So as it turns out, I’m not running the Virgin London Marathon this year after all.
Things started out well. I began training in October, but unfortunately something* happened in November, the consequences of which are still ongoing. I stopped running on January 1st, and didn’t run again until February 11th. A mixture of physical and mental fatigue, ill-health and other issues robbed me of any motivation.
My training plan reset itself to the point where I would only be running one-third of the distance by the time of the race, whereas my long runs alone needed to be about two-thirds of the distance. Plus there was no chance of me achieving the fundraising target, especially as half of it needs to be raised by mid-March.
After taking advice from the Mind fundraising team, and the personal trainer that they have contacts with, I have decided that it is for the best to withdraw and concentrate my efforts on the Tough Mudder in May.
Disappointing, but ultimately for the best, for me, for now.
*This something will be spoken about when I am able…
Ah, half-term. An opportunity for reflection and relaxation in a busy teacher’s life. A short week where you can catch up on all those little tasks, socialise, chill out, and prepare yourself for the second half of term.
This half-term I had planned to do the following:
- Correct the homework I set my classes (a short story about Malvolio’s revenge for the Y1 Lit students, a model answer on the Anthology for the Y1 Lang & Lit students);
- Write two model answers to the Y1 Lang & Lit homework so that students could compare their work against mine;
- Plan the first few weeks of lessons with resources so I’m ahead of myself for the next half of term;
- Catch up on some reading I had wanted to finish over the summer (I need to read the relevant parts of Cupcakes & Kalashnikovs before my A2 Lang & Lit students start on it);
- Start a running training program in preparation for winter running;
- Relax, catch up on some TV shows, go to the cinema, see friends, sleep in, read for pleasure.
Life, however, had other plans… What I actually did over my half-term was:
- Spent Friday night to Wednesday morning howling in pain, screaming into pillows, stamping my feet and hitting my head all to distract myself from toothache. Emergency visits to both an emergency dentist and my own resulted in x-rays which showed nothing obvious, a prescription for Amoxicillin in case it was sinusitis, and a prescription for dihydrocodeine since ibuprofen, paracetamol, codeine and topical benzocaine gel were doing nothing;
- Spent Wednesday morning to now, gingerly avoiding chewing on the left side of my mouth as while the toothache has gone, there is clearly something wrong, and biting food causes sharp pains;
- Spent Wednesday morning to now, cursing the fact that my lower back and legs have started to develop sciatic pain.
I’m seriously wondering whether extreme pain everyday during half-term is enough to qualify you for a second week off, since I really didn’t get to enjoy this week…
Waaaay 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.
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?
[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:
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.