My brain gaslights me when I fail: you’re not as bad as you think

Hello everyone,

I had a very bad week. The kind of week that made me question all the decisions I had ever made. The kind of week where I thought my failures were a reflection of my person. But it all ended okay so let me tell you what happened with the added benefit of hindsight.

Part 1: easing you in

My week was terrible. Wait, let me clarify: My week was terrible in terms of my personal life. I acknowledge the rest of the world has been a howling dumpster fire for a few months now. Why was my week terrible? Mystic Mac said it best.

“I was inefficient with my energy.”

Conor McGregor, that time he lost to Nate Diaz

In the week prior to my downward spiral, things were actually pretty good. I had somehow wrangled a new job, despite 2020’s best efforts. I was a couple of weeks in. I was a happy little bunny.

And that first taste of employment after months without would turn anyone into an eager beaver. So I tried to knock life out in the first round. But much like McGregor underestimated his opponent and charged forth in his first round, I too underestimated my job.

I am not an MMA fighter. I am a teacher. And in the the current climate: an online teacher. Something I have done a lot of (teaching) and something else I have done a lot of (onlining) have combined to form something I am wildly unprepared for. Despite this, I was thriving initially because my workload was reasonable and I had free time in my schedule to think of new and creative ideas for my confused digital students.

Part 2: mistakes were made

So, what went wrong? I believe Icarus said it best.

This is fine…

Icarus

I voluntarily… yes, voluntarily, opted to increase my teaching hours whilst keeping the same work hours. Gone was the much-needed time to creatively adapt to the mind-numbing insanity that online teaching has proved to be, and hello to double the workload. I did this because my students said they wanted more class hours. Your eyebrow might be rising as you consider what children would ask for this, but relax, my students are adults. Adults generally like classes and homework. It means they’re not at work. So as their teacher, I wanted to be a saviour. It’s an issue I have.

The week of unrelenting horror began. All too soon I realised that I was not ready. My extra lessons were crap, my normal lessons were also crap, my students sat baffled in their little video chat squares, I was panicking. The week began with me flying towards the sun and ended with me simply unable to function. I was behind on work and in my meetings and that bled into my personal life. That week ended with some form of executive dysfunction, meaning I was unable to organise myself into a functioning human being.

Shit weeks happen though. You just learn from it right? Ordinarily I would. I have had many a bad lesson and I usually recover, reflect and revise. It happens. You make bad judgments. Students stare in stony silence and you realise you were off the mark. Teachers move on, students forgive.

But being in a new job, teaching online for the first time, designing my own course, navigating a steep technical learning curve, developing a whole new way to interact with students – did I mention my students don’t speak English much? It’s why they come to English class – was a treacherous combination. There was a lot of personal creative investment in making this work. I cared deeply about making this work. As the only teacher in my department braving the online classes, I was meant to be a pioneer. And I was new. But I incorrectly anticipated the workload. I crumbled. Both by the weight of the role and the weight of my own expectations.

And as I lay there catastrophizing, I had a bullshit epiphany.

Part 3: what’s a bullshit epiphany?

Now, a normal epiphany is a sudden realisation of an absolute truth. They can occur on the toilet. You might have had one. My last normal epiphany was about this proverb:

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

I always thought the choice of using lemons in that proverb was just a random idea. Like…

I feel hilarious right now.

I genuinely thought it meant something like: “when you see an opportunity, take it.” And that was my life for nearly 30 years.

Then, on that toilet, it came to me…

So the mango lassi example is the same idiom as used by the privileged

And now life will be different for the next 30 years.

This could be where I start to wrap things up. I could say I had this epiphany and what had been a week of mental unraveling was drowned in sugar and ice until it was refreshing and sticky.

But I had a bullshit epiphany.

A bullshit epiphany is also a sudden realisation of something. But not absolute truth. It makes about as much sense as 1+1=11. But your brain still goes, “hmmmm, could this be?!” It’s quasi-logic masquerading as truth. Mine went something like this:

Seeing that written down, it does look like my inner-critic bubbling up to say a quick, salty hello. But it’s not. A bullshit epiphany makes you do the mental work. I got the same ‘ah-ha!’ moment that I did with the lemonade. Except instead of ‘ah-ha! Sugar!’ I think ‘ah-ha! I suck!’ I even got a little Dopamine hit as I figured this out. There was a penny drop moment as I was filled with the notion that this is what my life had been building up to all along. This realisation that I was wrong to even try to do something new or interesting or creative. I felt relieved.

“Ah, this was my problem all along. I thought I was good, but it turns out I suck. It’s all so clear to me now!”

Me
I forgot to add thelazyslinky.com to this art piece but who’s gonna steal this? It makes no sense out of context.

Part 4: recovery and reflections

I didn’t quit my job. I recovered, reflected and revised. Props to my husband for realising his wife can do some hardcore spiralling midweek. But this isn’t a post to share my mental health. The intent in writing it is to say: starting something new or changing up the way you’ve always done something involves risk. Not just financial or social risk but a mental risk. It is connected to a sense of self. Because there is an idea that creativity is inherent, it comes from within us. So if we base an action on that creativity, a failure in that action impacts our sense of self. And catastrophising or spiralling is the outcome. My risk didn’t pay off. The level of self-belief I built up in order to take on extra classes, even though I was still learning, was challenged when I failed. I questioned my own validity not just as a teacher but as a person who takes risks.

This isn’t my first bullshit epiphany and won’t be my last. I realise that the spiralling and catastrophising is a misguided self-defence generated by a mind trying to save face. It is so hard to cope with failure. And if a failure is public, say in a classroom, it becomes something my mind feels it needs to protect me from in the future. Don’t try, don’t fail. So it gaslights me, hoping I’ll stop putting myself at risk of failing again.

But this defence mechanism is designed to root me in place and not let me explore what I could become. So I take yet another risk by ignoring it. I mean, after a few days of sobbing in the foetal position. This actually happened 2 weeks ago but I needed time to sort my thoughts. Do I sound wiser? I am happy once more!

I have written about spiralling before and how it affects my sleep. I have also written about epiphanies and toilets.

Take care,


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