The Band-Aid Mentality
The Year I Took Off Of Life & Learned How to Live (an excerpt)
A Non-Fiction Novel By Nina Waddington
Hey, I'm not knocking band-aids. They are definitely good for the minor scratches, cuts, and bruises that we accidentally come by through life. But, band-aids shouldn't be used for more significant trauma. They just aren't effective. You could put a band-aid on a wound that needs stitches, and it might help short term, but generally speaking, you'd eventually go to a hospital and get experts to help you.
Face it; we slap invisible, fake band-aids on shit all day. Marriage issues. Band-aid and move on. Stresses within the family. There's a band-aid for that! Problems at work. Stress, mental health, physical health, fitness, food, sleep.
Band-aids in bulk! And on and on and on.
I'd been slapping those things on at an incredible speed for years. I never truly understood the actual problems and never bothered investigating their origins. I absolutely didn't spend any time at all, sharing the pain with anyone. My closest friends did not know. And if I didn't share the details with the closest of friends, then I didn't share with any experts that could help me.
I didn't have time for that.
I didn't have time for myself.
Plus, many people in my circle exuded this air of what strong is, or the meaning of what being strong meant. And I so wanted to be strong. Strong was definitely not showing any struggles. Strong was smart, to the point of knowing everything. Strong was brave but manifesting as disconnected.
Strong was a myriad of things that did not sit well with me, but it was easier to align with those ideals than figure things out.
Was this really, truly strong though? My mind would wander to the point of questioning these ideals and then;
See, the fact is that we tend to do what is easy. It's easier to disregard and move on. It's easier to keep things on the surface level, deal with things quickly, and then plow through the chaos. It's easier to sugar coat and not address things.
Finding the root of an issue can be uncomfortable. Most importantly, it’s time-consuming. No one has any time after all the other really important things in life, like getting to the gym, being the best cook at the potluck, the most outstanding at your job, having the most successful children, and keeping your house absolutely perfect.
One day at an in-service for work, my four thousand band-aids began to unravel. And then they just all came unstuck at once. Instantly I found myself standing there struggling to breathe as all my invisible wounds started to bleed out.
It was quite the journey back to breathing. I started with two whole weeks in bed.
Work had been lots of levels of stressful for many years. Sleep had been clinically bad for a couple of decades. In fact, my sleep had stumped the doctors. A scheduled two-night sleep scan had turned into eleven nights, and even still, the docs just scratched their heads. It was after a year of more than a few deaths in my circle including a couple of very sudden ones. In the midst of that, I had left a relationship and put my many's needs far above my own for many years. None of that I regret. It was essential. But my priorities were not at all about me. I was hitting mid-life, was single, and had recently realized the HUGE step backwards that this all meant. Financially.
Emotionally. Socially. Romantically. This was compounded by the enlightenment of the enormous disconnect I felt with many of my friends. They were busy with their lives, and because I didn't fit the label of wife, I was left out of that dynamic. Many a night, completely alone. Knowing that I made the right steps for me, but disappointed in the world for not attempting to understand that. Layer in online dating, the colossal waste of time it is, and countless stories woven into that.
There just was a lot going on.
Lots and lots of fucking band-aids. Despite all this, I managed to keep this smiling, outgoing, happy-to-help persona.
No one knew.
I collapsed. Quite frankly, I couldn't focus beyond an hour. I rode the waves of highs and lows of fixing all these band-aided old wounds over the next five months, where I pretty much isolated to fix myself, only to be hit with the further isolation of Covid. Shit, the timing of that was devastating. I was finally ready to approach the world again and ordered to isolate. What do you mean? Isolation?!??!! Noooooooo!!! I've been isolating for months already. Sigh.
It was back into bed again. I cried a lot in March 2020. This morphed into sitting at home, my lovely home. Thank God for my home in those weeks. But I sat there listening to the whining of those who "had." I found it horribly frustrating. The have-less-thans were quietly going about their day, watching the sideliners complain about the insignificant changes that Covid was causing. Insignificant in the grand scheme of things. People were dying. Come on now.
Good news, though. This pandemic helped in bringing my brain to where it is now. Where I am the strong one, I am quietly and independently strong. So many people rely on others, their spouses, or partners. They rely on their things. Their stuff. Their status. Their image.
I'm so much better now. Proud to say I am pretty much band-aid free. We're still in a pandemic. I'm still lonely as ever. But I've found contentment in this labyrinth.
This was the year I took off life to learn how to live.
This was the year that I embraced myself, and like or not, Covid 19 which furthered my time of isolation and deepened my understanding of me. If I've learned anything in life, it's that the road ahead is never predictable. Life certainly has thrown me some curveballs. And for the most part, I had been able to navigate them. But what I now know is that up until now, my protocol was to:
The band-aid solution worked because it allowed me to jump back into my role, perky, and cheerful, and then to carry on, unphased. This was important as I didn't really have to get uncomfortable and address the real issues. More importantly, I didn't have to let anyone in my circle know that there were issues in the first place. What I didn't realize was that the band-aids weren't meant to help long term. So over time, their effectiveness wore off, and what I was left with were old wounds, reopening when I least expected it—the awkward uncomfortableness of trying to find a new band-aid quickly to balance out pain.
I was trying to morph into the ideals that society and others in my life had placed on me; ideals that were written for the married -wife-and-mother. I was increasingly frustrated that others were continuing to hold me to those ideals. Who wrote those ideals, anyhow?! This resentment wove itself through my relationships with friends, work, leisure, and beyond. They had no idea the stresses and struggles of doing it all on one's own. I was continuously battling this, trying to overcompensate, but always disgruntled by other’s density and feeling that they weren't trying as hard as I was.
Did I tell you I am an empath? A Band-Aided Empath. Now there's a combination. Lol. More on that later.
But then came the learning.
See, my happiness isn't dependent on others knowing anything. And I shouldn't expect them to get it because they haven't lived my life. Further, it isn't my job to educate them. The people who want to know will learn. The people who want to connect will investigate. The people I want in my circle won't be work to keep them on my side. It shouldn't feel like a battle. If I am low, then they should be there. I shouldn't have to ask for them to come. I realized this by reflecting on who was there for me, who I relied on, day in and day out. I can easily count the people who connected with me while I was off. In five months. That is telling, isn't it? The old me would battle that and try to engage them. The old me would find disappointment in how fake or shallow so many relationships were.
Why did I focus on those who did not show up, instead of those who were my friends, confidents, supporters, and healers? Who cares if it was a half-dozen and not fifty?! The half-dozen were real. Not just a couple emails to say they were there for me and to call if I needed anything.
I was in crisis; I didn't know what I needed. I certainly couldn't put that into words for others. My people were those who showed me that they honestly were there. That despite their busy lives, they took time to check-in, and connect.
My people were those who were willing to jump into the uncomfortable abyss of my healing and join me on that journey. Some cheered from the sidelines. Others literally held my hand. But many, many just provided lip service. Or didn't do anything at all.
That was telling.
And I don't mean about me.
I realized that one broken piece was my perception of what was strong and successful. I've learned that this wasn't about me, but rather about our society's focus on avoiding uncomfortable things. It would be hard to contact me during that time, as people would have to feel vulnerable in doing so. And who is brave enough to be vulnerable these days? Right?!…not many.
I am a beast. I know this only because I acknowledged my weaknesses, the areas I needed to grow, and because I allowed myself to go deep and dark to heal. The strongest people are those who admit their struggles. When I rolled out of bed from days of depression, I didn't focus on the dark; rather, I realized I was strong because I allowed myself to go deep to investigate the ailment and heal.
I was surrounded by people who made themselves look strong by pointing out what they perceived as flaws in others. They boost their image by highlighting themselves and pushing others down. It is often subtle, although sometimes quite direct. I am surrounded by them. I just have a new outlook. Those people aren't worth my energy. I choose to focus my energy on those who support me.
2020 ended with isolation for me because of the pandemic, the new year with even more complications. I watched alone in my home, people celebrating the holidays with family and friends, ignoring the lockdown rules.
So I'm looking inward again. My priorities are to continue to grow and learn.
To be mindful of my privileges and the gifts it affords me.
To live life aware of those gifts and not to ever to take them for granted.
As such, to mask, to vaccinate.
To put others' needs ahead of mine in that respect.
In the bigger picture, I acknowledge that everyone's journey is different and that lumping everyone into a category that has worked for me is not helpful. Instead of remembering a time I dealt with something similar and thinking, I was fine, how come they aren't, to be empathetic of others, and try hard not to compare my circumstances to theirs. My plan can't be expected to work for others. It’s completely ridiculous that society functions with this ideology. I’m not going to pretend I know more about someone else’s journey than they do. How ugly is that privilege? Most importantly, I will no longer bother with the people who do function this way. So many people are all knowing, assumption filled, selfish, takers.
I'd rather validate those around me and always try to be consistent and constant for them. For the group of my lovelies that do the same for me.
Happy New Year.
(c) nina waddington 2021
Something's Got to Change
Something that bothers me to the core is how disengaged so many young people are to violence. We wonder how people can stand around and watch fights. We see it every day. They pull out their phones and catch it all on video, and then send it out to their friends as if it were entertainment. But, one reason, I argue, is that negative behaviour has become normalized in schools. Many teachers deal with behaviour almost daily, whether it be disrespect, name-calling, backtalk, or, worse, physical violence. And while this is ongoing, the other students in the class are told to ignore the behaviour or asked to simply continue to work. In other words, we are telling them to become silent bystanders to abuse. What is the teacher supposed to do? Administrators are often busy. EAs are pulled in a hundred different directions. Teachers are often left to manage this on their own. If this goes on even a couple days a week, you can see that before long, this becomes part of the normal of what they call school. It’s so wrong on so many levels. I’m not here to point blame. Simply. It’s wrong. And as a parent, I am very concerned. As a teacher, it scares me. Something has got to change.
I’ll be quick. Look at this proverb. No sugar coating here. Our time on earth is but just a blink of time. So let’s enjoy it.
I’m so lucky. I was raised with family and friends where humour is valued and just part of our normal. Gatherings are smothered with ongoing inside jabs and sarcasm. All in good fun of course. When I get together with family, there are some jokes that have been threaded through thirty or forty years of dinner conversations. Just say you have “numnah” to my uncle on a particularly cold day and he’ll string together stories and end up with tears squeezing out the sides of his eyes with memories of my grandmother.
It’s healthy, finding the importance and value of belly-warming joy. But also learning to include always those things that bring happiness and fun, even when life is stressful. We laughed on cold and rainy canoe trips and smiled through memories at funerals. We cry with giggles through immature, stupidity. But it keeps us connected. Draws our minds away from stress. Imprints joy into almost every gathering. And trains us to find the positive in almost everything.
So laugh. Be silly. Get together with your circle and remind each other of the histories that made your sides ache with laughter.
If I’m going to get wrinkles, they might as well define some smiling eyes.
(c) nina waddington 2021
A Day In The Life - A Teacher
One might think this is satire.
People reading this outside of our profession will think I made this up.
BUT...you can't make this up.
Seriously. I appologize for the length of this blog.
A little background. I had had a challenging year personally, dealing with family issues, some mental health challenges with some people close to me and a lot of death. It was crazy how many people I know had died. It had grown to 12 people in a year. I'm in my mid-forties, so it was a.....bit emotional. To say the least.
But saying that. This is a TYPICAL day. A snapshot of sorts.
I came into work stressed. I had been up late texting the friend with thoughts of self-harm. I was exhausted. And worried about her. However, I left home just a little bit early to get tea. I wouldn't drink it until 2.
The week had been busy, and I had promised to test four students on Monday. The testing is done 1:1 and takes quite some time. Nonetheless, I had approached all the teachers and promised them, I would get to it on Monday. Tuesday at the latest. It was my "highest" priority. We desperately needed to get this testing done as all four students (in grades 6-8) were good students but struggling academically. Psych wouldn't accept a referral for testing until this testing was done. And we all knew that the referral list was long. These poor kids, sitting in a class getting farther and farther behind and their confidence eroding. It was clear to all the teachers that had ever taught them that there was a learning disability. But psych needed test scores.
So I promised. Top Priority! With a smile.
But now it was Thursday, and I had only pulled one student for 15 minutes on Monday, but was taken away by the principal and hadn't had a minute to get back to it. Four more days of these kids getting farther behind. If I could only clone myself.
The day started with me meeting a student who had an individual plan for his anxiety. He came in early to my room every day he made it to school. He had debilitating anxiety. So I would meet him in my room before the halls filled. We would chat. I would offer him some food that I stored in my closet for my hungry students. I would push my exhaustion away and smile. Offer support. And kindness. We would walk to his classroom a few minutes early. Trying to set him up for success.
I popped my head into another teacher's class. I told her I would take Student 1 to test today. She smirked. I, of course, took it as sarcastic, and then followed up with, "If I don't get pulled." She turned her back.
Quickly I ran to the office to get some forms signed by the principal. They needed to go into today, but she was meeting with a parent. She smiled at me but shook her head, "no." I would come back later.
The bell rang, and the students poured in. Noise. (I don't think most people understand the noise component.) I was exhausted. I was pushed as I tried to navigate the hall. Students didn't acknowledge me, and no respect was given. This is the new normal. I call out a few students for it, but if only half the staff calls them out, it becomes useless. Students look at me like the bitch who nit-picks about stuff like running in the halls. Despite this, I still call them out. Kindly. Smiling. Joking. Frustrated. They roll their eyes or mutter under their breath, turn to their friends laughing or just ignore me completely. This is accepted.
I get halfway down the hall when I see a teacher, and I remember that I have forms for her to give a student to be signed. I need to speak to her about them. I struggle through the crowds, up the stairs to my room, get the forms and return back down. She is no longer in her room. Back to the office, and the principal is gone. No one knows where she is. I put both documents in my mailbox.
The announcements start. O Canada is playing. I ask one boy (student 2) to stop walking five times. FIrst kindly. Then more firmly. More firmly again. Louder. I stare at him, my eyes wide and put up my hand, signalling he should stop and say sarcastically, "STOP." He rolls his eyes and mutters something derogatory under his breath. I hear him, so stare longer. "What?!" Sass. I deal with him daily. Is it worth the battle today? I ask myself.
No. He gets away with it. Because I have no time.
The announcements finish, and I go to get Student 1 for the testing. He sees me in the hall, and his eyes light up. I tell him that I'll come today. I told him that yesterday too.
BUT, I get a text. Another student has gotten loud and belligerent. Turn on my heel and off I go. Student3 is shouting and pushing chairs. I go in, talking calmly. Understanding the frustration....at least I say that. The teacher looks at me, her eyes slightly vacant. Empathy is hard when it happens every day. A few students crowd in the back, smiling and whispering, obviously enjoying the show. A couple of his peers, block it out, clearly a new normal for them. Two girls, look terrified.
"What set him off?"
"I told him he couldn't have a new pencil because I gave him one yesterday." She purses her lips. And sighs.
Swearing and slamming of doors continue. I finally calm him down and convince him to go for a walk. He punches lockers as we walk. I asked him not to. That it's disrupting the other classes. He stops and looks at me long and hard. He hits the lockers harder. He almost gets my hand in one.
"Come sit in my room."
"I can see you are really upset. My room is quieter."
"Thank you for coming for the walk. I'm proud of you. Let's go to my room now."
"I need you to stop kicking the locker. Please."
"Stop kicking the locker."
"In my room now."
An EA comes along and hands him a toy. Ahhh...let's reward this. PERFECT.
The boy comes into my room, and he's hungry. He hasn't eaten. He goes straight to my cupboard and takes three things to eat. He sits, eating them quietly. I'm too tired to address it. But I do because I'd like to get the testing done and get back to things I need to get done.
Student 3 goes back to class with promises of regrouping before lunch. I look at the time, and there are 20 minutes to Nutrition Break. Not enough time to start testing, so I head downstairs to see if I can get the documents signed.
Halfway down the stairs, I'm paged by the office. Student 4 has left the class without permission.
So off I go, to all of the usual hiding spots, and I don't find her in any of them. I get a text that she's outside, and I pause, wondering if I should get a coat. But don't. So I end up standing out in the drizzly cold, encouraging, calmly a headstrong student to get back in the school. She doesn't budge and won't talk, so I get out my phone to find support, but she gets up and runs inside. I lose her again. I tell the principal, and I'm asked to call her mother to explain that we are sending her daughter home. They'd like me to call so that I can bring mom up to speed on the meeting we had yesterday. I add it to the to-do list.
The bell rings, and it's lunch, and I have duty the second part, so I race upstairs to squeeze in the phone call. Halfway through the phone call, I remember I was supposed to regroup with Student 3. He's outside, no doubt, living it up. His classmates are aware of the eggshells that need to be stepped on and are probably doing their best to stir the pot. I talk to them about this daily.
They. Don't. Care.
I get off the phone and quickly grab my coat to head outside early and track down Student 3 before he blows again. I find him instantly, a large group chanting "fight," as I approach. I lose my usual soft exterior and shout at them to leave, and spend the last ten minutes, pep-talking him back to calm. The bell rings, and I text the principal, letting her know that a gasket may blow at any time. One of the instigators runs up to me, skipping alongside two other girls, chewing bubble gum, and laughing.
Me: Why do you try to get him going?
Girl: It's fun.
Me: (Screaming inside my head)
They run off before I can talk to them. And I'm on duty now, so I stay outside.
I have to pee. I'll have to hold it.
Student 1 finds me on the playground. I smile, and he returns the grin and runs up to me. We discuss the testing. I tell him I can't make promises. Inside, my thoughts are shouting that this kid needs and wants help, but that others are hijacking my time. He'll get farther behind. He understands, or at least that's what he says. Eventually, he leaves, and I spend the rest of the recess, asking preteens to watch their language.
I realize that I've put down the documents I needed signing, and so at the bell, I return to the classroom where I left them. It's chaos. No-fault of the teacher on duty. He's monitoring five other chaotic classes. Student #3 is in the hallway kicking a locker. I tell him I'll be back and run in and find my documents. A kid has spilled juice on them. They mutter, sorry, but don't mean it. I pause, wondering if I should address the disrespect, but know that Student 3, is about to erupt in the hallway, and the younger students are sharing that space at the moment.
I run out and convince him to follow me to the office. I find the principal and she signs the forms. Something accomplished!! Woowee for me!
Just then, Student 4's mom enters the office, and she's annoyed. I'll take the brunt of it. She wants to meet to talk about a plan going forward. She can't be called at work every other day. Principal takes student 3, and I usher mom into the conference room. Our social worker is in the school, so joins the meeting. A plan is made; extra accommodations on top of the special accommodations already in place. Firm consequences though. I get Student 4 to repeat the plan to her mother. She stares at me. Three years of home-life dysfunction shared with me, shut off with a blink. I tell her that I believe in her and that I want success for her. I believe it. I just don't know if she believes it for herself. She leaves. I know with certainty that I'll be called for her again by the end of the week.
Student 3 is in the office. His class had been in the gym, and no one had told the phys-ed teachers about his day thus far. He lost a game and then pushed some kids, threw some equipment and ran around the school. He's squatting on a chair, muddy shoes, biting his nails. The principal asks if he can come to my room. Her eyes are understanding but exhausted.
"Of course," I say. My voice is enthusiastic. My brain is done.
Student 1 is in the library, and he sees me as I walk by. He looks at me, but I shake my head no. I won't get to him today. I can feel it.
I answer some emails while I try to discuss the day's events with Student 3. Opening my calendar for the first time today, I realize that I've forgotten that a consultant is coming in the next period. I rush through the filing cabinet, trying to assemble the documents I need. The bell goes again, and I walk Student 3 back to class. It's games day, and because there's no one to watch him, he'll get rewarded by sending him there. Lesser of the evils....send him outside, and there would be a fight.
I find his classmates in the hallway, shouting. I ask them to step into my room. The skip in, smiling and laughing. I remind them that their choices are causing a lot of people to have more challenging days today. They grin at each other. I ask them what's so funny about causing me more trouble.
Student: We aren't smiling about you.
Student: Yeah. Sorry.
Me: Are you, though? It's not funny. No matter who you are talking about. It's not funny if it's me or your teacher or another student. (My tone is really firm. Edging on angry)
Students: Yes. Sorry. (ughhhh...that fake tone.)
They turn to leave, the smirks creep across their mouths again.
I stop and breathe.
Student 5, peeks around the corner. Our eyes meet, and I feel my eyes roll ever so slightly and then tightness in my neck. Instantly I feel horrible. I'm not annoyed with him at all. Just with the situation.
His dad just died of cancer, and he will come to me when he feels overwhelmed.
Student: Can we talk? (He pauses) Actually, you're busy.
Me: (fuuuuck. He saw my frustration.) No, NO. nooooo....please come in.
He joins me and brings me up to speed on what's going on at home. We discuss his workload. I praise his strength and reiterate that he can come anytime.
He smiles and says he wants to go out for recess.
Me: (Yay!!! I get to pee!!)
The consultant comes around the corner.
Consultant: I know I'm early, but I have to drive across the city afterwards. I hope this is okay. (She glances at her watch). I have to leave in fifteen.
Me: (thinking.....I want to ask her if she's peed today. I want to ask her when she got the Starbucks coffee she carried in. I want to ask her what her day has been like. I want to ask her if she's eaten yet. I want to ask her how much money she makes. )
I tell her I haven't eaten. I ask her if I have time to go to the washroom. She seems annoyed. I stifle a frustrated laugh.
Two students come in having a meltdown. I stand back up as they start to fight. I get them into the hall, and the principal intervenes. The consultant doesn't look up from her phone. It quiets down, and she purposefully looks at her watch.
I slide in comments about losing both my lunches today. About how I haven't peed. How the boy lost his mom to cancer. "Oh yes, it's very busy in schools these days," she says.
I want to tell her to fuck off. But I don't. I smile and spread passive-aggressiveness on thick. It's really my only weapon. Ooze it on. Tension creeping up my neck.
She's gone, just as the recess ends. There goes another break.
I finally pee. It's 1:45. I've eaten carrots and hummus today. I haven't had anything to drink. I stand in my hallway, lights low, eyes closed. A teacher walks in. "Must be nice not having to rush off to a class."
I chuckle. He stares at me. I don't reply. I grab my tea from exactly where I put it 5 hours earlier and take it to the microwave. I come back to my room to find six students who have come for math help. I smile, I love helping them. Six students all in grade eight, two modified to grade three, three modified at grade four and one who is timid and likes a quiet space. We get through a whole lesson, the safe space they need to ask the questions that would be the cause of taunting in the classroom. They drown in their regular class, the pace is too fast, the environment too distracting. Despite all the best efforts of the teacher, a circus ringmaster of sorts.
They leave. I turn off my lights, leaving just a small side light on. I will take my prep in quiet. But the door opens. It's another consultant, from the behaviour team. He collapses, literally, into one of my chairs. We vent together. Strangers on similar roads. Both of our eyes well up. We change the topic and say goodbye.
I realize that I haven't delivered the forms to the one teacher from this morning. I find her, and she displays annoyance that I am explaining this at the end of the day. Don't I know how busy things are at the end of the day?!
I apologize and help her with her classroom.
They leave, and she complains about the mess. I look to the garbage can. Kids have thrown their garbage and missed, and not bothered to clean it up. Complete disrespect on so many levels. I clean it for her and she thanks me. And apologizes for her end-of-the-day rant.
In the hall, I fight the crowds of pushing and yelling and make it back to my room.
My tea is cold again.
Just a day in the life.
(c) nina waddington 2021