Back to work and it’s been a struggle

After a 6 week summer holiday, I’ve had my first week back at work. Technically, I’ve had two teaching ‘days’ because Monday and Tuesday were INSET days – meetings and time to run around like a headless chicken trying to get all the new year admin sorted – and Wednesday we had year 7 and 12 in but I don’t teach them so had a ‘day’ of planning and trying not to run around like a headless chicken!**

I’ve written ‘day’ as such because I am still part time, 0.5 to be exact. I don’t always work half a day as sometimes I have two lessons at some point during the day so I turn up for them and can then leave straight after. The school tried to give me one day off a week and mornings only so I would have some sort of routine but it wasn’t possible unless I shared most classes which is not ideal. So I have 1 day off a fortnight and the other days my hours are all over the place.

So how have I found this week?

I started the week feeling great. I’ve had an amazing summer during which 90% of the time I felt great. The other 10% I had some strange cold/throat infection or overdid it slightly so paid for it the day after. We also spent two weeks in Borneo and Singapore which was even more special considering my CFS/ME. I actually felt great there apart from the last day but that’s pretty good going in my eyes.

Anyway, I digress. I’ll give you a bit of perspective. Picture 6 weeks of doing whatever I wanted whenever I wanted with the odd day or simultaneous days spent seeing friends and family and pottering. I could adapt plans depending on how I felt. Now picture this: Monday, 4 hours of meetings (being talked at in a big hall, sat at the canteen tables which have tiny, hard plastic seats. Yes, hello very numb bum. Tuesday, 2 1/2 hours of Safeguarding training. Again, being talked at but in a small room with a very large screen that dims and brightens every 5 seconds. Irritating. My head started to go pretty fuzzy very quickly. Then 3 hours of planning and administration time, so staring at a computer which doesn’t dim very much. I still hadn’t been to the gym. I went for a very short walk Tuesday when I got home and noticeably slowed down. Wednesday, 3 1/2 hours of planning and administration time with 1 hour of meetings in-between. I had a headache but knew a PT session would help. It did. Thursday, I arrive before school starts as being the start of the school year, we have an extended tutor period. I have had this group since they were in year 7 and I didn’t get them back when I returned to school last year in order to help me pace myself at school. So I wanted to see them. I share this group with a colleague now too. I then teach two lessons with a non-contact period (planning/admin/marking/what-ever-you-need-to-do-time) in between. I return home and go for a walk as I’ve decided to go to the gym every other day maximum until I feel I can do more, if at all I do. Friday, I get in before I need to because I have copying and some other admin to do. I didn’t get the admin done. I teach two lessons with break-time in between. I go food shopping on my way home and don’t manage the gym. Instead I go for a longer walk to return my library book and my sister comes round for a cuppa and a chat. I felt pretty fatigued after that.

So how do I feel now?

Imagine it’s day three following an intense workout or very long walk and the pain in your muscles doesn’t feel as intense, more a dull sensation. Imagine that feeling in every muscle in your body, alongside a more acute ache in your joints. Now imagine you have weights strapped to your ankles and wrists, even your hips (somehow!). You feel heavy and achy. Everywhere. Well that’s how I felt yesterday afternoon. It stops you wanting to get up because your body is telling you that it doesn’t have the energy to get you up, let alone get you to where you want to go, even if it is 5 10 steps to the kettle and then all the others to make a cuppa. When it’s really bad, which luckily it hasn’t been for quite a few months, I have to get pushed off the sofa and pulled up. Often I just need willpower. It wasn’t quite that bad yesterday but I did get up as little as possible to conserve energy. For the last few months, when I have been high on my scale, I’ve managed to get a few points lower simply by resting. However, yesterday this wasn’t to be. It took all afternoon and a sleep. I feel slightly better now as I write this.

So towards the end of the summer, feeling good, having days with more energy, less fatigue, if any, and very little pain, if any, I begin to think that perhaps I am getting better quicker than I thought possible. Now, after having experienced the last week I know this isn’t true. I’m trying not to be disappointed because realistically, this wasn’t going to be the case. I’ve tried to pace myself this week but there is only so much I can do when returning to work has brought about a drastic change to my routines. That’s the reason why being a teacher is one of the worst professions with CFS/ME. It’s not just the intense bursts of energy you need to use up each lesson, the extended periods of stress etc; it’s the holidays, which although they allow you time to recuperate and recharge, they cause problems when you start a new term. Every teacher across the country will currently be experiencing higher levels of tiredness and stress and it will take a few weeks for them to reacclimatise to the new term after such a long break. Personally, I know this will take a lot longer, perhaps until the next half term at the end of October. Then the cycle will start again, albeit not so dramatic because it’ll only be a week off.

When I have moments of despair feeling as I do, I remember snippets of last academic year when I felt less fatigued and had enough energy to go to the gym 4-5 times a week alongside work. I know I will get back to that point, it’ll just take time. I know I’ve come a long way since I returned to work in January feeling completely lost and vulnerable, without any idea what was wrong with me. Now, I’m stronger mentally and physically and know what I can do to help myself.

That’s a much better place to be at.

**I didn’t really run around like a headless chicken. I am actually cool and calm under pressure, even now. I do find I struggle to process written information, thoughts and memories when I am under stress but I write everything down and try to only think and do one think at a time.

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