My Struggle with Insomnia, Depression, and Anxiety (And My Solution)

Since I went to rehab for depression, anxiety, and prescription drug dependency in 2014, I believe I’ve done a decent job of managing my propensities.

I joined a boxing gym, went to counseling, got completely clean from the pills, began teaching effectively again, and fully repaired the damage I had caused to my family.

For the last few years, my life has been good, but for the last few months, my life has been hell. I have experienced a resurgence of depression and anxiety, perpetuated by a new challenge-insomnia.

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I’ll get in bed, toss and turn for a few hours, fall asleep around midnight, then wake up between 2 and 3 am, unable to fall back asleep. For 5 to 6 nights every week, this is my night. And then it’s zombie mode throughout my days. I feel like it’s Hell Week rushing for my old college fraternity, except now it’s Hell Months.

This has been extremely frustrating because I’m doing all the right things now.

  • I exercise
  • I eat healthy
  • I work hard at school
  • I take care of my kids
  • I support my wife in her career
  • I’m not doing drugs
  • I’m not drinking alcohol

I’m way more physically stable than I was 5 years ago, and yet, emotionally, I’m right back in the same place I was in when I checked into rehab.

I’m working with my PCP, a sleep doctor, and I’ve even read several books and research studies about sleep. Based on this research, I’ve been following a sleep checklist that would probably help most normal people sleep better. I get out of bed each morning, and from the moment my feet hit the floor until the moment I return to bed, I’m doing things that are supposed to bring about a good night’s sleep. It hasn’t helped. The harder I’ve tried to fix this, the worse it’s gotten. This is my conundrum and I can’t run from it any longer, so I’ve just had to accept it. All of it-the insomnia, depression, and anxiety.

the wisdom of no escape

There’s a story I recently read in The Wisdom of No Escape that has helped me through these hard days.

tiger-2320819_1280It’s about a woman in a field, who happens to be spotted and chased by a pack of tigers (This is not a story about the Alabama and Clemson College Football National Championship Game😂).

She runs and she runs, but the tigers still get closer. She eventually reaches the edge of a cliff and notices a few vines there. She climbs down and holds onto one.

Whew! She’s safe for now.

But then she looks down, and there are more tigers below her! Even worse, she looks back up and there is now a tiny mouse, gnawing away at the vine she’s clinging to.

In desperation, she looks to her left, and she notices a bunch of strawberries that have grown out of the grass above.

She looks up-tigers above her. She looks down-tigers below. She looks to her left, she grabs a strawberry. She eats it and enjoys it thoroughly.

This resonates because this is my story. I can see the tigers above, snarling at me. I can see them below, salivating and just waiting for me to fall, just like they were 4 years ago, but my solution has changed-it’s not more pills. It’s not suicide. It’s not running any longer. It’s simply staying in the moment, staying in the breath, accepting my suffering as reality, but also seeing this strawberry here in front of me. Choosing to smile in my struggle. Counting my blessings in my pain.

imagesThis clarity, this peace, has come to me, only through prayer and meditation. Talking with God and using Headspace off and on throughout each day, has changed my perception of suffering and life.

And while I love this story, I would actually like to add an alternative ending to it-

After eating one of the strawberries on her left, the woman looks to her right and notices several others in the same predicament-men and women, boys and girls-holding on to their own vines for dear life.

She reaches back over to the strawberries, picks a few more, and begins to pass them down the line.

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I’ve been trying not to be so wrapped up in my own pain that I can’t see others who are suffering, too-from addiction, stress, fear, cancer, body-shame, inadequacy, and divorce.

I want to help them stay in the breath and enjoy what they have within this moment. That’s why I’m writing this post. That’s why I’m giving out a lot of hugs lately. That’s why I’m playing basketball with my son and barbies with my daughter. That’s why I’m doing laundry for my wife. That’s why I’m holding the door for strangers, tipping my servers 30% at restaurants, and complimenting my students at my school.

This moment is painful, but also my moment to teach, share, and love. I’m not the only one who could use a strawberry right now.

In closing, please remember my friend, that the past has already passed. The future may never come. All we are guaranteed is this breath, this moment, and no matter how fucked up our situation is, we need to simply eat the strawberry and savor each bite.

A Warning Message to Principals and Superintendents-Before You Plan Your Next School Year

The year was 1986.

It was, surprisingly, a cold day in Florida at the Kennedy Space Center.

Adults and children from all over the country were on the edge of their seats for what they were about to witness: Christa McAuliffe becoming the 1st teacher to enter outer space, along with 6 other astronauts from NASA.

The countdown ensued-”T minus 10.9.8.7.6. We have main engines start. 4.3.2.1. And Lift off. Lift off of the 25th space shuttle mission!”

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The History Channel

The ground shook as the spaceship separated from its base. The nearby crowd erupted in cheers and applause.

73 seconds later, those cheers turned to screams.

The rocket boosters veered off to the left and right. Then, a giant explosion and ball of fire in the middle. Debris began to fall through the sky as a nightmare became a reality. The Challenger had exploded and all 7 astronauts were dead.

Why did the Challenger turn into a disaster? It was the O ring in the right rocket booster.

challenger-SRBs
clearthinking.co

Because of the low 53 degree temperature, there was a break in the ring. It let out pressurized burning gas into some of the hardware and external fuel tank.

In essence, fire spread and the result was catastrophic.

 

A LEADERSHIP LESSON FOR PRINCIPALS AND SUPERINTENDENTS

If you are a school or district leader, a big part of your summer is visioneering and prepping for the upcoming school year-hiring, budgeting, scheduling, and mission statements.

This year, I encourage you to plan with the Challenger Disaster in mind. There is a lesson in leadership to be learned from this tragedy:

You can’t reach a big goal if your staff isn’t built to withstand the conditions.

NASA and the spaceship were not prepared for the change in weather. Similarly, there may be many teachers in your school who are very passionate, but not fully equipped for the education climate ahead of them. Many of us start each school year with big dreams to reach the stars and we end up in flames a few weeks after blast off. It’s been estimated that up to 50% of us quit within the 1st five years of teaching.

Think about the fiscal cost of consistent career casualties-the cycle of recruiting, hiring, and retraining teachers.

Burnout is expensive, time-consuming, and debilitating for school leaders and the overall goals in education.

So how can an administrator create a more survivable and sustainable working environment?

A CONTROLLED BURN

For the Challenger, the problem was caused by an uncontrollable fire that spread and consumed it.

In a school setting, if you want your spaceship to make it to the stars, it’s going to be because of your teachers. You have to help contain burnout. 

So that’s the solution to the problem of teacher burnout-a controlled burn.

I truly believe we should begin looking at teacher development more expansively. There are a lot of PD’s out there to help teachers become better teachers, but none that help teachers live better lives. We should care as much about the wellbeing of teachers as we do students, because the two are intertwined.

As school leaders, you can help teachers set boundaries this school year so that they can continue to soar with kids. This can be done by helping them pursue effectiveness and happiness in every domain of their life, not just in teaching. There are 4 domains in all:

  1. Social happiness, when you have a network of connections that includes your spouse, children, friends, fellow teachers, boss, and students.
  2. Career happiness, when school is meaningful and enjoyable. You feel like you are using your gifts to serve others and contribute to a cause bigger than yourself.
  3. Physical and emotional happiness, when you are getting enough food, sleep, exercise, and time for thought.
  4. Financial happiness, when you can provide for yourself and your family. You have a positive mindset about money, and you are smart about spending, saving, and investing.

HOW THE BALANCED TEACHER PATH BOOK AND PD CAN HELP

IMG_0904I recently released my 1st book, The Balanced Teacher Path, with Free Spirit. It’s been featured nationally in Education Week and in The Miami Herald.

This is a deeply personal book, where I confess my own battle with burnout, depression, anxiety, and a prescription drug addiction, which ultimately landed me in rehab at the end of the 2014 school year after serving as the North Carolina History Teacher of the Year in 2013.

The meat of the book gives practical strategies I learned from recovery and research that could help any teacher. A few of the current favorites teach readers how to…

  • avoid vampire teacher attacks
  • be Wonder Woman and not Superman
  • swallow feedback from the principal
  • take family field trips
  • deal with discipline issues quietly
  • find your teacher flow
  • reclaim your recess
  • survive the zombie teacher apocalypse
  • set up a ‘step below’ budget plan

Screen Shot 2017-06-30 at 2.20.50 PMI’m getting testimonies from teachers and administrators across the country who calling it an all-time favorite and using it as a spark for life change. It’s restoring health, marriages, finances, and improving teacher effectiveness. It’s keeping teachers in the classroom with a smile, and happy teachers make happy students.

If you are interested in purchasing The Balanced Teacher Path, it’s available at Barnes and Noble and on Amazon. My publisher is running a discount on bulk purchases if you want a copy for every teacher at your school or in your school district.

Message me on Facebook if you’re interested or email me at justinfashley@gmail.com. I’m available for trainings, too. You can shoot me an email or go to justinfashley.com for more info.

DISCOVERY, NOT THE CHALLENGER

Christa-Mcauliffe
arabamerica.com

Once Christa McAuliffe made it into orbit, she was planning on using videos to teach students about outer space, from space. Tragically, she never got the opportunity.

Looking back, there may have been some teacher casualties under your leadership, some school years that were disastrous and out of control for you and your staff. You had several teachers quit or transfer. Your proficiency or growth scores dropped dramatically. The achievement gap widened. Discipline issues skyrocketed, etc. etc.

Whatever the failures were in past missions, if you help your teachers with work/life balance now, you can give them better odds to withstand adversarial conditions and carry out the school vision in the future.

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NY Daily News

Almost 3 years after the Challenger exploded, the Discovery Space Shuttle was launched from the same site in Florida.

As it neared the point in the sky where the Challenger took a turn for the worse, I imagined the astronauts and NASA staff flash backed to that devastating day in 1986, fearing they would fail again, but the spaceship kept soaring. It kept climbing higher and higher, all the way to space.

 

Why? For starters, the weather was warmer. Also, technological adjustments had been made. Lessons had been learned and applied. Essentially, they were now built for the conditions they faced.

As the school leader, you are at the helm. You are in charge of the controls. Teachers are on your spaceship. There’s students, too.

My hope is that your upcoming school year will be your Discovery, and not your Challenger.