I can't explain it. I have had a very, very busy year with no less than six evaluations pending at a time and I have been coping quite well. Two weeks ago...BAM! Leading up to my proverbial "hitting of the wall," we had been coordinating a two-day NHSLHA Spring Conference and rehearsals for our middle school play began. I am assistant directing this year. Adding a little lemon juice to the paper cut I had progress reports and IEPs to address. This was all magnified by a system of meeting scheduling that is inefficient and panic inducing. Case managers submit requests for meetings to the secretary, who then begins sending a barrage of emails to the required meeting attendees asking if the date is good. This means I may get a permission to test and a meeting request within days of each other. Naturally, I don't have the testing done or the written evaluation and already a meeting is being scheduled. I can get four of those at a pop! I can't think about a meeting when I haven't even had the privilege of evaluating a student. I quite literally had a panic attack, twice. My breathing became shallow, I was dizzy, and the tears just came.
I saw a friend who suggested I go to our principal for help. She was very supportive and suggested I take two days and get as much testing done as I could. She also offered administrative days whereby I could do my progress reports from home and type my evaluations. I declined the administrative days as I have no problem going to work. I happily accepted the time to test. I spent Wednesday testing and felt relieved. Thursday morning, lying in bed, another unproductive emotion reared its ugly head; guilt. Guilt over not seeing students for therapy, guilt over being given the time I needed to do the work I have been given. Guilt, guilt, guilt. I immediately began sabotaging myself ("I'll see my regularly scheduled students. I'll test in between groups.") UGH! I ignored my guilt, however, and I did test.
I was chatting with some SLPs extraordinaire and the subject of retirement came up. We were sharing how many years we have left to work. I like to think I can do everything I could do when I was twenty-two. I question why I can't run as fast and long, why I can't run up those steps or why I can't kick my heels up (I'm sure the extra twenty-five pounds I'm hauling doesn't help). I am putting forth the same effort and work ethic as I did when I was younger. I haven't given up any responsibilities, but I am tired. My fatigue joins forces with my anxiety, which, for me, has been a lifelong reality. A perfect storm for panic and a feeling of drowning. Understand this: I love what I do. I love my friends. I love the schedule. There is so much that is wonderful about it, but the workload can get the best of me.
My friends had some wonderful suggestions ranging from prayer, to exercise, to Vitamin D. I understand how to relieve stress, but how do I keep it at bay? I'm a thinker. That can have benefits and downfalls. I started to wonder why as SLPs we are so susceptible to stress? I wondered if I bring any of it on myself? That's when it occurred to me; I have a water cup that reads, "I'm an SLP. What's your superpower?" I loved the sentiment, it gave what I do some sort of value, but it also sets the bar really, really high. The notion that I am superpowered also caused me to compare myself to the other "supers." I had to maintain a level of performance that resulted in near burnout. The bottom line is, I don't have superpowers. I am but a mere mortal, who as one SLP pointed out, has roughly five full-time jobs.
My thinking has led me to this:
- While I would like to don a cape and mask and save all my students, their families, my colleagues, and administrators, I am not superpowered. There I said it.
- Every speech therapy session does not have to have a book companion, game, mixed group activity, or the latest and greatest material. Sometimes a little positive reinforcement after a target is produced is all my students need and want.
- I read fewer blogs. I am pretty good at my job. I've been doing it for 34 years and I have to trust that what I have been doing has merit. I don't need to compare myself to everyone else.
- Perfection cannot be my hallmark of success. I realized my standards are VERY high! Incidentally, my standards are how I measure everything and everyone; not fair!
- I love interpreting testing data. I love digging through test results and parsing out an accurate diagnosis. I love to research different aspects of communication disorders. I don't have to write a fifteen page evaluation, each and every time! Again, my standards are exhausting me.
- When I am given help, I need to accept it. It does me no good to cry, seek and receive help, and not accept it. I need to do so without guilt. I've heard it said, guilt is productive for all of ten minutes, then it becomes destructive.
- This one may be the hardest for me...EXERCISE. Getting my heart rate up for twenty minutes four times per week is as effective as medication for me. One week I set a goal to run fourteen miles. I did it and I felt awesome, and then, I stopped!
- I need to remember not to tick off my to-do list over and over in my head or aloud. Each time I recite what I have to do it triggers my anxiety all over. In fact, I don't even know how many students are on my caseload. I decided not to count. It doesn't help me.
Since last week, I feel better. I am setting realistic goals and as I tackle the work my anxiety gets checked. I am doing simple and effective therapy. I am still writing fifteen page evaluations, but one thing at a time. At least I have a handle on my emotions and repeating, "this too shall pass. I always get it done," has been helpful. I would love to hear how you handle your job. If you have no anxiety associated with work, PLEASE share! I can use all the advice I can get!!