I am finally finished grading my students' English papers! Despite a week of meetings before I'm completely off work, I have a chance to breathe.
The best part about the end of the term is that it gives me a moment to inhale and exhale, to actually let go of my fear and anxiety. It's a moment where I can finally accept that I've prepped as many interesting lessons, graded as thoroughly and cared as much as possible for my students.
You see, during the last few weeks of any term, I operate on a cocktail of anxiety, fear, shame, massive quantities of chocolate and, admittedly, Diet Coke (which I swore I'd given up). Every few days I have to pause and gather myself, and then I Tasmanian-devil through a few more days.
Should we be ruled by fear and shame?
Probably not. That doesn't mean many of us aren’t. Or that at least we aren't during some weeks or months or, maybe, years of our lives.
In Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things that Happened, Allie Brosh writes:
Fear and shame are the backbone of my self-control. They are my source of inspiration, my insurance against becoming entirely unacceptable. They help me do the right thing. And I am terrified of what I would be without them. Because I suspect that, left to my own devices, I would completely lose control of my life.
And that's exactly how I feel during every single finals week. I mean really, the only thing that keeps me working out and washing my hair is shame that someone will notice that I'm not. (Isn't shame what reminds us to shower and put on clothes anyway?) Anxiety and fear and shame are what keep me productive and prevent me from giving up and binging on Netflix. (Have you watched The Fall, by the way?)
I let fear and anxiety and the threat of shame rule me. This is especially true at the end of the semester when I hear the voices of my students and my bosses in my head every time I sit down to grade: “But I really tried.” “Why did you take off points here?” “I don’t understand what your comments mean.” “I wish I’d have gotten feedback faster.” “What about grade appeals?” “Why are you having so much trouble getting your grading finished?”
This is my shame; this is how I shame myself into doing my work.
And the worst thing I fear is hearing: “Your work isn’t good enough.” “You’re not a good teacher.”
While this is what drives me to not let anything get completely out of control, it doesn’t always drive me to succeed or excel or get my shit done when I should. Instead it drives me to procrastinate and then feel more fear and shame.
And yet, something always pulls me back into a healthy space. Something always reminds me that my fear and anxiety and usually shame, too, are completely unjustified. The feelings (ALL THE FEELINGS!) are based not on myself, not on my work, but on what I think other people think I should do.
Maybe it’s the knowledge that this, too, will pass or maybe it’s the people in my life that constantly remind me shame and especially fear cannot always win. This week, I think it's the student who sent that thank you email, or the one who told me I really did help her.
It's also the wonderful opportunity of a short time off where I can refocus on what's important to me. Indeed, I finished two books I've been reading all term, wrote this blog, wrote a short story for my writing group, decorated for the holidays, and spent some quality time with Dan raking leaves.
Oh, so I don't know what the take away here is: maybe that it's okay to be ruled by anxiety and fear and shame, maybe that this isn't something that just happens to us alone.
I do keep coming back to the idea that the world is scary, and we have to keep finding away to live with whatever that fear is; we should only use it to make us and the world better or braver.
"You have to learn to fathom your way through a world of which you are frightened." - Spill, Simmer, Falter, Wither