My school year from hell began on September 4, 2015 with a phone call to inform me that my father had a massive heart attack and had died. Standing outside my classroom to take the call, I didn’t even cry. I was so physically drained from sleep deprivation and workload, not to mention emotionally numb from the still-fresh wound of sudden loss of my sister from an asthma attack, that tears wouldn’t flow.
Instead, I stayed the rest of the day and a ran an AP Chemistry lab that was already prepped so my students wouldn’t fall behind in their studies. It was a new course that had me working 18 hours a day and sleeping four hours a night so that I could stay afloat. I wanted what was best for my students, so I put my own health and emotions to the side.
That was the hardest year of my personal and professional life. The more pain and stress I experienced, the more I dove into teaching to desensitize myself. I would not allow myself to feel; I only allowed myself to work.
Unfortunately, elbow grease is not always the best salve for the soul.
Teachers chalk up their boards with lessons while we chalk up exhaustion, lack of self-care, and professional martyrdom to just another part of the job.
Instead of wearing our trials as a shiny educator’s badge of honor, we must be diligent in recovering, especially after that school year from hell that happens to us all. Otherwise, we will become a statistic. By statistic, I mean depressed and anxious, considering leaving the profession, or even suicidal. I knew that as the school year progressed and I began to have suffocating panic attacks, trouble sleeping, chronic pain, and emotional indifference, I was becoming just that.
While my personal path to wellness may not mirror exactly the steps you need to take, I have read too many “take care of yourself” articles that lack actionable steps.
Frankly, I’m over it.
Let’s be honest, some school years may require more than wine and a trip to the beach for recovery. Here are five things that I did to get my life back after my school year from hell:
1. I sought professional help
If you’ve lost interest in things you used to enjoy, have trouble sleeping, or are unusually irritable, your difficult year could have been enough to make you depressed.
Taking your summer recharge is a great start, but seek professional help, if needed. I used strategies from a counselor and a physical therapist who specializes in stress-related pain to help me address the disconnection between my mind and body and to overcome the emotional deadness that I was drowning in.
Don’t let the stigma of mental illness keep you from seeking assistance in finding yourself again. You are worth it (and so are your students)!
2. I got a hobby
When is the last time you did something for you? Something that you really enjoy? Letting yourself watch Netflix while grading doesn’t count!
But seriously, if you can’t remember the last time you made something that gave you pleasure, whether it be crocheting a scarf or growing your own tomatoes, find an outlet for your inner creativity.
For me, I started gardening again and brewing my own kombucha.
Bonus: these two hobbies helped me get a handle on my convenience-food diet fueled by my never-ending grading and planning habits.
3. I got a pet. Well, several.
Having a pet gives you routine, enjoyable physical touch, a reason to get outside, and may even help lower blood pressure. As someone who lives in rural Georgia, I chose a couple of pigs and a few chickens. Any furry or feathered friend will do.
If your school year caused you to neglect the animal companions you already have, take some time to reconnect with them with walks or extra cuddles!
4. I took walks
Every. Single. Day. This was non-negotiable. I recall last summer kicking off my shoes to feel my toes in the grass. For the first time I could remember, I was present in my body instead of stuck swirling in the racing thoughts of my mind.
While walking is a great form of exercise, I use it as a way to reconnect to my senses by focusing on what I am feeling, seeing, and smelling as I take each step. If this feels foreign or difficult, you may want to try some movement meditations to help increase your awareness first.
Teaching requires us to be fully aware of 20-30 students and their cognition, safety, and well-being all day. Unfortunately, this persistent upregulation can leave us blind to the sensations of our own body.
So while you rack up some steps on your FitBit, take some time to reconnect with that marvelous machine that is carrying you around.
5. I unrolled my yoga mat
Yoga means “to yoke.” When you see the word yoga and immediately think, I’m not ___________ enough (flexible, young, healthy, strong, skinny, etc.), you’re wrong. What gets yoked is your body and mind when you practice yoga. So, if you have both of those, you’re golden.
Yoga helps reduce stress, increase mobility, and create mindfulness. Check out the wide array of benefits for yourself.
While I sincerely hope your year was amazing, please know that if it was not, and you experienced a school year from hell, things can get better.
Most importantly, you can get better.