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.