The implications of “back to school”*

*Back to school is in quotations because as a janitor, I didn’t actually leave school.  We’re just gearing up for everyone else coming back.

I spent this summer waking up at 5:20AM every day, working to get the school ready for students and teachers.  We are winding down from that (we’ve been wound down for a while – we started out really fast and got done early).  I’m back to late nights (2-10:30PM) without much to do other than dump the trash of the few teachers who have been coming in to set up every day.  It’s been nice that the cleanliness of the school is at a standstill.  We can just look around and say, “we got all that done.”  And we don’t yet have to work to maintain it.  Kids start back on Wednesday, so that will all change in a couple days.

While we were busy though, we were rushing through things.  We scrubbed every desk and chair.  We cleaned surfaces in the rooms, shined the sinks, dusted.  We scrubbed the old wax up off the floors.  I single-handedly waxed every floor.  3 times over.  I’d like to know how many square feet that was.  Tens of thousands?  Maybe even a hundred thousand?  Or a lot more?

It has been a relief to drop back to the later shift and not feel like I’m stumbling, half-awake, in the mornings, just to come home and start dreading about waking up early again.  I had been going to bed at 8:30PM!  My mental health has been better overall, but not great.  I’ve been mildly depressed all summer.

Going back to late nights has been lonely, and strangely, a lot of my worries have centered around what to eat before work.  I need to fit in breakfast and lunch.  I don’t know what to eat.  I also don’t really know what to do, all by myself, other than oversleeping.  I’m forcing myself to do some things I don’t really feel like doing, as of now.  I guess the hope is I will grow into it; I will like it once I’m doing it.  I’m going to be a radio DJ starting pretty soon.  I’m also going to take a writing class.

I’ve been realizing that I’m living with a lot of dread lately.  Whether that’s residual from mental health issues earlier in the year, or whether that’s just me being me, I can’t really figure out.  It’s been helpful to notice it while it’s happening though, and just focus on the here-and-now.  Remind myself that I’m actually fine in whatever I am doing presently, so just be more involved in that, rather than thinking about all the perceived horribleness ahead.

For example, I’m dreading going back to doing the exact same thing, at work, every day.  But, it really is what I make it, from moment to moment.  Unlike most jobs, I don’t have unpredictable things pop up daily, or new challenges to tackle, or people to deal with.  It’s just me, in my head.  I need to remember that it’s important to change what’s on my iPod frequently – new music, new podcasts…  And to talk to people on the phone.  And although I don’t believe her, my therapist keeps telling me that I’m actually in control of my own thoughts.  So I can choose to keep obsessing about something negative, or I can move on to more interesting topics.  In my mind, I am powerless to whatever my brain ends up dwelling on, and I get stuck feeling whatever feelings those thoughts conjure up.  I should work on that…


Camping trip during Christmas in July

This post has nothing to do with being queer and trans; it’s not about janitors or mental health.  I think I need a short break from that stuff…

My partner and I went camping this past weekend, and it was exactly the sort of thing I needed.  Things had been feeling heavily monotonous and mundane, even on weekends.  I hadn’t been getting much enjoyment out of things that are usually fun.

Leading up to going away, I had an anxiety meltdown about it – about all the planning and packing.  Mostly, it was about the prospect of being away all weekend and not having enough time to regroup for the work week.  It didn’t occur to me that being away could be rejuvenating in a way that doing things at home, worrying about work and mentally preparing for work, never could.  Huh!

We left Friday right after work and drove for about 2 hours to our destination.  We stopped at a farm stand along the way to buy firewood, and we got some golden plums too.  We had wanted to camp at a state park, but all the ones near where we were headed were booked up already, so we had to resort ahead of time to a privately owned “campground.”  It was actually an RV park with over 150 trailer sites and only 9 tent sites.  Everyone was right on top of each other.  Quite a few were blasting country music or classic rock music, and people were rowdy with the fires and the drinking till late into the night.  We got the sense that some of these people had been there a while, and a lot of them seemed to know each other.  (Other than the noise and the overcrowding), we had a great time!  We didn’t spend all that much time at the site anyway – basically just making a fire both nights, making food over the fire, drinking some beers, and sleeping.

During the day, we did a bunch of stuff at the nearby town.  We went to the very impressive (and very busy) local farmers’ market, then went to a craft supply store and a book store and a clothing store.  For lunch we went to a (also very busy) brewery, where they had beet greens on their pizza and salads made of baby kale, tat soi, beets, candied peanuts, and grilled blackened tofu.  Yum.  We then went for a hike on a gorge trail and waded in the cold creek.

Back at the campsite, it was Christmas in July (7/25).  Some trailers had gone all out with the decorations – it was pretty entertaining to see.  Events included a hayride with Santa at 6, cookies with Santa at 7, and a Christmas movie in the field at 8:30.  We’re not sure but we think at least the movie got rained out.  Yep, it started raining, but we were prepared.  We’d already made a fire and eaten quickly, as the sky darkened, and we spent some time reading books in the tent that night.

Before the rain started, we got a chance to make use of the campground’s pool.  This monstrous pit was nothing like I’d ever seen before.  It was huge, and it was 7 feet deep at its deepest, but there was no drop-off edge of the pool.  So there was no way to jump into the pool – it just gradually got deeper from the edges, like a lake would.  There was a rickety slide with one of the railings duck-taped at the top.  My partner and I slid down it about 5 times each – that was the best part!  It seemed to be not heavily chlorinated; algae was growing at the bottom of the “deep end.”  Another great factor was that it was “swim at your own risk.”  No lifeguard!  And there was a bin for returnables (full of beer cans and bottles) near the gate where you sign in and enter.

So many people had golf carts!  We saw people taking golf carts to the bathrooms, to the playground, to the camp store.  People just driving around on them.  Dogs looking regal in the passenger seats.  Do people pack golf carts into campers and bring them?  I’d never seen this.  Do they rent them from the campground?  I have no idea.

Sometimes when things have been rough, and options don’t seem possible because of mental energy or anxiety or difficulty initiating, mixing it up and going out of comfort zones is the best thing for the mind.  We have a couple more trips planned for this summer.  Trips I’ve been anxious about.  I hope I can just remember how much fun going camping was, and harness that feeling as I get ready to go on vacations!


School is out for the summer

Monday was the last day of school over here.  Such an exciting time for students and teachers!!!  A time of adjustment for parents, I imagine.  For janitors, it doesn’t mean much.  We’re still working, we’ll just be doing different (but just as physical, if not more so) tasks.  And, it means we’ll be switching from working nights, to working early.

A lot of times, people (outside of work) ask me if I work during the summer.  They assume that I don’t.  For the record:  school janitors work all summer long.  How else would the school look all shiny and new on the first day of school????  Little tiny elves?!!

schools_out1-300x214This has historically been the hardest time of year for me.  Everyone is so excited about the nice weather and their upcoming freedom.  Teachers are clearing out their rooms in anticipation of new stuff they ordered for next year.  I start getting really emotional about everyone leaving.  I start trying to save as much of the stuff they are throwing out.  I start fretting about being ripped away from my routine, and having to work closely with my co-workers all day, every day.  I start isolating as much as I can get away with.  I know this is some strong language for what seems like no big deal, but it really has felt this extreme for me.

It’s been getting better the past two years.  Like everything else in my life, I’m starting to be able to handle it easier.  I feel more at ease with my co-workers, and the idea that I will actually be working with them.  I chat with teachers about their summer plans.  I don’t try to save everything they throw away; I’m becoming more selective.  As a side note, anything I do get out of the trash, I immediately create a strong bond with it, for some reason.  Stuff from trash is much more valuable, often, than stuff I choose to buy.  Not sure why.

Last-Day-of-School-Bus-278x300But I still can’t let myself get swept up in the energy of the last day of school.  I don’t make an effort to say good-bye to all the kids or anything.  What they do at our school is, Kindergarten through 4th grade students all go out early and position themselves out on the bus loop, so that when 5th graders head out to get on their buses, they get a big send-off.  Then everyone boards their bus, and all the buses take two laps around the bus loop as all the staff cheer and wish them farewell.  And kids are allowed to hang out the windows, just this one time, and everyone is yelling and cheering and crying.  I cannot be there for that.  Maybe one day.  I just stay in the building and dump garbages, because it is too intense to be a part of that.

So far this year, I have found in the garbage:

  • dozens of envelopes, in different bright colors
  • two coffee mugs, one which says, “I ❤ Tea, I ❤ Teaching”
  • a plastic travel cup with straw
  • a bunch of tracing paper
  • some books, one which is called, “Subway Art”
  • a bunch of Teddy Grahams and string cheeses
  • A North Face jacket, which will actually fit me
  • silly bandz!!!!!

And really that’s it so far, which is a very good thing!  The past few years, there have been times of huge upheaval.  Asbestos removal about 6 years ago, massive room changes about 3 years ago, new carpet installation 2 years ago.  Anything like this, and teachers toss out soooooo much.  And I respond in a frenzied fashion.  I cannot see useful things go into the dumpster.  This year feels so smooth and relaxed, in comparison.  I am glad.

A partial list of some stuff I’ve found in the past:

  • an iPod shuffle
  • another iPod shuffle
  • Nintendo DS games
  • lunch boxes, so many lunch boxes.  I’m always in the market to upgrade, haha.
  • a long-arm stapler
  • a long long list of art supplies and books, calculators, cameras, just… stuff.
  • silly bandz!!!!!

This time around, I am ready to try and enjoy the summer.