I want to talk fight or flight, that primeval instinct that kicks in when threatened in some way.
I generally flee.
I sometimes fight but when I get so overwhelmed with the stress hormone, I flee.
I’m not unusual either – it’s genetically programmed into all animals, including humans.
Zebras though don’t get ulcers.
I remember when I was first diagnosed with real stress and felt that urge to run away, disappear and never come back.
2001 it was, just after the birth of our son, James.
I felt like a zebra when a pride of lions charges towards it.
Stoke-on-Trent is hardly Africa, but I remember clearly returning from paternity leave in a maelstrom of emotions – mainly fatigue and puzzlement as to what we’d done, to be met not by congratulatory colleagues but by lions, senior management, who, unannounced, popped in en masse to observe this Head of English who was unprepared for both the lesson and the monitoring and, despite ad-libbing, clearly felt under pressure.
I tolerated a few more weeks of workplace misery and the flight mechanism kicked in.
That hurt me, because in 14 years, in tough teaching environments, my attendance and commitment was unwavering.
At the doctor’s, conveniently situated at the end of the cul-de-sac in Waterhouses, Staffordshire, I was met with sympathy, some tests and diagnosed with high blood pressure and stomach problems.
Betablockers and Zoton were prescribed with instructions to take it easy until my heart and suspected ulcers disappeared.
I never returned to work, at that school in Stoke, because rightly or wrongly, rationally or irrationally, I physically and mentally could not do it.
Now bear in mind, the year before, I’d accompanied kids and staff on the Three Peaks challenge in one of Britain’s toughest schools, The Mitchell High, and was unfazed by day to day pressures there, that this failure in an ostensibly less challenging school worried me.
This 6 foot 2 male who could tame classes by entertaining and informing was broken, permanently I thought.
I wasn’t though.
We relocated and I then spent 7 happy years teaching in and around Scunthorpe, finding my mojo and rebuilding what was a broken career in 2001.
Why did this happen?
What did I do wrong?
It was a mix of a toxic environment, an unsupportive headteacher, but mainly because my mind and body was under attack from new, challenging circumstances – becoming a dad at 36.
I didn’t seek psychological help; I didn’t become reliant on medications; I did what I thought was logical and moved back to where I came from, putting a big No Entry sign on my recent memory.
I did fly, like a zebra under attack, I did break; but it wasn’t environment that damaged me – it was something else that I’d only find out about in 2002.
That discovery saved my mental and physical health – until recent events in Norfolk, when the slide into madness began again and the recovery through self employment and writing began.
What saved me in 2002?
I’ll show and tell later.
Zebras don’t get ulcers because their brains, after an attack, returns to placidity and are not damaged.
Men on the other hand …