam. Still, the morning was welcomed with agonies.

“Restless legs” the finest minds declared, “and I’m afraid there is no more we can do for you.”

“I must live then” he thought, “with this curse. To be a stranger to restful slumber, and in the morning to be drained of life and weak in limb.”

He still fears sleep. In the penumbra of sleep, in those vanishing moments of lucidity, the terror still rises in him. An icy dread fills his heart, for tonight he will sleep, without benefit or memory. The morning will bring no relief.

The last of his conscious thoughts begin to fade, just as the soft tinkling of bells begin, aethereal music envelopes him, and his legs begin to twitch and jig.

Once again he would dance with Mab by the banks of the Lethe.

A random post of random thoughts

It’s late at night, or early in the morning depending on your point of view, at any rate 1am is not the best of times to be writing blog posts. Still, at least it is something I am writing, and feel an actual compulsion to write, and given the paucity of my output in terms of both blogging and writing of late, any writing is better than none.

Term is over, I’m on the summer vacation, and I have a stack of books to read for my classes next year. As I still don’t know yet whether I’m teaching GCSE English Literature, GCSE English Language, new specification A Level English Literature, legacy A2 English Literature, new specification A Level English Language and Literature, legacy A2 English Language and Literature, and in what combination, I need to basically read ALL THE BOOKS in order to plan. You can see my reading list on the right there (current reads and what I’ve read this year), and as it stands right now below (since the list on the right gets updated frequently).

(l-r) Frankenstein, The Four Chinese Classics, Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, The Road Less Travelled, Mindfulness
(l-r) Frankenstein, The Four Chinese Classics, Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, The Road Less Travelled, Mindfulness

Frankenstein (which I’ve read before) is for teaching, the other four are (annoyingly) all personal development.

As to the books I’ve read already this year…
Books I've read

…well over one-third (14 of them!) are for work. And I’ve got another six books to get through for work by the time teaching starts again.

What, if anything, has this to do with writing? Well, as well as teaching them literature, we are being asked to put on enrichment classes, and I’ve asked to do a creative writing class, since the odds of us ever doing A Level Creative Writing seem slim to none.

So in and around all this reading, I guess I need to remember how to write again. And it’s not like I don’t have ideas. I have folders of ideas. What I lack is the time/motivation/focus/will to work on them (delete as applicable, depending on the mood you’re in…). I can teach language and literature because I understand them. Can I say the same about writing? If I’m not doing writing, can I claim to be able to teach it?

I’m not sure, but I’m indebted to a paper I read recently (Mc Dermott, K. (2015). Towards a Pedagogy of Short Story Writing. English in Education, 49(2), pp.130-149, DOI: 10.1111/eie.12062) which has informed my approach to it, and how I plan to run the class (assuming, that is, that it gets the go ahead!).

In the meantime, I need to get back into the habit of writing. As with my training for the Tough Mudder, best to start small and build from there. H.P Lovecraft used to keep a “Commonplace book” where he kept short notes of ideas for possible future stories. Inspired by that, I started to do the same. Perhaps it’s time to raid some of those and see where the muse takes me…

What the muddy hell?

MarathonWaaaay back at the start of 2014 I revealed I had signed up for a Tough Mudder, a half-marathon length obstacle course from hell. Unfortunately, that got postponed, initially due to knee, hip and neck problems which turned out to be early onset osteoarthritis (fun!), which threw rather a large spanner in the whole idea.

Undeterred, I postponed it to October 2014, failed to train due to unemployment, re-employment and laziness, postponed it again to May 2015, switched jobs and failed to train, and postponed it yet again to 26 September 2015.

I really can’t postpone it again, so here we go; I am actually training, you’ll be pleased to know. Started running with a group of colleagues at the College, and have started some weight training to get my strength up. My friend Aamir has (finally) joined, meaning my League of Ordinary Gentlemen now has more than one member.

But since we’re not going to get any more members at this point, our team is now called Paul & Aamir must die! which is both inspirational and accurate.

Go check out our team page and if you’re feeling particularly generous you can make a donation to my fundraising page.

After all, when else are you going to get a chance to see me dive through fire and electrocute myself for no damn good reason?

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“Sir, what’s that on your arm?”

[TW: Suicide, self-harm]
On Friday, I got a new tattoo. It was a spur of the moment decision, made on Tuesday morning and booked in on Tuesday afternoon. The design for the tattoo was similarly put together over the course of an hour around Tuesday lunchtime.

After roughly 45 minutes work, by 6pm I had this on my right forearm:

Semicolon TatAlthough the decision to get it done on Friday was quick, I have wanted to get this type of tattoo done for a while now.

This will be my most visible tattoo. My other three are (largely) covered up day-to-day. But unless I start to wear long sleeves all the time (and even when I wear shirts these days, I tend to have the cuffs rolled back a few times), eventually students will see this tattoo, and inevitably one will ask me what it means.

The design is a semicolon, with a taijitu in place of the tittle. The taijitu represents my interest in Taoist philosophy, something I first discovered when I was 17.

Why a semicolon? Well, this is the part that requires the trigger warning at the start of the post. I first saw semicolons drawn or tattooed onto wrists a few months ago, associated with The Semicolon Project. A semicolon is where an author could have ended a sentence, but chose not to. So it has been adopted as a symbol by those who at one time came face to face with a moment when they could have ended their own sentences, but chose to let them continue.

The semicolon is a reminder to, and “My story is not finished” is a promise by, those who have self-harmed or attempted suicide in the past, that it is ok to reach out and seek help.

I first discovered Taoist philosophy when I was 17. 17 is also the age at which I can identify I had begun to suffer mental health problems. The two aren’t connected (although the philosophy has helped me to cope at times), but the coincidence is quite nice.

17 is when I first remember struggling with suicidal ideation. From that age, I have regularly struggled with it and there have been times when I have felt like succumbing to it. I have also recently come to realise that I also self-harm. When I am unhappy, when I feel I have done something bad, I punish myself to feel pain in a bid to atone for what I feel I have done wrong. It’s not healthy by any means, and the fact that it has taken me so long to recognise and name it as self-harm is frightening. But I recognise it now; saying it publicly, acknowledging this is something I do and have done, isn’t so that I can boast, or ask for sympathy and congratulations for my “bravery”.

I’m doing it because being open about my mental health problems is important to me as a teacher. In all the time I have worked in education, I have met scores of children with serious mental health problems. Maybe this was kept hidden when we were children, but I don’t recall mental health being an issue on the scale it is now. I have taught and counselled children with anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar, and students who self-harm or are suicidal.

Being open about the problems, saying “I have this too” is enormously liberating to students who would otherwise suffer in silence. I know students who come forward to members of staff and have said that they only reason they came forward was because that member of staff was open about mental health issues. Otherwise, these issues may remain hidden, ignored, slowly eroding a student’s potential to succeed, and potentially only becoming known in tragic circumstances.

It was one of the reasons I undertook ASIST training in 2013. Within three days of completing my training, I had to put it into use, helping a young person in Canada who reached out via Twitter. And I’ve had to use it since, with children and adults.

Suicide doesn’t go away if we keep quiet about it. Talking about it doesn’t “put the idea in someone’s head” or encourage people to attempt suicide, in fact, the opposite is the case. When someone is feeling suicidal, talking is the best thing for them. It takes the smallest thing to turn someone away from suicide, and in most cases that is all they will ever need.

Now I have a visible tattoo which marks me as someone who has faced suicide and self-harm. It is in a place that students will see. I hope that they will ask “Sir, what is that on your arm?”, so that I can tell them. I can explain to them what it means, and more importantly what it means to me. And I hope that if any student is struggling with these issues, they’ll be able to see that they don’t have to struggle alone; there are people they can talk to.

As long as we are talking, no story is truly finished.

Back to the chalkface

When last our hero blogged he was attending a teaching conference in darkest East London, in a decidedly non-teaching capacity. Now, read on…

Change comes so rapidly at times that it hardly seems you’ve got used to one situation when things turn completely around and you are once again plunging into “interesting times”. For once though it is an uncertainty of my choosing. Even more unusually, it isn’t a Very Bad Thing but a Very Exciting Thing…

After taking voluntary redundancy from Murder College I found myself without work and a track record of ultimately unsuccessful interviews. Thankfully, on the same day that I returned to the Hell Mouth that is the Hounslow Job Centre to sign on, I received a phone call from my former manager at Murder College. She too had escaped to Better Things, and wanted to know if I was still looking for work, because she was still looking for a Head of Student Services.

A meeting was swiftly arranged for the next day at her new employer, Surrey Hogwarts. I had a half hour chat with the Principal, and in no time agreed to start the next day as their new Head of Student Services. A three-month interim contract swiftly became a one-year contract, and that is what I’ve done since August up until last Friday.

In December I had applied and interviewed for a position as Team Leader for English at the College Julia works at. On the last Wednesday of term before Christmas they called me to tell me I had not been successful. I had the management experience, but not the teaching experience, and the successful candidate had both.

However, they had been very impressed with my interview, so much so that they created a position for me and wanted to know if I would accept it! The position is part teaching (GCSE, A Level & Functional Skills), part pastoral (tutorials) and part safeguarding. I accepted, and handed in my notice to Surrey Hogwarts.

So on Monday I am back at the chalkface, and a little nervous. It has been over a year since I taught regularly, and I have never taught A Level before. But I’m also excited at the opportunity to take on new areas in a subject I love, and by all accounts the students and my managers are excited to have me. I fear I have been very heavily trailed, so have some expectations to live up to!

Friday was a very odd day. Usually when I leave a job it’s because I’m tired of doing it, or tired of the place I do it at. In the case of Murder College, it was soured by my experiences there. But Friday was different. I left Surrey Hogwarts with a mixture of joy and sorrow. Joy because I was leaving the department in a better place than I had come into it. I had done the job I was brought in to do. And sorrow because I will genuinely miss working there. My team and department are great. My manager was more than just a manager but a real mentor to me. The SLT are the nicest and most supportive managers I’ve ever had the pleasure to work for. So although I am moving to a job that I really want to do, it was a bit of a wrench to leave.

I’ve spent the past couple of months reading texts, looking at specifications and gathering up essential supplies (the joy of stationery!). Ready or not, here I go…

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