Monday, January 28, 2013

The Evening Before

Ahead of my talk to the students of my placement school, I'm having some doubts. Mental Health is a pretty major topic, and I've never spoken about it on a public level before. As it is, I'm not much for public talking. Classrooms I can manage, because I feel in control of the situation, and I'm able to give them assessment, but I can't force a student to be comfortable with the idea of talking about Mental Health.

I think my biggest concern is that, standing in front of them, I might not be able to answer their questions. I'm leaving a chance for them to ask questions related to the topic, and well, it's a pretty broad one. I don't have all the answers, though I am working on learning as much as I can about it all.

I don't know, I guess I'm just worried that someone will have a question that's extremely important to them and I won't be able to answer it for them. I'm covering a broad range of material, from neuroscience, to the teenage years and the natural feelings of that time, to depression, drugs, alcohol and suicide. I'm giving them the information they need to contact specific people about specific problems.

But what if that's not enough?

I can't tell them everything there is to know about all of this. I can't tell them all about depression and the multiple ways it can affect somebody. I can't tell them all about suicide, its affect on families, the affect it can have on somebody planning it, or why people suicide. I can't tell them everything about self-harm, or alcoholism, or drug use, and I know - I know - that it's not my job to tell them all of this, and it's not possible to fit it all in within a single class period, as well as giving them a chance to actually ask something that's on their mind as a result of the talk, or give out an information sheet, or anything like that.

This is probably going to be the hardest thing I will ever do in relation to Mental Health, because it's the first time I'm properly talking about it in a public forum. It scares the heck out of me, really, but I'm hoping it will get easier.

More importantly, I'm hoping the message with sink in to anyone who might have some doubts about any of this sort of stuff, either for themselves or a family member or a friend. I know there's a lot of valuable information in the talk. I won't be casting any judgements on people, and I'll be emphasising that the students don't, either. Mental illness isn't a weakness, it's biological, like diabetes or heart disease, all illnesses affected by both genetics and environment, and I'll be damned if I don't make that point get across.

So, I'm scared. I'm worried. I'm anxious. I will probably be freaking out a bit the closer it gets to actually having this talk with the students. But you know what, I'm talking about it. I'm not keeping it all to myself. I'm doing just one simple thing to help take care of my own mental health.

How about you? Any questions on mental health that maybe, maybe, I can anticipate before the students ask them?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Unexpected Results

It is with some excitement that I find myself writing a book on planning. That seems weird, mainly because planning can so often seem like a boring process. 

Oddly, I don't think so. I think it's an applicable process that can save time and effort in the long run, especially when the plan is detailed enough to cover all major areas of a project. In my case, my plan almost doubled in size from when I first drew it up, so that rather than write ten articles on planning (which was initially supposed to be one), I'm now working towards eighteen short chapters of an ebook.

I'm pretty damn happy with it. Obviously it'll need some editing before it's ready for publication, not just to change the word article to plan, but to make sure the whole thing flows correctly. However, I am confident that what I am creating, while sticking to my New Year's Resolution, is a book that can be used by writers no matter what project they are picking up.

Even better, the book looks to be ready by mid-February. It's not the quickest turnaround, but with my teaching placement taking up most of my time, I'm happy with it.

How did I manage this? Simple: I wrote every day this year so far. Half of this time was granted to the planning book, and the other half to poetry and blog posts. The end result is that I have been able to keep in touch with the online world to some extent, get creative with my poetry and still manage to produce something I think is worth selling.

It's also helping to make writing something more manageable in the process. Because I'm writing the book on planning, I'm having to think about my own plans. I'll need to get the sequel to Balor Reborn out soon, obviously, and keep working on that series, but now I'm in a position where I can easily keep up with my various projects by using my own advice on planning. Planned project: unexpected results.

So, excited. I have lots of other stuff in the pipeline, too, though I haven't yet announced most of it. I literally told my Unofficial Board of Directors about my next big announcement, the one that will change my life, I think. Them, and my brother. But not my parents or any of my friends, or anyone else for that matter. I've kept most people in the dark, because I'm excited about this, but partially afraid of what will happen when I actually go public with the details.

I'm waiting until placement is over before I do much more else with it, so I at least know where my head is at for the project, and I have some time to put in some serious work on it ahead of public intentions being announced. I have a lot of background work to do on it.

I guess I had better start planning it all properly soon. But then, I should be used to that at this point.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Talk

At the start of my teaching placement, I found out the school was due to have a Mental Health Awareness week. I was thrilled at the idea. I was less thrilled when I later heard why the school needs to have it, but at the same time, my request to help out during the week was approved with open arms.

As a result of that, I now find myself looking at a selection of books on my bottom shelf, checking out my own recent blog post, gathering my materials from the Mental Health stand in college, and planning something in my head. I have a forty minute window in which to talk to the senior students, delivering that same talk three times: to 4th, 5th and 6th years individually as year groups.

Essentially I'm put in a position of teaching without assessing anyone, and teaching on something that isn't covered in the RE or English syllabi. I'm partially terrified about the idea, because I don't know how the students will react to the idea of someone my age with my accent (the students I teach think I sound "posh") talking to them about issues that might be affecting some of them, from depression to drug abuse to suicidal ideation. It's not that I don't know my stuff - or that I'm not working towards knowing it before the first talk - but that I'm not from the same background as they are.

I don't want that to be an issue. Thankfully I was young once. (Many would argue I'm still young, but my knees and my hearing tend to disagree.) I know not to talk down to them about this. It's a sensitive issue, and it requires some compassion and empathy.

As weird as it might sound, I'm passionate about the topic of Mental Health. I'm part of a rare breed of would-be teachers who finds psychology and neuroscience interesting. I honestly couldn't tell you where it comes from, but there you go. So, I'll be using my weird little interests in the talk. Dopamine will get a mention, naturally, as part of some transnational effects it can have on the mind, and its role in depressive moods.

But it won't be jargon. I'm determined for the talk to not just be jargon. No matter the background of the people at the talk, jargon is the wrong way to go. I want the students to be able to leave the talk capable of actually discussing the material, freed in some way from the burden and shame that goes along with mental health disorders.

It's possible I'm being ambitious, but I have to try. This is my first chance to really make a difference in this way without a fictional story to back up my point (such as The Rest is Silence). I want it go down well, and I want to leave the school at the end of that week knowing that it made even the slightest difference to the pupils. After all, I don't intend this to be the last time I ever talk about mental health awareness to a group of students.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Long Hours

Finding the time to write this has been quite difficult. I'm at that point in teaching placement where I had to have a ton of work done to submit online by 5pm today, which meant any work I might have done in the staffroom was all for that, and not specifically for tomorrow's lessons.

The problem? Motivating myself to work after a long day in the school is difficult, especially when tired, and especially when I know the work I do will not be appreciated by the pupils. They are beginning to realise, however, that I'm a student teacher, with a couple of shocked faces at the revelation of the amount of work I have to do for each lesson.

Still, these long hours are killing me slowly, whether the students notice I'm doing a lot of work in advance for them or not.

I'd love a chance to sit down and not have to worry about the next lesson I'm going to teach. While I'm in the school, I will be open to inspection at pretty much any time, so every lesson is met with a bag of nerves bashing about the place. And two bags with ridiculous folders in them, too, with all my lesson plans and resources.

Oh yeah...

I know these long hours are part and process of becoming a teacher. That doesn't mean I have to like them. The meticulous lesson planning, the resource gathering, the staying up late to do it all and waking up early to get to the school in time to teach it all is draining me quickly.

If last year, and the year before that, are anything to go by, I'll be sick by the end of the final week, when the last inspection is done and the last class taught and my body thinks it's time to settle down and relax and BAM - a kick in the immune system, because I'm not under high pressure to not get sick anymore.

Seriously, happened last year when the placement was less stressful.

This is my big worry about placement, actually, that I might get sick before its over. I know there's only so much stress and lack of sleep I can take before it starts to come through. There's no denying that this is a tough job, and the inspections don't help.

If people thought the emphasis placed on a single exam in the Leaving Cert was bad, then they have no idea. A single forty minute lesson could decide my whole future, theoretically, and even if I did everything right things could still go wrong, because I can't control what every single pupil decides to do at any given moment in the lesson. They're not robots, they can't be programmed, and they can't be expected to sit there in silence as the Dream Team of students to teach while the examiner is present. No class can achieve that, though some really do try.

The point is, I'm tired. I'm going to get less than seven hour's sleep, and writing this had nothing to do with that, because I had resources printing while I was writing.

It's a thankless job, with no salary at the end of the placement, and I'm fairly sure that it makes teaching look like the worst job in the world, even though I love being in the classroom. It's just the extra hours up until midnight and the lesson plans and resources required that I don't like. Mainly because (and I can't say this enough) I'm tired as heck.

On the bright side, I'm managing to write something every day this year regardless. And maybe, maybe, I'll get to get ahead of myself tomorrow. That'd be something.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Thoughts on Suicide?

Tonight, a man called up a talk show in Ireland. He was standing on a bridge, thinking about jumping off. As things like this are wont to do, it sparked a massive debate on suicide. Here's my take on the situation:

1. If he called the radio station looking for help, he wasn't entirely sure about suicide. He sent out invitations to receive help in his life, and did so through a public medium.

Why? I can't answer that. I can speculate, though, that he wanted to be taken seriously. He wanted someone to listen and not hang up. He wanted to be able to talk about what was going on in his life, but it's possible he couldn't find a way to bring it up around loved ones.

By calling the radio station, he found a way to tell people and to receive the help he needs.

There is nothing wrong with that.

2. He may have been looking for attention, but that doesn't mean our understanding of attention is the same as his. If he felt alone, he needed to reach out to someone who might listen.

Why a talk show? Again, I can't give his answer to that question. However, he may have felt he couldn't do one of the following three things:

(a) Call a helpline. He won't know the person at the other end of the line. It might make him uncomfortable, and he doesn't know what they will say to him.

(b) Tell a loved one. He doesn't know how they will react, if they will take him seriously, or if they will be able to help. Ireland isn't entirely suicide safe. People aren't always comfortable talking about it. He might also struggle to tell his family or friends about anything bothering him.

(c) Make an attempt at suicide. Sometimes, people who are having thoughts of suicide make an attempt in the hopes that someone will find them in time to save them. It doesn't always go according to plan (and not everyone who makes an attempt at suicide wants to be saved.)

Why those three? Because they're three things many people who have thoughts of suicide do when they're looking for help.

Calling a talk show meant calling someone who he was familiar with, but didn't know. It wasn't anonymous, it wasn't a family member, and it wasn't a suicide attempt. However, the risk was still there.

Suicidal thoughts can leave someone in a fragile state of mind, and should not be ignored if someone finds a way to express them.

He was listened to.

3. We can't decide it was:

(a) A prank, or

(b) Selfish.

Equally, we can't judge him for actually reaching out for help. We don't know what he would have done if he hadn't spoken about it on radio.

Some Facts:

- More people die by suicide in the US every year than are murdered.
- There were nearly 500 reported suicides in Ireland in 2010.
- Many suicides are not reported as suicides.

Tonight can teach us many things. Firstly, there are always people who have some compassion for those who experience thoughts of suicide. Secondly, there are support services in place when you need them. Thirdly, suicide is still attached to many stigmas; it is still taboo; Ireland still needs to learn to talk about it openly.

I'm not a doctor or a psychiatrist or a counsellor, but that doesn't mean I don't care.

1Life: or call 1800 247 100.

Monday, January 7, 2013

How's That New Year Coming?

We're on Day 7 of this great fabrication known as the New Year. Personally, I love it. It's not so much that the concept of a New Year's Resolution is so revolutionary that it shouldn't be ignored, so much as I love the idea of so many people deciding to make a positive change in their lives. Naturally, I join in, and it's one of the few times in my life I will consciously conform to a particular standard (I'm okay with conforming if it happens by accident!).

My aim to write every day is going quite well. It has, so far, produced half of what may well become a short ebook. That, or a section of a longer book. It's all on planning, which fit in nicely with my teaching placement and the need to produce 80 lesson plans in four weeks. Surprise surprise, that's not as much fun as it sounds.

Okay, I jest. I don't mind actually having to do it, and I'd be screwed in class without a lesson plan, but that doesn't mean 80 of them are a lot of fun, when you throw in resources for every lesson, too.

Anyway, back on track. That planning craic. So far, it's five connected articles that need to be drawn together and reworded, but they're essentially half an ebook focusing on some considerations for planning. The other half of the book or section would consist of methods of planning. If there's one thing teaching college has taught me it's that everyone learns and thinks in different ways, so no one method will suit every person who could potentially read the book.

So, there's that. I've also managed to write myself a couple of poems. One has seen the light of day, the other hasn't, but I loved doing them both an awful lot. I consider poetry a project, because every one I've written recently has been accompanied by an image, an audio track and, eventually, a video. This has meant that rather than simply writing the words and posting them online, there's a whole added experience of performance and mood-setting music and the search to find a new means to share an ancient art form.

I don't suppose I will ever grow tired of writing this way. The articles are refreshing every time I come back to them, the poems always requiring a bit more work than just writing, and I've got an unreal amount of fiction to write my way through over the next year.

Would I have done it without the New Year? Possibly, I would have begun. But the social dimension of New Year provides the additional kick everyone needs when tired or busy to ensure they stick to a change in their lives.

Of course, writing isn't the only thing I'm doing. Every day, I keep note of something good that has happened, and writing them on a little piece of paper, I store them in a jar on my bedside locker. Why? Because New Year's Eve has been reserved for false bitterness for far too long, and at least this time I'll have something positive to do: 364 positive messages to look at from things that happened throughout the day.

Could I ask for anything better on New Year's Eve 2013?