Ending. Waiting. Changing. Beginning

Regular readers of my blog may have noticed some cryptic writing over the last 17 months, I can now say. I am retired. Let me tell my story…

For as long as I can remember I wanted to be a teacher. My mum was a teacher, I enjoyed learning and I enjoyed sharing what I had learned with others. I would often teach my toys, or be the teacher when playing schools with friends. As soon as I was old enough I would lead groups at Junior Church, Beavers, Rainbows, Holiday groups – all sorts really! my work experience in year 11 was in a school which I continued when able in sixth form. My year out was working as teaching assistant in a school which I returned to part time after uni.

There were odd moments when I persuaded myself that teaching wasn’t for me; when I look back this was because I was worried either I wouldn’t be good enough or that my health would get in the way. Would I be able to be a teacher with epilepsy? Whenever I had these moments I was drawn back to teaching.

In 2004 a couple of weeks after getting married I started my PGCE secondary education focussing on Religious Studies at the University of Birmingham. Then in September 2005 I began my first job as Religious Studies teacher in Canterbury. I loved it, there were no two days the same, amazing questions asked and amazing statements made. Yes there was challenging behaviour at times but there was also the opportunity to build relationships with the classes.

I started off by not telling my classes that I had epilepsy, I didn’t want to be judged, for them to treat me differently or be afraid. This changed after I had a seizure in the classroom. After that point my first lesson every year started by telling the class that I had epilepsy, what that meant, what they had to do IF I had a seizure, and most importantly some of the horror stories of seizures I’d had including bones broken and other injuries. I only ever had two seizures in the classroom but I was always so overwhelmed by the response of the students, wanting to know more but also coming to find to tell me not to watch certain films because they were too flashy, or not going on certain bus routes in the summer because of the sun coming through the trees! This continued every year.

One of the things with epilepsy is that it is so unpredictable – mine is anyway. Yes there is medication to help to control but then there are times when there are more seizures, times when there are none, then there’s all the different types of seizures as well. Over recent years I have been having more myochlonic and absence seizures. Myochlonic is small jerking movements, I would drop things, lose footing or more seriously spill tea 😱. But it was the absences that became more apparent – especially to me, I would lose track of what I was saying or doing, I couldn’t thing of words all of which led to more frustration and further stress and the seizures getting more frequent. Once again the pupils were amazing and would tell me what I had been saying, or suggest words that they thought I was trying to think of!

In July 2021, following a occupational health meeting, a suggestion was made that my health was affecting my ability to teach the curriculum, but also that the stressful environment of the school and the nature of teaching was not beneficial for my health. This was a huge shock, and I wasn’t entirely on board at first but in September of 2021 I filled out my application for ill-health retirement. 3 days ago (January 2023) that was agreed and finalised and now, at the age of 41 I am retired!

It really has been a rough time. The job that I had always wanted to do, was taken away from me. I know I made the application of my own accord but that was after decisions made which were affected by a health condition that I never asked for. I didn’t know what to do, I was still being paid but I wasn’t able to go to work. I was always one of the first into school, I’d get up early walk across the city, put the 80s music on, and get myself prepared for the day. Now I was still waking up early but not knowing what to do with myself. This was not aided by the husband starting an apprenticeship, so he was suddenly so much busier, working, going to uni, studying, doing assignment and placements. The sofa became my friend.

Around the October time I started doing some voluntary work on a couple of days, this got me out the house, gave me some routine but I was always SO aware of WHY I was able to do these things in the first place. The process just seemed to go on and on and on, which was unbearable as I didn’t know what the result would be and I couldn’t really move on to do anything until everything was finalised. I was in limbo and I did not like it, regular readers will know I like to know what’s happening. I’m order for the process to move on I had to get medical evidence, this possibly one of the hardest things, I know that they needed to write what they did to support the case but I did not like reading them and it made me sound like an absolutely decrepit and useless human being.

As you can probably imagine my mental health took a bit of a battering throughout this time. I was angry at people, at places, at my brain – I was really not in a good place. After a visit to the Doctor who was apprehensive to put me on more medication, I was referred to CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). This was possibly one of the most positive parts of the last 17 months and was a turning point in my thinking.

I was given the opportunity to explore issues that I had with myself, my health, my situation. But also to explore that I was not defined by my job, there are so many skills involved in teaching that I will be able to use in other aspects of my life but also as I start to think about what next. It was so challenging and involved a lot of tears, but it helped me to see myself in a different light as well as giving me the tools to deal with difficult situations in the future. Let’s face it the epilepsy isn’t going away, but the way I live with it can be very different. It also helped me to see that possibly the voluntary bits I was doing are not necessarily stretching and fulfilling me. They were necessary at the time and were so helpful and have helped me make new connections but now there might be something more.

So I felt everything had ended, I was waiting for ages in a land of limbo, I was able to change my perspective on myself and on life and now well… it’s a new beginning and I am actually really excited to see what’s in store.

One thing I must say is that there is absolutely NO way that I could have got through this last 17 months on my own. So THANK YOU especially to the husband, my mum, the mother-in-law, E, L, my church family and SO many more – you know who you are!

4 thoughts on “Ending. Waiting. Changing. Beginning

  1. That was a really powerful read, Many blessings Helen. I hope and pray this will be the year of the great miracle for us both


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