Monday, August 18, 2014

Get Your Freak-Out On (In Five Steps)

Tomorrow is the first day of the new school year.

It is past 10 p.m. on the eve of the first day of the new school year, and I can finally say that without feeling like I'm going to throw up.

Believe me, it was touch and go there this afternoon. I wasn't sure if I wanted to burst into tears, throw up, or slink out of the high school and run away to New York City where I would beat the odds and become a best selling novelist with a house in the Hamptons and eventually meet, charm, and marry Billy Joel... or become a bag lady and live out the rest of my days in obscurity and filth with only my 50 cats to keep me company.

Not that I gave it much thought.

In between reaching for the tissues and the Tums and wondering how I would feed all those cats, I kept chipping away at the mountain of work I faced trying to figure out what in the heck I was going to do to keep my students occupied for one day – let alone an entire semester– and how I was ever going to make plans to cover all the topics included in the course descriptions for the classes I will be teaching – starting tomorrow.

And make plans to take courses myself to obtain my teaching certification in Family and Consumer Science.

Because as it turns out? English and Communications are not that much like Family and Consumer Science.

Did Not see that coming.

After sitting in the small, windowless teachers' lounge (which is actually quite nice as far as teachers' lounges go, and cozy) for an hour and printing off enough internet-shared lesson plans to deforest a small equatorial country, a strange sense of calm started to settle in. At last I was able to return to my cavernous classroom (actually quite nice as far as FCS rooms go, but wide open and arctic-cold) to finish up my plans for tomorrow (the first day of the new school year) with a hint of how I could touch on the topics included in the course descriptions for the classes I will be teaching this semester.

It was at this point that I realized I had reached the Fifth Stage of Freaking Out: Acceptance.

With all due respect to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, grief is not the only emotion which drags you through five stages. Here, then, are the Five Stages of Freaking Out, according to the Sandwich Mom (and Teacher):

Stage One: Awareness. It began with the realization that I had roughly a month's worth of work to do, and only a day's worth of time to do it in. You may be tempted to ask yourself what I have been doing all summer. Please don't. I have no idea where the time went. There may have been space aliens and probing involved.

This stage is characterized by low-level feelings of impending doom, dread, foreboding, and a general “funk.” Personally, I wanted nothing more than to listen to Billy Joel's “A Minor Variation” on endless repeat (“Some days I have to give right in to the blues/Despite how I try to keep fightin'/ It's a sure shot I'm going to lose”). And to eat. Anything. That didn't move. Fast. After I covered it in chocolate. And salt. And dipped it in cheese.

Stage Two: Pinging. Some people wrongly categorize Pinging as a full Freak Out. It is not. It is pre-freak out. The reputable on-line source “Urban Dictionary” defines pinging as “a state of increased anxious activity, typically induced by an amphetamine.” But a Freak Out-Ping totally trumps an amphetamine-ping. Any day.

This stage is characterized by rapid, shallow breathing, dilated pupils, increased heart rate, pit sweat, and clammy hands. Unfortunately the Freak Out-Ping lacks the feelings of euphoria and well-being that may be associated with an amphetamine ping. At this point Billy Joel's “Pressure” was pounding in my head, over and over. And not in a good way.

Stage Three: Hyperventilation. Imagine the “pings” coming so close together they flat line – at the top of the chart instead of at the bottom.

This stage is characterized by feelings of... hyperventilation. Duh. Also a desire to throw up, burst into tears, or run away. I felt like I was listening to “Running on Ice” by Billy Joel, and dancing. Poorly. Which is unusual for me. I usually think I am a great dancer. Go figure.

The good news is that if you make a graphic representation of Freaking Out, Hyperventilation is at the apex of the Freak Out. It's all down hill from here.

Stage Four: Air Head. It may be all down hill from Hyperventilation, but that doesn't mean it's smooth sailing. At this point you recognize your inability to avoid impending doom. This is tantamount to the first step in a 12 step program: to solve a problem you have to admit that there is a problem.

Unfortunately, Stage Four is characterized by a total lack of focus. You recognize the problem, admit the problem, even start making plans to make plans to solve the problem, yet you lack the ability to focus on making the planned plans.

Personally, I had figured out the general scope for my classes and I was ready to start looking for lesson plans that fit that scope, but first I had the overwhelming need to make a pretty chart! I was going to look for a Billy Joel song to illustrate this stage, but I was too busy finding clip art for my chart. (Honestly. I could post the pdf.)

Stage Five: Acceptance. Like the final step in Kubler-Ross' model, the final step in a Total Freak Out is Acceptance. You come to terms with the inevitable future and decide to let the chips fall where they may.

Stage Five is characterized by the feeling that what happens is going to happen, and nothing you can do (no amount of planning that you haven't done) can totally prepare you for every eventuality. My profound realization every time I reach this stage is that I am heading to hell in a handbasket, and the best I can do is relax, enjoy the ride and brace myself for impact.

Unfortunately the five stages of Freak Out are not a one-way street. At any moment you may -- and I do -- revert back to Pinging and Hyperventilation, even after I thought I had Accepted my fate.

In other words there is a good chance that I won't get any sleep again tonight.

So buckle up those seat belts. It's gonna be a bumpy ride.


  1. You can do ANYTHING at anytime without anything to do it with.

    You are . . . a MOM!!!

  2. I see your problem, and I have a solution:

    "And to eat. Anything. That didn't move. Fast. After I covered it in chocolate. And salt. And dipped it in cheese."

    Once your food is in this stage, the proper thing to do to handle Freak Out is to wrap it in bacon and have it deep-fried.

    That way, you skip the hyperventilation stage and move on to full cardiac arrest. Then your problem becomes someone else's problem.