It starts at 6 am. Maybe 6:30 if I have all my ducks in a row. I creep out of bed by the light of my cell phone. Quick shower, brush teeth, apply half of my makeup, get dressed; all movements mechanical, the small voice in the back of my head never ceasing to remind me of the warm blankets and comforting darkness I just ripped myself from. Around 7, I’m fumbling to add a snack to my bag and fill my water bottle, mindful of the time but dreading leaving.
7:10. Scarf, coat, hat. Then with the creaking of the building’s front door, any traces of drowsiness are slapped from me by the unforgiving morning air that rushes to meet me head-on. I flit down my still dark, deserted street and head for the metro. Most mornings, I wait only a minute or two before the next train pulls in to take me one stop to the bus station. A short wait and I’m tapping on with my outrageously expensive transit card (€99 a month to be exact) and hoping to get my seat right in front of the side exit. This magic spot allows me to recline my seat fully, guilt-free, for the duration of the hour and fifteen minute ride. I close my eyes, play an album on Spotify (the likes of Bon Iver, Lucy Rose, Gregory Alan Isakov, Iron & Wine), and fall into a semi-waking trance.
By 8:55 am I’m walking into the teacher’s lounge. I have a half hour before my first class and I spend this time applying the mascara I left neglected at home, eating a small breakfast of yogurt and chocolate soy milk, and looking over the lessons/activities I have prepared for the day. Once the 9:25 bell rings, I head off to class. From there, my schedule varies Monday through Thursday.
The first week was definitely a shock. It wasn’t just the early mornings and lack of sleep from a dysfunctional sleep schedule. More startling was the behavior in many of the classes. The kids were loud, disobedient, and at times just downright disrespectful. I’ve done the auxiliar thing before and I know that the students are aware of our role and the powers we don’t have. But outside of talking over me and ignoring my “about me” presentation, they also disregarded the admonishments of the actual teachers. I asked a few of them after class how they managed. An exasperated look and tired smile were common responses.
Texting with my mom after the first day, I expressed concern for how I was going to deal with this the rest of the school year. Being a veteran teacher of both high school and primary school-aged children, she assured me it was just an initial power play by the kids. They wanted to show off, try to show me who was boss. I just needed to be firm and confident and it would settle down.
Not surprisingly, she was right. By the third week, which was this past week, they started to feel more comfortable with asking me questions. The majority listened to my instructions and did their work. Some of the kids who I thought were just straight up assholes turned out to be nice if only a little too boisterous. I’m quick with praise after a job well-done and they respond positively to that. Overall, things felt less awkward and formal. Happily, a moment I was hoping for finally came: a small group I took for 35 minutes on Wednesday was actually FUN. I got them all talking and laughing — I felt like I was making a positive impact on their language learning.
Despite those hiccups, my coworkers are great — I work with over 10 different teachers and there’s not a bad one in the bunch. On Mondays I run a conversation class for the teachers during break and this coming Wednesday I’m geared up to begin an English club for the upper-level students. But while my work schedule is starting to fall into place, I’m still struggling with my after-school hours.
Sudden and excruciating insomnia has dropped on me like a cartoon-sized anvil. The past three weeks I’ve averaged around 4 hours of sleep a night and it has been taking its toll. I’m sure choosing to live by J’s service industry schedule since August hasn’t helped, and our heavy, dragging front door doesn’t make his late night arrivals any easier should I happen to fall asleep before he gets home. Above all though, I feel like my anxiety has caused me to develop a mental block against sleep. I know I need to sleep, I’m anxious that I’m not sleeping, but when I lay down and put my ear plugs in, it’s like I completely lock up. No matter how tired I felt hours before, I’m suddenly wide awake. This of course causes me to become more anxious and the cycle continues.
I’m going to need to establish some sleep rituals which encompass relaxation and possibly meditation. I’ve never had this much trouble going to bed (and for such an extended period of time) and it makes me worried. I’m telling myself it’s early days and things will calm down soon but I also know how much lack of sleep has affected my mood and mental health. I’ve wanted to start dance classes, try to restart Spanish classes, join a writers’ group; but I’ve put all of that off to be realistic about this sleep-deprived elephant in the room.
I suppose it’s all a process and the photo develops bit by bit over time. It won’t be long before it’s December and I have time to recharge again over the Christmas break. If anything, things like this remind me how important it is to take care of yourself and listen to your body. Good health is a total package and all of it is so intricately connected; let one part get unbalanced and the others suffer as well. It seems like it’s time for me to give the balancing act another go.