Sunday, January 20, 2013

I Hide My Disability

I’m not interested in being politically correct. I don’t think we should treat people differently, I think we should treat each other with respect and dignity. I see no respect or dignity in labels. Having written that I am immediately going to do the exact opposite and label myself. (I doubt I have to worry about offending myself anyway.)
I have a problem that causes me a lot of grief. It makes being a professional educator difficult. It has caused me to lose sleep, become very anxious, even decline to do things that would be beneficial for me and others simply because of the stress it causes. To sum it up, it isn’t any fun at all.
My problem is social anxiety. I haven’t been diagnosed by a doctor, but I know the effects. As a child I was very, very uncomfortable in new situations. The problem was so bad that I ran away from kindergarten every day for the first week of school. Of course there was no diagnosis, no trips to a counselor’s office, just my grandfather picking me up and taking me back. I had to “tough it out”.
If I am in a new situation, especially meeting new people, I can be very quiet. I even developed a coping mechanism, yawning. I don’t know where it came from or why I do it, but if you see me in social situation yawning I am not bored, I am anxious. Obviously this habit does not endear me to others.
I find it very difficult to be in new places. I often find it difficult to go to places I am familiar with by myself. I have been known to pass up gas stations hoping I have enough to get me home because I can’t stop at a station that I have used many times.
My wife, Dianna has been very helpful. She for all intents and purposes becomes my coach exhorting me to go beyond my comfort zone. Without her prodding there is no way I would have presented at METC this year. There is no way I would have attended ISTE in San Antonio a few years ago if she hadn’t gone with me or EdCampKC for that matter. Sometimes she is just understanding enough to let me be and not get upset that I can’t return that item to Wal Mart because I am just too anxious right then.
What accommodations have I made for myself so that I can be successful? I try to always have someone I know with me. I try to arrive at new places early so I can become familiar with them before the added stress of the event that is taking place. I carry something with me like a book or hand held game so that I can retreat into a comfortable situation. I decline to do a lot of things that I later regret. I talk to people online.
I have discovered that the social issues I have in the face to face world go away when I am typing on a keyboard. I can have conversations with people I would never be able to even say “Hello” to in person. I have even found that by having these conversations online I can transfer that confidence to face to face meetings.
How many students have a “hidden” disability? Students can often go for years hiding illiteracy, how much easier is it to hide something even less obvious than that? What are you doing in your classroom for kids like me that some days are barely hanging on until they can get back home where they can relax? Have you actively sought out the quiet kids or the ones that don’t seem to make friends and spend a few minutes with them? If you go out of your way to make them more comfortable, they will be more successful in your classroom.

1 comment:

  1. Hello, I found your post through your comment on the "Nerdy" teacher's post. I too have social anxiety and extreme introversion. It's very misunderstood. Mine includes needed to be by myself to recharge, which is difficult when teaching 150 students per day. I can relate to not being able to do "just one more thing" like stopping for gas or taking something back to Walmart. I think the world needs a few teachers like us who design activities that don't always include lots of group work and constant talking. Maybe just having us as a role model is enough.