Sunday, May 1, 2011

Hide and Seek

For many of the teachers in the state, this time of year is the most stressful.  TAKS is upon us and there is where to run.  The approach of the standardized test is usually hailed with TAKS pullouts, meetings and training, an avalanche of emails, and much groaning.   We learn the appropriate way to administer the test, how to handle the kids in the testing room, how to address any situations that may arise, and to help build the testing into a successful campus event.  It is exhausting, tiring, and extremely stressful.
For me, this time of the year is always a downer.  I admit I am not the biggest fan of standardized testing, so I generally fail to see the point of the efforts we go through, but I make sure to remain professional.  As a good team player, I make sure to do what I am supposed to with as little complaint as possible.  Because the message we hear is that “it’s for the kids!,” I push through, interested in giving my students the best possible chance at success, despite how I feel about the reality of that success.
This week, Samantha and I were talking about my general displeasure at the everything happening this time of year.  She pointed out that over the last five years, at this point in the year, I consistently appear unhappy.  This was a bit of a surprise to me, as I try hard to keep positive in everything I do.  I guess it is only natural to expect my spouse, the person who knows me the best, to see through my facade even better than I do.
In our discussion, Samantha pointed out when I become unhappy I tend to hide in my books.  For years now, the amount I read picks up in the Spring.  I had associated this with more free time, but after reflecting on her thoughts, I realized she was right.  My reading has overrun my free time to the extent I have ignored certain other obligations and responsibilities.  In the last month I have read five books, none of them short.  While I am a fast reader, I couldn’t have gone through that many pages without neglecting other parts of my life.
So, after realizing this, I decided to observe myself and see what else I did when I was in this unhappy state of mind.  First off, I realized that I am a person who eats their feelings.  My portion sizes creep up, the quality of the food I eat diminishes, and the frequency I crave food increases.  I have a hard time driving past fast food without wanting to stop, regardless of my hunger level.  I also have been craving meat - which for a vegetarian is odd.  Typically, my Starbucks tab also rises. 
I have also noticed that I have to have music on in the car.  Usually, I enjoy driving with the windows down, with nothing but the sounds of the road to accompany me.  It gives me time to think and reflect, or offers time to be still and silent.  I have had a hard time with the void of ditraction lately, preferring the radio and its inane commercials to the thoughts in my head.
I have been more tired, preferring sleep to other things.  I have been loathe to exercise, preferring to sit around than be outdoors.  I have chosen to avoid doing things around the house that need to be completed.  I have darker moods, been more cranky and temperamental, and been less satisfied with the hard work of others.  I can’t imagine I have been pleasant to be around at all times.
All of this boils down to one thing - I hide from the real issues.  By reading and listening to music, I don’t have to think.  Through eating, I boost my serotonin levels, eager to find happiness somewhere.  Through my lack of productivity, I prevent myself from being in circumstances where my brian has the opportunity to be introspective.  By being in a bad mood, I increase the chances of bringing others down to my level, helping me to feel less badly about my own poor outlook on life.
I should be finding a solution to whatever it is that brings me down.  But that would make sense, wouldn’t it.
Now that I have gained perspective, I can start working on the problem.  It is not unlike a medical issue - I have looked over the symptoms, determined a prognosis, and can now prescribe elements to return me to my right mind.  I should be back to happy in no time.
Now that I know what I am like when I dip into unhappiness, I should be able to prevent myself from descending too far into similar situations in the future.  Too often, we are more likely to see the problems others have rather than the ones we face ourselves.  It is too easy to hide from the issues than tackle them.  If we can keep in mind a certain awareness of our own behaviors and attitudes instead of turning a blind eye, we will notice ourselves, hopefully preventing a downward spiral. 
I am certainly glad Samantha was brave enough to be honest with me.  Without her, I might have just continued on the same path, obliviously comfortable with the weight under which I would soon crush. 

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