Let’s see, how to summarize the past 3 months of blog silence?
School life: an easy downhill slide to the end of the year filled with English pop song games and fun trivia quizzes containing such categories as “guess the celebrity from their baby picture” and “which of these countries has the larger population?” Students: generally cooperative and respectful. Personal life: simply put, unexpectedly stressful and emotionally draining.
Two days of half-successful, half-disastrous English camp. Then mind-numbing deskwarming (especially mind-numbing since I’ve already planned a lot of lessons for the coming school year), cleaning and organizing my living space, and a “staycation” in which I avoided the bitter cold and the terrible air pollution by remaining indoors. (In Korean, the pun is “Where did you go on vacation?” – “방꼭”, which sounds very similar to “Bangkok” (방콕) but means “I just stayed in my room”.)
Sounds like an introvert’s paradise, right?
It turns out that this is not a very restful activity. At least, not for the anxiety-prone. Even the anxiety-prone introverts of the world.
Or maybe it’s just this anxiety-prone introvert.
Anyway, with all of my productive activities taken care of and no travel plans, I spent a week ‘staycationing’ with mostly just my own thoughts. Even though I thought I was relaxing – sleeping in, reading, watching Netflix, etc. – it turns out I was also developing a massive internal stress factory, deep within my consciousness. Each morning of sleeping in prompted later and later nights of sleeplessness, racing thoughts, old anxieties resurfacing and new ones cropping up out of nowhere – for no apparent reason other than that I was too well-rested, aimless, and un-busy to relax.
It seems I had way too much free time, and in the vast emptiness of it I unwittingly allowed anxiety to take over my mind and my body (which, thanks to my disposition, it is wont to do anyway, but under normal circumstances I don’t feed it and it remains small, weak, and manageable).
Admittedly, the anxiety might have also been pent up during the previous stressful month, just waiting to burst through the surface when I no longer had to be “on.”
By the end of the week, I started noticing tightness and some pain in my chest. By the end of the following week, it got so bad that I went to the Korean ER fearing a heart issue (which was quite the experience by itself*). (Also, this is the constant conundrum of the hypochondriac: go to the hospital and look like an idiot for being worked up over mild symptoms, or don’t go and die of a serious disease??? In this case I decided I didn’t want to take any risks.)
After 4 hours in the ER, a blood test, a chest x-ray, no less than three ECGs (at first they thought they spotted an indication of angina which needless to say was not very reassuring), and a consultation with the hospital’s heart specialist, the doctor concluded that everything looked normal and the most likely cause was stress. (Story of my life. Literally.)
*In short, the Korean healthcare system = extraordinarily cheap, but also extraordinarily overcrowded and unhygienic, striking extreme distress and disgust into my hypochondriac / microphobic soul.
The first week of February marks the start and end of the “3rd semester” (trimester?) in the Korean school year, culminating in the 3rd graders’ middle school graduation ceremony on the 5th day.
My symptoms improved while I was back to teaching, further indicating stress as the underlying cause and that the distraction of work kept my anxiety at bay – which is both a relief and a concern. Exactly who does my brain think it is, exercising so much un-/subconscious power over my body?!? Obviously my conscious mind did not request a simulated heart attack. My symptoms are real and yet not “real” at the same time.** It’s a frustrating cycle in which anxiety creates symptoms which creates more anxiety in response to the perceived health threat, leading to even more exaggerated physical symptoms and even more crippling anxiety and hypersensitivity to the slightest bodily sensations… and on and on. Self-imposed torture. Very difficult to control and not spiral.
**But I’m still not willing to 100% commit to saying that it’s not a serious health issue, because, my anxious mind whispers with an unsettling little nudge, you just never know. (my superstitious mind knocks on wood) (my rational mind rolls its eyes and attempts to speak logically but is immediately drowned out by the much louder voice of irrational fear) (I am much sounder of mind than I’m making myself out to be, I assure you) (really though, shouldn’t I just hire a personal doctor to follow me around and check my vitals all the time? wouldn’t that be easier? makes total sense, right?)
Last year in March, I asked my 2nd and 3rd graders to make “time capsules” – to write down all of their favorite things, their hobbies, their best friends, and to write a short letter to themselves. For the whole year, I kept their carefully-folded time capsules, labeled by class and student number, in a box on my desk.
This week, almost exactly 1 year later, I asked them to answer the same questions and write briefly about what they did or accomplished last year, and then handed out their time capsules. I was tickled to see that a lot of them were excited to get them back and immensely amused at the comparison of their opinions then and now. Most of them had forgotten all about it too, so it was a fun surprise.
Sometimes simple is best
We also played what I called an “alphabet challenge game” – which I thought they would think lame (especially because NO ONE cares what happens during this week and a lot of the other teachers just show movies and let chaos reign supreme), but they actually loved it. I give them a letter, and their team has 30 seconds to write as many words as possible starting with that letter. Spelling mistakes are allowed, but not abbreviations or Korean words written in English. 1 point per word.
After a few rounds I make them stick to a particular category as well, like food, animals, or countries. Then I tell them to only choose ONE word in that category and starting with that letter, but it has to be different from all the other teams or they don’t get a point (like Scattergories). They loved this. Which, as a teacher, is like…
A happy farewell…
I was particularly thrilled that my 3rd grade students (15-16 years old) were, overall, really wonderfully behaved this year right to the very end. My previous experience with middle school 3rd graders has been at times traumatic, struggling with apathy and disrespect at the end of the year to the point that even my “good” or “favorite” classes left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. But this year my kids were truly SO good, sweet, and cheerful, and I will remember them fondly as the first set of kids I taught for the entirety of their middle school life, from 1st year through graduation.
…and a second attempt at relaxation
The graduation ceremony was yesterday, and today I’m back to deskwarming. Next Thursday is the Lunar New Year holiday, after which I’ll have one final week of staycation before the 2018 school year begins. This time I’ll hopefully give myself enough to do to keep the ever-creeping anxiety at bay and avoid any more ER trips. (But also, hopefully I don’t contract any life-threatening illnesses.)
Perhaps my fellow anxiety-filled humans can relate.
And for those who are most definitely not hypochondriacs, right now you’re probably like:
I know. Trust me, I know.
Disclaimer: As I have mentioned before, my hypochondria is real (although self-diagnosed… is that ironic?) but typically not strong enough to interfere with my daily functioning. My attempts at humor surrounding my anxiety are not intended to trivialize mental or physical illness. If illness anxiety disorder, or any form of anxiety or mental health concern, does interfere with one’s ability to work, interact socially, or generally enjoy life, it is best treated by a professional.