A Giant Leap into the Unknown

It was homecoming Friday.  The week had been absolutely crazy (in a good way) with activities and celebrations.  The week had also been crazy in a lot of not-so-good ways as my ability to handle the normalized chaos of my job had reached a breaking point.  I arrived at school, set down my bag, and started to cry.  And then I was sobbing, and I couldn’t stop.  And couldn’t breathe.  My angel-of-a-coworker pulled me out of my room and into the math office and got me calmed down eventually, but having a panic attack at work was not something I was quite prepared for.

Over the next few weeks, I maintained my composure while at school, but at home, I existed as an empty shell, literally unable to communicate with my husband and daughter, let alone anyone else in my life.  I spent most weekends in bed, hoping that something miraculous would come along and pull me out of this mental cage I was locked in.

Then came that Sunday in late October. I was sitting in my car, in the driveway, motor running, heat on full blast, chair reclined, and letting the hum of the engine calm me trying to resist a complete meltdown.  My spouse came outside, opened the car door and said, “Maybe it’s time we consider what this job is doing to your mental health.”

Teaching is a second career for me after a failed attempt at being an accountant in a Wells Fargo cubicle farm.  From the moment I stepped into the classroom, I knew I was called to be a teacher.  I’ve grown as an educator, persevered through difficult transitions, and made pedagogical changes that were both scary and energizing.  And year after year, I felt it was worth the personal and emotional sacrifice that my job demanded because what I did made a difference to many.  And I also knew that no 6-figure, office high-rise job could replace that feeling.  But after a life-long battle with anxiety and depression, plus 5.5 years of sobriety under my belt, I also know that the status of my mental health is not something I can afford to gamble with.

So after 12 years as a high school math teacher, I am taking a medical leave of absence for the remainder of the school year.  I’m not taking on any other projects, and I’m not starting anything new.  I simply need time to let my brain settle down from the chaos that has taken over.  I’ll work to restore relationships with my spouse, my daughter, my family, and my friends that I simply have not had the mental energy to attend to.  My daughter will get to ride the bus to school and will get a couple of extra hours of sleep each night.  My weekends will become a time of family and togetherness and interaction again, rather than a time where I pull the sheets over my head and will the pain to go away.  After the holidays are through and 2018 has ushered in the ice and snow, I’ll be able to re-evaluate my ability to manage the pace at which I need to move in order to be the educator I want to be.

25 Comments

  1. Good for you! Take care, reflect, heal, be well.

    From one of your many fans

    On Nov 21, 2017, at 12:05 PM, Number Loving Beagle wrote:

    WordPress.com Megan Schmidt posted: “It was homecoming Friday. The week had been absolutely crazy (in a good way) with activities and celebrations. The week had also been crazy in a lot of not-so-good ways as my ability to handle the normalized chaos of my job had reached a breaking point.”

  2. So proud of you for making this choice to restore your health, sanity, and relationships. I did this last year, and it was the best move I could have made after 13 years of teaching and exhaustion. The time for reflecting and regrouping is priceless, and it will give you perspective you never realized you needed-I promise😊 Now almost a year away from making the same decision, I have kept the boundaries I set at the beginning of the year to preserve the mental time I need, my Crohns is in remission, and I am happier teaching than I have been in years. You will experience the same successes to when you are refreshed and your road redefined the way you need it to be in order to do what you love and maintain your life outside of it. You are a strong person Megan who has fought through a lot -you got this! I hope to see you and how you are doing at MCTM this spring, but if not, I bet it will be because you need that time away too. Sending you strength, support, and hugs😊 Have a restful and peaceful holiday season with your family!

    Oh, and if you find you need a warm get away this winter-Atlanta is a great place for that! My door is always open, and ATL MTBoS would love another reason to get together😊

  3. Atta girl. Sounds like you’ve absolutely made the right call. I know it’s a tough one to make, and I’m sending nothing but love your way. You do you, and know that if a step toward health requires us to get together to do math art at any point this coming year…I am absolutely willing to make that sacrifice. 😉

  4. Megan, you’re an inspirational teacher and colleague. This has to be a hard decision for someone as dedicated to her students as you are, but I’m glad you’re taking time for yourself and your family. For what it’s worth, I have never regretted the months I worked part time and stayed home with my girls. In fact, it was the best work I’ve ever done. I’ll see you on Twitter, but let me know if you or Scott need anything.

  5. I have always enjoyed your honesty. This is a tough profession, even tougher when done with passion. The toll it takes on us personally is often left unspoken. You’ve made a tough decision. You are a brave soul. Reading your words has helped me to make a choice for my life also. You will be fine. Things will work out. You have time to reflect and decide for you and your family. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Thank you for sharing this powerful post. So many of us have had similar experiences and it is important that we shine the light on teacher’s mental health issues. Good for you for putting yourself first. We cannot help others if we do not help ourselces first. Best of luck to you and Happy Thanksgiving!

  7. Argh. The comment I left yesterday didn’t post. But it said that my parents always told me that the most important things, in order, were: health, happiness, and education. That set of priorities, and their ordering, has always stayed with me. I’m glad you’re taking care of yourself. Know you can turn to me/us at any point if you need things. But I’m so proud of you – for making this decision and for being as open and vulnerable as you are. You inspires me. Hugs! I hope you do even more cooking+tweeting now.

  8. I’ve never seen you in a high school classroom and yet you’ve taught me tons. Yes, you are a teacher and always will be, but I’m so glad you and caring people around you know that doesn’t mean you are that particular job at this particular moment. Wishing you a relief from stress, healing time, and growing joy and fulfillment.

  9. What an important and sane move. It’s so great that you have a spouse and a school that will support you on this. I think we need to build more mental health support into our society in general. Good for you, and I hope that you come out of this more alive and more connected.

    Keep making things. 🙂

  10. As a former student of yours, I do hope that when the dust settles you will be back in the classroom helping kids sharing, showing us pictures of your dog, there is nothing more important. Than your mental health and sanity and you taking a break shows incredible bravery. Math has never been easy for me not something I’ve ever really succeeded at but that fact that I looked forward going to your class every single day is really something to point out it was always the highpoint of my day getting to see my favorite teacher, it’s a role you were born for and I know you love it, I hope everything works out in the end, in the meantime, take the you time you deserve

  11. Such a brave and great decision for you and your family. I am hoping you find peace and happiness with this time.

    I also hope to reconnect and learn with you in the future – whether or not you go back into the classroom. I have grown because of your passion for students, rich mathematics, social justice and more. Thank you – you have inspired more than you know.

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