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Been Here, Done This

Apple Maps was pretty quick about changing our navigation, and we thought the digital deities surely knew about the Christmas light tractor parade that was about to start. but it was 20 minutes to start time, and we were thoroughly stuck. There was a truck parked behind us and another in front. Thing1, back from college just the night before, walked had a few hundred feet forward to confirm that, yes, we were stuck for the next hour at least.

It wasn’t the worst place in the world to be stuck. OK, five minutes into our wait I realized I’d had one too many Diet Cokes, but the car was warm, and we knew we had almost a front row seat for when the tractor parade did start passing by.

Still, my mind managed to take me to all the downsides of the night. Wasn’t this a colossal waste of energy and resources in the face of a climate crisis on a planet whose ecosystems are threatened every which way? Couldn’t they have put a sign at the end of the road to warn us it would be closed? Surely there were better ways to waste the weekend.

And then I realized, I’ve been doing this for a few weeks now. I think of an idea for a story and then find a way to shoot it down before it had a chance to germinate. I think of an idea for a painting and instantly follow up with thousand reasons why it’s a bad one.

I’m stuck. And even though I’ve never been on this particular street in upstate New York before, I have definitely been here before, watching the signs of depression setting in.

At this point in my life, I know I’ll get through it (that was not always so). The ideas will start finding their way on paper, and the barriers will drop. But as the twinkle-lit tractors started appearing, worry about the next few weeks or months started to eclipse any pressure from my bladder.

For the past 10 years, I’ve been working at home, and, when the depression has started, there has been some room to let a few things fail. I could go a day or two without washing hair and no one would know. I could binge eat at my desk while I typed, using my DIY psychotropics to navigate through the down swings.

This year, however, is a different. This year I’m working with students, and there is no downtime. Teachers have to be on every day. Teachers in our school also have to be aware that most of our students are dealing with their own mental health issues. They are recovering from trauma. They may be dealing with their very first episodes of depression or mania, and they can’t afford for their teachers to let anything fail.

For most of my first six months teaching at our school, my experience navigating bipolar disorder has been an advantage. I don’t talk about it with students (it is not appropriate), but it helps guide my dealings with them. I can sense when someone needs a little extra help. Certain warning signs are instantly recognizable as more than just textbook examples.

But this month will be different. This month I need to get better at helping myself so that I can keep helping them. And, just as I don’t during the good times, I can’t share it with them-either intentionally or by having an off day.

The one thing I realize I want to do is find ways to help them understand that while bipolar doesn’t get better as you get older, you do learn ways to manage it. Thinking about that lesson plan seemed to make the tractors go faster and, for the first time in weeks, I thought of something I really needed to write.

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