An interesting thing happened to me last night…and I’m going to say it’s interesting instead of saying I’m angry or upset because we’re supposed to be training our thoughts to become more positive right? After the hellish year I had, I knew I needed to make a change. But allow me to preface the change with a short, but long-winded backstory. If you know me, there’s nothing short about me or my stories. So here it goes…
“Girl is creative all her young life. Girl dreams of becoming a writer. Girl goes to college. Girl graduates during economic crisis. Girl gets interim job at a talent agency. Girl goes into a depression. Girl quits job to get a Master’s Degree in Special Education. Girl becomes a self-contained special Ed teacher for the Department of Education. Girl loves her students and her job. Girl feels like she is changing the world. Girl slowly burns out. Girl gets job at another public school. Girl suffers a severe mental breakdown and resigns said position as a city worker. Girl begins her own interior design company. Girl starts working with babies with Autism. Girl loves her newfound freedom but cannot sustain life as a single woman in new position. Girl goes back into the classroom in a nostalgic neighborhood Catholic school. Girl has the class of her dreams and meets the man of her dreams. Then COVID. Girl adapts and teaches from home. Girl becomes advocate for said school that was closed by diocese. Girl helps school stay open. Girl teaches a bridge class she was unlicensed for with mask during COVID and suffers another severe breakdown. Girl gets married. Girl has had enough with the politics of the education system and decides to finally fulfill her dream of being a creative, self-employed, newly married woman with everything life has to offer within her grasp with the most supportive, loving, and caring husband. Girl still has said anxiety and depression.”
Now knowing the backstory, let me share with you that all of my life, including childhood, adolescence, teenage and young adult years, I have had a hard time with my mental health, self image, and self-worth. Not many people talk about mental health which is why I have always felt the need to be a mental health advocate and share my story with others. As women especially, we are brought up believing our hormones are the cause of our outbursts, emotions, feelings and negative thoughts. We are told to “get over it” or “stop being so sensitive.” Saying words like that to someone who suffers from a mental illness only pushes them further into the hole they are already digging for themselves. Growing up in a divorced family and being gaslighted by your step mother your entire life didn’t help with that part of who I was either.
Throughout these most difficult years, I always managed to use my creativity within my teaching as an outlet. Knowing how much I impacted children and their parents kept me going these past eleven years, but little did I know that my battery light was going out. Now here comes the part about gaslighting. I titled this piece with that specific word because not only do we, and I mean MYSELF included, let others gaslight us into believing we aren’t worth it, but we also tell the same lies to ourself. By Wikipedia’s Definition; Gaslighting is a colloquialism for a specific type of manipulation where the manipulator is successful in having the target question their own reality, memory or perceptions. For example, (and here comes the interesting part) when I reached out to a former colleague to say goodbye and explained how sick I was at the end of the school year and had to go out on short term disability, her response was “I think you knew how hectic it was going to be this year going into it.” and that she thought that education was just not for me. That my friend, is gaslighting.
The extended definition states that “There is often a power dynamic in gaslighting where the target is vulnerable because they are fearful of losses associated with challenging the manipulator. Gaslighting is not necessarily malicious or intentional, although in some cases it is.” In my heart of hearts, I want to believe that the statement I read in the text message was not with malicious intent. But the collateral damage results in one hundred percent gaslighting myself into believing that I wasn’t a good teacher or that I couldn’t hack it as an educator. The picture above shows the day my students and parents threw me a surprise bridal shower at school. A day that made me feel more special than any compliment an administrator had ever given me on my pedagogy. The reality is, it wasn’t that I couldn’t hack it or that I was a poor educator, it was that my mental and physical health were suffering so much that I was killing myself slowly by doing a job I once loved, a job that was a calling rather than an occupation. A job that was keeping me from from seeing what I could really accomplish within my own life and my own family. I didn’t merely want to educate children for the sake of being an educator, I taught because I loved children. I loved seeing their eyes light up when they realized they could read, I loved their hugs and their stories, I love that no matter what I was feeling their feelings mattered more and I put mine on the back burner. But I realized that I did not want those experiences with other people‘s children anymore, I wanted them with my own and if I had to endure another year of being forced to wear a mask in the classroom, given no prep periods or breaks during the day to breathe and collect myself, I was ruining ny chances at being healthy and forming my new life with my husband.
I was gaslighted to believe that I would receive support, that my panic attacks and current situation were understood and supported, that my efforts were not in vain. I believed all of that because I was in a Catholic school and didn’t think I was being lied to by the people who taught me during my entire educational career, the same people who taught the golden rule of respect “treat others the way you want to be treated.” I’ve always wanted to expose the education system for what it really is, a business. But with the help of my therapist, family, and husband; I realized the way to a healthy heart and mind is to focus on my business and my business only.
So here I am. Smiles to hide the pain, smiles towards my hopeful future; along with scars, flaws, slowly rising self-esteem, an extra few pounds of stress, a pinch of sugar for sweetness and a shit ton of well wishes for those who think I made the wrong choice because today, I know my worth and those who matter in my life don’t mind the bitter taste in my mouth because it is slowly dissapaiting.
If you can believe you are worth more than what you currently are living in, then you took the first step in changing your life and living it in the most healthy way possible. And for me…creating beauty around me and helping others do the same is what I love to do. All you need is a little faith, trust and some pixie dust.
xoxo- Jacqueline Schowetsky