I came crashing through the front door and kicked my school bag against the wall.
Stomping down the hallway I yelled ‘Mum! Mum! He’s leaving! He’s leaving the school!’
She came rushing out of the kitchen, her face white with worry. As an extremely temperate teenager, tantrums were rather out of character for me.
‘What’s going on?’ she demanded.
I slumped down on the wicker couch in our sitting room and said ‘My drama teacher. He’s leaving. This is a fucking nightmare.’
And to be honest, I wasn’t being dramatic. It was a fucking nightmare. I’d spent the first half of year eleven working on my college schedule to make sure I got a university access score of over 90. I calculated the minimum score I needed for each course to achieve this. Everything was ticking along quite nicely and then my drama teacher left with six months remaining in year twelve to go. He knew his way around the ranking system and could beat a bell curve with his eyes shut. He’d tweak our grades so we all got the marks we deserved, rather than losing at least ten percent of our scores because of some rubbish algorithm in the statewide ranking protocol. I don’t envy anyone who has to create marking frameworks but the program I did my high schooling under was a joke and the only way to get through it with an accurate university score was to have teachers who knew what they were doing.
So when my biggest support left the school, I was naturally devasted. Especially as I was doing a double major in drama, a double major in English and a major in maths which was a bad combo for a decent score back in those days and should only be attempted with the help of clued in teachers.
My mum blinked at me. ‘What does this even mean?’
What it meant was he was about to be replaced by a dude who’d been teaching at a university for the last twenty years and had no idea about the importance of evenly scoring high school students. He gave everyone As and Bs, even the kids who totally phoned it in with dodgy assignments and barely rehearsed performances. This dragged down the entire average of the class and my score went from amazing to above average in the span of about four months. I still got As on every assignment I handed in, the only difference was I was now handing them to a person who didn’t know what the hell he was doing.
Needless to say, my last semester of year twelve was extremely stressful.
My life up until that point had worked on this rather excellent system of hard work resulting in a reward.
My system never failed me. If I studied for tests, I passed them. If I researched assignments and allowed plenty of time to complete them, I got excellent results. If I practised my dancing routines and consistently tried hard in class, my dance teacher would give me solos. If I didn’t try hard, good things rarely happened. Fair enough. It all made perfect sense. I loved this system until I realised it’s not actually a thing. Shit.
The fiasco of my final year of school shook me. I hadn’t realised I could work really hard, do everything right and not be rewarded for it. It started happening all the time. I liked a boy who didn’t like me back (although he totally did like me, he was just being a dick. He came crawling back two years later but I was already with Mr Smags. You snooze, you lose mofo!). I got fired from a job I was good at because my manager’s daughter wanted my shifts. My first placement as a teacher was at a high school where the pregnant principle had been stabbed by a student in the car park and was still in hospital in critical condition. A girl driving a little red Honda Civic in the rain didn’t brake in time and I ended up in a five-car pileup that wrote off my car. An inexperienced hairdresser didn’t realise that when you cut curly hair when it’s wet it dries about a foot shorter than where you cut it. I left that salon looking like Andre The Giant.
Shit happens and the only way to get through it is to be resilient. You kind of have to be because you can’t avoid things that are out of your control. It sucks but you’ve just got to put your big kid pants on and deal with it.
If you’ve been moved to a department at work that you hate, your friend is marrying a total douche bag or your kid has been transferred out of the class of the teacher they adore, here are a few ways to cope with anxiety over these things you can’t control…
1. It’s okay to totally drop your bundle.
Have a big cry, throw some things, swear a lot, drink a whole bottle of wine. Be angry, be sad, be scared and SAY that you’re feeling all those things. Go to your person – your bestie, your mum, your partner – and vent. Scream into a pillow, throw something across the room. Sometimes life is shit and it’s okay to feel those feelings. It’s also okay to drink them. #tequila
2. Write some yucky pages
Every morning I write a few positive statements to get myself geared up for the day but if my brain is full of negative thoughts, they need to leave first. About once a month, I’ll do a full yucky page to get stuff out of my head. I write down all my irrational fears, I vent about the people who are currently pissing me off and then I rip it up and throw it in the bin. This works brilliantly when you’re at the height of emotions in an out of control situation. Sit down and write your yucky pages, sit with your feelings, then bin it, take a deep breath and get ready to deal with shit.
3. Try and find the positive
It sounds cliche but there’s always a positive side to everything. When I was a special needs teacher, I had a part-time job a few days a week in a class I adored. I laughed all day with these kids, they were just divine. Halfway through the year, my school had no choice but to transfer me to a behavioural specialist class because I was the most experienced teacher available. I was devastated. But it meant I got to work with an incredibly gifted teachers assistant and it ended up being a really great year. I felt like a right tool for letting it bother me so much when I first found out.
4. Remember your perception is very different to reality
When you’re faced with something that’s out of your control like a job transfer, or your daughter marrying some guy you really don’t like, or your partner leaving you, in the moment you find out about that, your brain immediately goes into the worst case scenario and you know what? Reality is almost always better than what you imagine. We tend to catastrophize things (I know I do!) but I promise the actual reality is much more manageable. Like the teaching job I told you about, I imagined it was going to be a nightmare but it was so far from that and actually turned out to be quite a nice year. It’s the idea of the worst case scenario that has us getting ourselves in a tizzy and here’s a truth bomb that will save you. Ideas aren’t real. Focus on the reality and not the everyone-dies-in-a-fire scenario you made up in your head.
5. Kill your nostalgia
The past is done, stop looking there. I see this a lot with people who lament the changes in friendships as you get older. People say things like ‘We used to be so close, we’d hang out every weekend, now we see each other once a month.’ Wishing for things to be the way they were is the biggest waste of time. And just because you perceive things to be worse now than they were doesn’t mean they won’t get even better than they were before. When it comes to accepting things that are out of your control, the great news is that it’s compulsory. You eventually have to accept the thing, or you’ll just be miserable fighting it. Give everything time. People break up, accidentally fall pregnant, get fired and you think at the time that you can’t function ever again but then you look back in a years time and think, ‘Wow. I was being a mega drama queen.’