I started my student teaching nearly 20 years ago. My assignment was split between an accelerated sophomore English class and a regular junior English class. I was twenty years old, smart, cocky, and completely unprepared for what being in the classroom actually meant.
My sophomores had to read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I had designed fantastic lesson plans surrounding the use of the n-word and the allusions to Shakespeare all to disguise how much I detested the book. I was not impressed with Twain’s satire despite my self-proclaimed coronation of the Queen of Sarcasm. I was not a fan of the protagonist’s introspection on the river. (My own introspective years came much later.) This teaching assignment was going to be painful; I was all creativity and no content.
My junior class assignment was the opposite. I struggled to find ways to interpret a complex text like Beowulf (which I learned to pronounce BAY-AH-WULF three days before the end of the unit) for regular level juniors. My students had the same opinion of this unit as I did, a necessary evil for both of us to move on to the next step in our education. My cooperating teacher had the answer for years; compare Beowulf to Star Wars as examples of mythic heroes. That plan also gave me the chance to shamelessly enjoy one of my favorite movies AND complete a daunting teaching unit. (First, don’t ask which Star Wars. This was twenty years ago; there was only one. Second, don’t worry about wasted time. There was a six page packet to fill out while watching to prove or disprove the monomyth’s applications.) The outcome of both of those experiences was a lesson learned that resulted in a blissful fifteen years as an educator and an insightful eight years as a therapist.
The Power of “And”
It was tricky to be a teacher and a student. That never changed. But, once I embraced that a teacher can remain a student AND learn from her students’ fresh approaches and reactions to material, I became an award-winning teacher. In therapy, the theory behind seeing how two seemingly polar opposites can be true is called dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT).
DBT is a treatment model used for chronic mental illnesses such as addiction, self-mutilation, eating disorders, and anxiety. Unlike previous posts, these struggles cannot be helped without professional interventions. The modality was created to help balance the contradictions imbedded into lifelong mental illness. DBT allows for the harmful effects of the illness to be incurable while making them manageable.
Similar to my post on group therapy, I will attempt to summarize the basics of this treatment modality which works to keep patients in a steady mental state. (Still, no Spark Notes.):
Stage 1: The focus of this stage is stabilization. Therapy is centered on safety and crisis intervention. The goal of this stage is to help people achieve some control over themselves despite the recurring messages they give themselves that life is out of control.
Stage 2: Despite more overall stability, behaviors characteristic of mental health issues may still be prevalent. Now is the time to investigate the origin of the pain. The goal of this stage is to help people process an experience instead of silencing or burying it.
Stage 3: This stage focuses on creating a new life under new terms; the individual is in charge of life, not the trauma. Optimistic exercises like goal-setting are the focus with the reminders that stability breeds happiness.
Stage 4: This stage is all about maintenance. The new “you” discovered is vulnerable to doubt. It is important to stay engaged in therapy even at this stage in order to have support when natural mistakes threaten to derail incredible progress.
Spark Note Summary
With the start of summer, adults want to be kids. Friction occurs when kids still need their role models to be adults. The answer is to live in a world of “and” by being both. Get dirty in the mud from summer rain AND be responsible enough not to trek it into the house. Show your kids who invented fun!
My son turned four years old on Sunday. That was also Mother’s Day. Anyone that pointed out that coincidence (which will happen roughly every seven years) heard me gush that without his birthday, I wouldn’t be able to celebrate Mother’s Day. Sounds sweet, doesn’t it?
Secretly, though, I was a little cranky about sharing my day. It has nothing to do with how much I adore my son. It has everything to do with losing the opportunity to be seen and celebrated. Like so many moms, motherhood put me one step further away from who I am as an individual void of relational terms. I used to be Amy. She was silly and smart, irreverent and intense, selfish and selfless. Every year, it seems like I add more titles, mother, supervisor, blogger, that load me up on external expectations and make it harder to see the individual behind those roles.
Part of my job is providing workshops for any and all individuals who devote their lives to others, firefighters, volunteers, moms… At the end of my Help for the Helpers workshop, I provide an acronym that helps keep people reconnect with the individual in the mirror. These are everyday tricks to lower stress based on what biologically happens in your brain and to your body.
Breathe in oxygen: When you are experiencing stress, your brain channels its activity to stay alert and keep you alive. The fight, flight and freeze responses stay active until the levels of adrenaline and cortisol let the body know you are safe. The problem is there is a lack of oxygen going to the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that you use to set priorities and regulate emotions. By surrounding yourself in an oxygen rich environment, you can force oxygen into the prefrontal cortex and help yourself return to a more rational, measured state of problem solving effectiveness.
Celebrate micro wins in a macro way: Finishing the laundry. Getting your child to complete homework without a fight. Getting praise for a project completed at work. These events are all worthy of a celebration. By recognizing that you are taking successful baby steps towards a larger goal, a clean house, an independent child, a successful business person, you can sustain yourself for the long haul.
Accept a compliment: You are unique, and the things you are able to accomplish are also unique. Plenty of people are parents or hold the same job title as you do. But, only you have achieved success in those arenas. Along with the micro win, you need the recognition from someone outside of the mirror to tell you that you did well. Our society is trained to connect accomplishment with pubic validation. We give our kids participation ribbons and employees premier parking to publicize their worth. There is nothing wrong with a barista telling you the time you spent before ordering your chai was worthwhile. When you dismiss your success, you distance yourself from the ability to celebrate the bigger win.
Let one day be all about you: Women are forever pushing themselves down the priority list. We sacrifice a manicure for a kid’s toy. We give up an hour of peace and quiet to let our husband have time out with his friends. For one day, treat yourself like you treat the ones you love. Commit with your whole heart and calendar a measurable chunk of time to appreciate and celebrate the individual you are by giving the cook, cleaning lady, scheduler, shopper, etc. a day off!
Music, music, music! – a no brainer: Research conducted with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, and recorded in the documentary Alive Inside, has concluded that music accesses a part of the brain that connects individuals to parts of themselves and their brains that were once thought lost to disease. As pregnant mothers, we played Brahms and Mozart through headphones on our bellies because we understood the power of music on a developing brain. That brain functions much the same way at the other end of the life span. Grab your iPhone and give the family some headphones, or grab some headphones and ignore the family altogether, and blast the music from your childhood. Choose music that connects to when you had the least amount of titles, pre-mom and pre-wife and pre-bad ass businesswoman.
Spark Note Summary
The analogy about self-care that likens it to putting the oxygen mask on yourself before others in the event of a plane crash is problematic. It implies you only need to take care of yourself in a crisis. If you can take care of yourself a little every day, the chance that an event will feel like a crisis is…what? The same chance as being in plane crash?