“Ageing is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been” David Bowie
I found this photo of me today and I don’t know who she is. It was taken in the summer of 2017 and I was visiting my placement school as a trainee secondary school art teacher and I was about to start my PGCE in the September. I look excited about it don’t I?
I sent this photo to my best friend today because I thought it was so funny. Who was the girl in the photo? Neither of us recognised her. She thought it was hilarious too. I was wearing the kind of clothes and haircut that a child would draw if you told them to draw a teacher. My friend said I looked like a ‘School Marm’. A ‘School Marm’ with a nose-ring. We both laughed. Jackie the Oxymoron.
About two and a half years ago I experienced a sudden and very painful heartbreak. And, just like that, my life that had been ticking along quite nicely just fell apart. Crisis point hit when I went out with a very lovely friend and some other friends for Valentines Day. Just 5 months after said split. I wasn’t ready. That night, at the age of 37, I dressed up in a sequin dress and a wig and then proceeded to drink and drink until I was out of control. My lovely friend found me outside on the beach completely out of it. I fell onto her when I saw her and sobbed and sobbed. I cried for so long and so hard that I had nothing left. She took me home and put me to bed and as I drifted off to sleep, even in that state, I knew that however sad my break-up was that that crying was about a loss much bigger. I made a decision the next day something had to change. And so, I left my job and my flat and I sold everything that I owned that wouldn’t fit in the back of my very small Nissan Micra. I needed to hit the re-start button and I decided to hold it down just long enough to smash up everything I had worked towards for the last 3 years. I felt relief. I also felt emptiness but I decided to ignore that. I was going on an adventure!
Over the next year 12 months I experienced an adventure that ultimately changed my life. I lived in 2 different countries and 6 different counties. I worked on farms and in cafes. I learnt to macramé and to forage. I learnt to make vats of elderflower cordial. As a vegetarian I leant to skin, gut and fillet a rabbit (that bloody Oxymoron!). As a person who has always been afraid of birds (and mornings!) I got up at 6am to feed 100s of chickens pecking at my legs through my jeans (never again!). And I learnt that people are AMAZING. I have never felt the generosity and love of people more than during these 12 months. People found me spare rooms and jobs. They gave me stories and advice. I made friends for life with hearts of gold. They helped me to do whatever I needed to do. They supported me in the madness of my adventure. And they supported me because, ultimately, we’re all a bit mad really aren’t we?
But in all I learnt I can break it down into two main things:
1) Wherever you go we are all the same
2) The most joyous of people are always the people that are doing what they love. The captains of their own ships. Masters of their own destinies. Free.
But reality had to hit some day and it did. And at 39 I ended up back at home with Mum with my tail between my legs. The last place I had stayed had been with my best friend. She had mentioned teaching. I should give it a go. When I got to Mum’s it seemed the baton had been passed. It seemed it had been decided. Jackie should be a teacher. I saw a poster advertising a course and took it as a sign. And so, I applied to do a PGCE in secondary school art. Me an Art Teacher? I had imposter syndrome at the thought but it also made me smile. I got in. And the next chapter began.
And so, the girl in the photo was born. The girl that went shopping for ‘teaching clothes’ (albeit at car-boots and charity shops!). The girl that bought stationery and dividers. The girl that wasn’t a morning person that got up every morning at 5.30am. The girl that could no longer dye her hair the colour she chose (her own hair!). The girl that took out her nose-ring every morning and hid her tattoo (of an anchor on my wrist that I now just see as a massively sub-conscious last act of defiance at the end of the summer before I started my PGCE!). The girl that didn’t like rules spending every day following and enforcing them. I guess she wasn’t born so much as super-sized. I had been doing this my whole life. Acting out the battle we all face – sensible Jackie versus free Jackie. Jackie the Oxymoron.
I got through the PGCE fine. I nearly left, like all PGCE students do, but I stuck it out. It was hard but I learnt a lot of lessons and shook off a few demons. I tackled my biggest fear for as long as I can remember – public speaking. I faced it head on. And won. I felt amazing at the end of that summer. I had a permanent job to start in September and moved to my new home Southsea which I immediately loved (and still do!). I spent one of the happiest summers of my life hanging with friends, going to festivals, going on trips. I was floating. Until one day someone innocently asked me ‘So, are you excited about starting your job in September?” and I realised I wasn’t. At all. The seeds were sown.
And so last September I started some of the darkest months of my life. In every way. I would rise in the dark and go to bed in the dark. For the hours in between I would spin plates, none of them mine, purely on adrenaline. I was wired from the moment I woke to the moment I passed out. I lost my weekends and my evenings. But most importantly I lost me. Jackie wasn’t even an oxy-moron anymore. She was gone. It was during one of these months on a school trip that I encouraged a bunch of 11 year olds to think about what they really love and focus on it. Do that with their life! ‘So do you really love teaching then, Miss?’. Shit, they were on to me. And a penny dropped. Teaching is one of the hardest jobs you can do. I know that now. It takes over your life. It’s a vocation. There are some AMAZING teachers out there and I respect them massively. But I couldn’t do it. Not in that environment anyway. And it was affecting my mental health. Badly.
And so, through the help of Cognitive Hypnotherapy I made one of the most difficult decisions of my life. It sounds dramatic but it’s true (and I guess I am lucky it is so). I handed in my notice to the school I had been taking my NQT year with in Dec 2018. 6 – 8 weeks of agonizing ruminating came to an end and I walked. Off a cliff. In to the unknown. Again. But this time I chose to jump. And when. And this time if someone asks me ‘Are you excited about the next chapter of your life?’ I can say yes. I finally accepted that the dream of the teacher job, the flat, the traditional family was not my dream. And I put it down and let it go. And that feels like freedom. Freedom from expectation. That of myself and lots of people I love and respect. It feels like freedom because, ultimately, that is true self-acceptance. To let go of all that and be ok with it? Is to know I’m ok. I don’t need to be a ‘teacher’ with a ‘nice flat’ and a ‘traditional family’ to be ok. I’m ok anyway. And maybe I just wasn’t very good at all of it? To admit you’re not good at something is to admit you’re good enough. How hard I have found this in the past. Striving to be good at everything. Even if in that very striving I lose the power and life that made me ‘good’ in the first place. To fit in everywhere. Even if I have to bend and shape myself all out of recognition to succeed. By the very reasoning behind this difficult choice I defined who I really am. I stepped up. I also realise that everything happens for a reason. Maybe I finally needed to really face down the life inauthentic Jackie would choose, really live it and look at it in the mirror every morning, to finally let it go.
I now embark on a year that I have mapped out to pursue what I really love by being what I really am. I plan to sing and make and WRITE! And finally, as I realise what a huge part of my journey grief has been I plan to train as a grief counsellor and art therapist. The untimely death of my much loved Dad nearly 13 years is still writ large on my personal life canvas. I still miss him so much to this day and those tears I cried were as much, if not more, for the loss of my dad as for the loss of my ex-partner. I now understand that any loss and grief makes sure you revisit past loss and grief too (cheers grief!). But, ultimately, they were for the loss of authentic Jackie. Being exactly who she wants to be. I was heading for 40 and running out of time. So, from now on in the year I turn 41 I’ll still bring Sensible (and necessary!) Jackie along for the ride (I will continue to supply teach to keep the wolf from the door) but Free (Naughty Child Spirit) Jackie is finally allowed to drive (God, help us all).
I haven’t given up on it teaching and see supply work as an ideal opportunity to explore all the different approaches and alternatives. But on my terms. I still remember why I wanted to teach. I wanted to teach from the heart. My heart. I wanted to be true to myself. I wanted to teach freedom. Cognitive freedom that is. Freedom from expectation and compliance. And whether we know it or not we are all capable of teaching that. I hope to bring my new-found skills in therapy and grief counselling to young people, and anyone who needs it really! And, anyway, isn’t the best way to teach freedom (or anything for that matter) to live it? To embody it. I’m enough. And so are you. Admit what you’re good at. And what you’re not. What you love and what you don’t. You know. You just need to sit still enough for long enough to listen. And who knows who you may inspire to follow. That’s teaching…
Happy New Year and big love from Jackie The (no longer oxy) Moron x