Success, Supercaves, and Fighting Deep Stress

Day 53 of 80 Days of Excellence

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

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James M. Tabor writes fiction and nonfiction about “supercaves.”* A supercave is thousands of vertical feet deep. Often those who explore such supercaves must be master spelunkers and scuba divers. But they also need more… a keen attention to their own mental state.

Supercave explorers are at risk for an illness called “the rapture” – an extreme reaction to darkness and depth. Those who lived through it say it is “similar to an anxiety attack while on methamphetamines.”**

People with rapture attacks have been known to try to remove their masks and breathe water or other unwise behavior that gets them killed. As Tabor writes in both his fiction and nonfiction books, the secret to combatting the “rapture” is to stay attuned.

Tabor’s fictional heroine Hallie Leland talks about how to combat the rapture in his novelThe Deep Zone,

“She had felt it before…a gnawing anxiety that…intensified with every foot they down-climbed. It was annoying but not a serious hazard – as long as the thing stayed in its cage. Broken free, it could devour sanity in an instant… Hallie said, ‘This is how it starts. It’s manageable now. But at some point it might not be. And it’s different for every person, so  you need to pay very close attention to how you’re feeling, because once it hits, you go around the bend in two heartbeats and it’s really hard to come back. The key is to understand what’s going on before that happens.”***

She Taught in Her PJ’s and Drove Off in a Uhaul

This so describes teacher burnout. I remember that once there was a teacher at my school before I got there. Her location is a mystery. Sometime around mid-year, she showed up at school with a U-Haul behind her vehicle with her pajamas on. She taught the whole day in her pajamas. At the end of school, she walked out, got into her car and pulled off in her U-Haul and was never seen again. Most say she burned out. Cavers might call it the “rapture.”

I’m guessing, this teacher teetered at the edge of stress and sanity. But one day, she found that she was no longer at the edge but was over it. Her only coping mechanism was to leave. Gone. Adios.

Burnout Is Real

In the spring of 2014, I wrote one of the most popular blog posts I’ve ever written. “12 Choices to Help You Step Back from Burnout.”

Why did it resonate? I think it is because burnout is a problem we all face.

In teaching, a semester can be a supercave and by the end of the journey we find ourselves close to losing our minds, our health, and our relationships. Accountants might experience this in tax season. In sales, it could be the end of a quarter or month. For healthcare professionals, many have felt this during this nasty flu seasons.

Many professions have seasons of supercaving. Most of us experience it at some point but like the “rapture” described above, it is different for every person.

So, in order to prevent burnout, we must be like supercavers and pay close attention to how we’re feeling in these periods of high stress.

In order to have longevity in professions of high burnout, we must become masters at self-managing our emotions not suppressing or ignoring them.

Think About Your Own Thinking

The word metacognition is what we’re discussing here.

Metacognition means “cognition about cognition” or “knowing about knowing.” It is the ability to be aware of and understand your own thought process. The best teachers, I’ve found are metacognitive and highly attuned to their thinking (and help their students develop strategies as well.)****

So, think like a caver and stay tuned to your thinking. Louisa May Alcott said,

“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning to sail my ship.”

Staying tuned into your own thinking is part of learning to sail your ship. If we can learn to step back from our stress and realize how we’re thinking, we can intervene before we go down a dangerous self-harmful path like a supercaver losing their mind in a deep cave.

I came home this week one night and told Kip that I was feeling a bit exhausted. His answer – get some rest — NOW!

Stress is real. Burnout is real. But life has to be lived in the midst of it all. So, if you’re in a season of supercaving, stay closely tuned to your own thinking. You need rest and some downtime to be your best.

This post is day 53 of 80 days of excellence. I’ve created an email list below for those of you want to be emailed the full posts written as part of this series.


* While James Tabor wrote the nonfiction book Blind Descent:The Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earth  – I enjoyed reading his fiction The Deep Zone and Frozen Solid about a heroine who is adeep cave diver. It was where I first heard of this term “rapture” as used in relation to deep cavers in the summer 2014. It so fits stressful situations such as teachers often experience.

** “The ‘Blind Descent’ Into the Deepest Caves on Earth’ NPR Books, June 10, 2010. <> Retrieved July 3, 2014.

*** Tabor, James. M.The Deep Zone. (USA: Ballantine Books, 2012), p. 150-151.

**** Read “Teaching Metacognition” a summary written by Carol Ormand of Marsha Lovett’s presentation at the 2008 Educause Learning INitiative Conference at last modified December 13, 2013. Retrieved July 3, 2014.

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