Last year, I started volunteering with a community services agency that leads workshops on suicide awareness, among other topics, in local high school classes. It’s something that would be really important to me, if I actually felt capable of caring about anything. It’s something I really would have enjoyed, had I not hated every minute of it.
I had agreed to do 2 presentations on the day before I left on my recent vacation. The volunteer coordinator had informed me that a new volunteer was going to be observing my first presentation as part of her volunteer training. By the time the day rolled around I had no desire whatsoever to do the presentations, but I had made a commitment, so that was that.
Just the week before I had blogged about feeling like a presentation hadn’t gone that well, so I was making a real effort to be more engaging. I actually thought I was doing not too bad up until I started trying to get the kids to participate. And that’s when things started to go downhill very, very quickly. I was asking them to brainstorm ideas for specific questions, but I’m not sure that anyone in the class was making any attempt to stay on topic. That snowballed into some students chattering among themselves while I was speaking.
Normally a teacher would stay in the room for these kind of presentations, but on this particular occasion, the teacher left for maybe 15-20 minutes shortly after I got started. In retrospect, I think this bunch of kids were probably the type that acts up when they’ve got a substitute teacher because they think they can get away with it.
I could have just felt annoyed, but it hit me much deeper than that because, as always, I had introduced myself as someone who cares about the issue of suicide prevention because I have a mental illness and am a suicide attempt survivor. The general thought process going through my mind (although not in a very coherent way) was that if they simply didn’t give a crap and couldn’t even be bothered showing basic respect, why should I bother continuing on with something that was already difficult and unpleasant for me.
That’s when the sh*t really hit the fan. A sense of revulsion began to wash over me, and all I could think was f*ck it, I’m done. I gave the kids another question to brainstorm about as an excuse for me to stop talking, and moved from my perch on a table at the front of the room to a chair tucked in behind a desk. I played on my phone, ignoring the students as they did their thing, and waited for the teacher to return. When he did, he wandered over to a group of students to ask how they were doing. He noticed me hovering behind him, and turned to face me.
As best as I can recall, I said to him “I can’t do this, this is a waste of time”. And then I picked up my stuff and I walked out. I managed to hold back the tears until I got out to my car, and fired off a terse email to the volunteer coordinator saying “Sorry, I’m done. I can’t do this anymore.” The thought of sticking around for the second presentation didn’t even cross my mind; at that point, in my mind it was not my problem.
There’s a lot of shoulds that come to mind, although they don’t really matter since they only came in hindsight. I shouldn’t have taken on so many presentations over the last few months, but at the time I thought it would be hard but doable. I shouldn’t have agreed to let a new volunteer observe my presentation, but ditto on the hard but doable. I should’ve stuck it out until the end of the presentation, or asked the teacher to take the lead and I would chime in, or at least told him I was feeling unwell. But at that moment I wasn’t thinking clearly, and all I knew was that I was absolutely, completely done; that much was crystal-clear.
I should’ve responded when the volunteer coordinator tried to call and email to ask about my erratic behaviour, but instead I didn’t even listen to her voicemail or read her emails. That’s my pattern in these kinds of situations: I hit the wall, and then run as far and as fast as I possibly can in the other direction, slamming doors shut behind me as I go.
I know this probably sounds like I’m being hard on myself, but it’s coming more from a place of trying to understand what my illness is doing to me and how I can carry on despite it. If I hit the wall, then I hit the wall, so be it. But my means of extricating myself from the situation leaves much to be desired, and that’s what I really don’t want to have a repeat performance of. I think sometimes carrying on means accepting that when it comes to certain things, right now is just not going to be the time. Hopefully the time will come at some point in the future that I will both want to and be able to take on challenges like this, but realistically now is just not that time.
That’s where radical acceptance comes in. Failure can be okay. It’s okay because if I try to fight it just for the sake of persevering, I will just be setting myself up for (more) failure, and that accomplishes nothing. Realistic expectations are going to do more for my recovery journey than setting the bar too high, and that’s why I’m going to let this go. Maybe I’ll revisit it in the future, or maybe not. But this is not the time, and I need to allow that to be okay.