Morning Pages: Gasping for air

I have for over a year now written in the morning. A consciousness-style of writing, called Morning Pages, where there is no right or wrong way to do it. I thought I would share a morning page from the week just gone with you:

I awoke yesterday morning from a haze of forgotten dreams, or possibly nightmares gasping for air. My chest was tight, I was struggling for breath. It felt like an elephant had decided that my chest would make for a perfectly acceptable armchair. For once I was thankful for the frightful robotic call of the alarm clock which usually pulls me kicking and fighting from my slumber. On this occasion I felt it had saved me from drowning in my own bed. As I lay there in the fading warmth of my duvet, rubbing my chest, my thoughts turned to why I would awake in this manner. I was anxious, but why? Had I forgotten to respond to a request from a member of SLT? Had I raised my voice at a pupil because of their constant lack of effort and ineptitude and now faced the wrath of one or both of their parents? Had I missed deadlines for risk assessments, Performance Management Reviews or failed to complete one of the many online courses on asthma or epilepsy or epipens or diagnosing mental illness or British Values or the Prevent agenda… chest started to ache even more at the thought of it. Panic rising like the time I was trapped one time I went potholing in my youth and thought I would never reemerge from the cave to daylight again.

Slowly struggling out of bed, I went in search for caffeine, my saviour. Sitting at the dining room table, I sipped on the elixir that I hoped would cure my ails. I had my laptop open and I was searching through my emails and responding to them in order of priority. This scene was mirrored by my partner who sat across from me. We sat there, with the sounds of buttons being pressed and the sipping of hot drinks, as our morning sound track. The wall is building back up again. I made a mental note to do something about that whilst in the shower, but my thoughts quickly turned to the day ahead and my lessons. I needed to finish a resource for monitoring heart rates when I got in. On the train journey in I thought about my religious study lesson on euthanasia and whether I had balanced the lesson with enough writing and time for class debate. As I walked through the grey monotone railway station, already filled with commuters, my thoughts turned to my swimming lesson and the two boys who were non swimmers in my class. I knew they were afraid of the water. How can I help develop their confidence whilst maintaining the safety and the learning of the 30 other pupils? 

The day was grey and the rain poured down. I wondered if this was adding to the tightness in my chest. Perhaps, but I knew deep down it was more psychological than it was physiological. I just hadn’t figured out why. It made the walk into walk difficult and by the time I arrived at school I was once again struggling for breath and dripping with perspiration. Like I had just completed a marathon, rather than a leisurely 15 minute walk. The elephant was still there. Straight on the computer I finished my resource and printed it off. It took longer than I thought as I was constantly disturbed by my colleagues. ‘Someone in your tutor group didn’t complete their maths homework.’ ‘One of your tutor group drew a penis in another pupils planner’. ‘I’m afraid you can’t have so and so for your cup match as we have controlled assessments then.’ Taking note of each issue in turn, I could see my break time slowly melting away. My chest tightened a little more.

My morning flashed by in a blur of circuit training, training principles, water confidence, and floats. I can’t even remember what I said or did in those lessons other than I found it hard to breathe. At break time I tried to deal with the issues that had prevented themselves in the morning, along with others from the previous days I had just not found time for. I still hadn’t rectified them when the bell sounded for the next lesson. I arrived late and flustered, pupils expectantly waiting for a lesson to inspire and motivate. I duly failed in that supposedly simple task and remember thinking how shit this is during my actual teaching. The tightness on my chest grew and I felt myself losing patience with my pupils, even thought the fault was with myself. It took every fibre of my being and the small reservoirs of energy I had left to remain patient, supportive and encouraging. By the end of the lesson I was utterly drained. Desperately in need of five minutes of solitude, I tried to find a quiet place for myself, but pupils don’t have any time for that. As the rain was still coming down, they wanted to be inside and play some table tennis. I duly obliged, only half eating my sandwich, whilst directing them in putting up tables and organising the the rotations for the multitudes that had appeared from nowhere.

The last lesson of the day was as poor as the first three. As soon as it ended I packed the rugby kit, herded my U16 rugby team and got on the bus for a fixture. A journey of 45 minutes should of allowed me time to myself, but I sought out my back three. We sat on the back row of the bus together, looking at my clipboard, where we drew the outline of the rugby pitch and talked defensive positioning and options for counter attacking. Something that they had told me they were unsure about. Straight off the bus, change, warm-up and kick off. I stand behind the posts we are defending and I watch their patterns of play. The back three perform well. I remain silent during the game. I brought the water on. I brought the kicking tee on. We lose but perform well. Change and back on the bus, I sit at the front by myself, hoping for some time alone. My peace is quickly disturbed. My captain comes and sits next to me. We spend the journey home talking about his personal problems that revolve around his mother and his girlfriend. Solutions are never simple as a teenage boy, so I try to listen rather than talk.

After ensuring all the pupils are picked up and safe and kit unpacked and stored I start the journey home. The rain is still failing, I put some music on, pull my hood up and my thoughts naturally turn to my lessons. Reflecting on what I delivered today and whether tomorrow I could make them a little better. I make some notes on what I need to do when I get in to be more prepared, but I know I won’t be able to complete them all. The elephant is still there and trying to find a comfortable position. I arrived at the same time as my partner. We ask about each others day, our conversations are both about school and teaching. Her story sounds the same as mine. I warm-up some soup and we retreated to the dining room table with our laptops open again. Our evening soundtrack is buttons being pressed and the slurps of soup. If and when we do speak to each other it is always work related. I go through the emails that were sent during the rugby fixture and are still being sent. It gets to the point that neither of us can keep our eyes open, but the list of jobs needed to be done for tomorrow are not done. We get ready for bed, I sit on the bath and she sits on my lap. We hug each other whilst we both brush our teeth. This is the closest I’ve got to replenishing my energy all day. I savour the moment. We hold each other in bed, silently, and I can still feel the tightness of my chest. It hasn’t gone. I sleep poorly and get up early to write. As I do, it slowly dawns on me what the problem is. I’m not sure I can do what I did yesterday and the previous yesterdays, where all my actions and thoughts are solely about my job, everyday for the rest of my life.

The act of writing in the morning has not solved any of my problems, which through rereading, are of my own making. However the self reflection and introspection did assist me in removing the weight and anxiety from my chest. Trying to find the time to do this regularly is difficult at times, but I feel the benefits are tangible. Pliny the Elder, a Roman author, stated that ‘each man is a good education to himself, provided he has the capacity to spy on himself close up.’ Life during term time is demanding and relentless for all in the profession, we must where possible try to make times for ourselves and our families and not feel so guilty about doing that. I would recommend Morning Pages, along with exercise, to all those who chests are tight at the moment and haven’t found a solution in shifting the elephant off it.


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