During the holidays, my family and I had several movie nights, as I imagine many did because… Covid! One night, we picked “Encanto” and I was probably more excited than my boys simply because the music in this film is by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Not far into the movie, the song “Surface Pressure” came on and I was overcome with emotion. Take a moment to watch, and really listen to the lyrics to see if they resonate…
Under the surface
I feel berserk as a tightrope walker in a three-ring circus
Under the surface
Was Hercules ever like “Yo, I don’t wanna fight Cerberus”?
Under the surface
I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, it’s no surprise that I’ve been struggling lately. I’ve written several posts about the challenges of teaching through a pandemic, but this one sticks out about the pressures we’re facing. Truthfully though, despite the fact that teaching through the pandemic is hard, it’s really in the last few months that my life has been unbearable. In my last post, I shared that I’ve been living with depression but didn’t get into it. In the post before that one, You Can’t Stop the Rain, I use the rain as an analogy for my own struggles and ultimately convince myself that I, and you, deserve to be dry. My third last piece, Every Storm…, is a sort of pump up post with the goal of reminding myself and others that this too, shall pass, and although I have no doubts in my mind that it will in fact pass, it doesn’t change the fact that being in this is brutally hard.
I had just finished my last maternity leave where I was off for a year with my twins who brought my total number of children to 4. My light was shining brighter than ever at home now that my family was complete. I was ready to focus my attention on my work, my passion as a teacher. I was heading back into the classroom with the goal of shining and proving that I deserved to be one of the few lucky teachers to claim a spot at a new, innovative school. I lit my flame, started my blog and continued to plow forward. I found immense joy in my work and that made it easy to do more, and more, and more, and more… I got the dream job, and dug my heels in even deeper through that first year in particular because opening up a new school places a whole new level of demands and expectations on educators. I didn’t mind… the fire was raging in my professional life and it filled me up! I was on top of the world, ready to climb to the next summit, and was even asked to do an Ignite presentation for my district on how my spark turned into a raging fire.
Gradually over the past seven years, I began to find much more success in my school work than in my home life. I was giving my all to school because that made me feel good but as my fire continued to grow at work, the one at home started dwindling. I got to a point where being at home, with my own four boys, was so hard. If you are an educator, this might sound familiar; I’d stay at school as late as possible, I’d be completely absent from my home life even though I was physically present. My family was suffering because of it, but I didn’t notice, because I was simply trying to survive in my own way, and the only way I knew how… seek out what makes you feel good. That was work. That was being the best teacher I knew how to be. That was pouring into relationships with students, their families, and colleagues. And that was avoiding my home life as much as possible. I was numb to it. Eventually, the flame at home went and all I had left was my work flame. I felt like my only source of joy and light was through work. That is the voice of depression.
Then one day, everything went dark. I realized I had nothing left. Nothing. Not even a tiny flame or red ember.
What once made me feel good – my work – didn’t anymore. As I was trying tirelessly to grow my dwindling fire, I was actually suffocating. It eventually went out just like my home flame had. Darkness. I had no joy left. And worse, I felt like a failure. I couldn’t even excel at what I was supposed to. I had been failing as a mother to thrive at school. Now? Failing at both?
Then, at a staff meeting, my principal shared that at their last admin meeting, their whole agenda got left to the side to talk about mental health because there was a huge problem in our division. This led to a mental health presentation, which I couldn’t handle. I left minutes after they’d started because it was too much. I was crumbling and felt like it was too little, too late. The message? It’s okay to not be okay.
I AM NOT OKAY!
But no one would know it.
It took me a very long time to come to grips with even contemplating a leave. Leaving behind what was the last source of joy I once had was scary. Feeling like I was selfish because I’d let my students and their families down shook me. The amount of work taking a leave would create for me was dreadful to think about. The weight I would put on my colleagues if they were left to pick up my broken pieces was overwhelming. Everything felt hard and I didn’t need more “hard”. And then, my therapist said something that made me see things clearly…
“Annick, we can continue to work on this bit by bit, like we have, if that is what you want. My question to you is, given your current circumstances; working full time, mom of four active boys, pandemic… if you continue to work, will you have the time and energy to do the hard work that is needed to get you back on your feet?”
The answer was clear and something had to give. My doctor agreed.
The next day, I mustered up all my courage and went to see my principal. I closed the door and told him that I was not okay. I explained that I needed to step away from my job to fix what was broken. It was time I put myself first in order to rekindle the flame. I missed seeing the light of what each day had to offer. I wanted to feel the warmth of the brightness that seemed so far away. I was worth it.
While I continue to battle the darkness of depression, I have discovered three slivers of light shining through my reflections:
- Knowing where my values lie is very powerful, but it is also very important to notice if my energy is going towards these values. In my darkest moments, all of my energy was going to my work, and although I absolutely value my work, I have many other values such as my family and friends, my relationships, and my health. I need to make sure that my energy is aligned with all of my values.
- I am able to find joy at home once again, which means that no matter how low my days get, I know that there are better days ahead. I can heal and grow.
- School will not fall apart without me and although I now know that I am replaceable at school, I am not at home. My family needs me, my students need me, but I am no good to anyone if I am not well. I must take care of myself in order to take care of others.
As I rewatched “Encanto” with my boys, the lyrics that first struck a chord in my soul now reverberate with a new refrain: Being of service to others does not define my worth. I don’t have to be everything to everyone every day. There is value in taking a step back, catching my breath, and lighting my flame once again. I am worth it, and so are you.