Hi. I am a first and second grade elementary school teacher. I have taught in various settings for the past 6 years. I am at a new job, with new people, new curriculum, and way less time to get my job done than previously in my life, ever. I have taught yoga for the past decade, and I’d like to believe I know how to Handle My Shit. Handling My Shit is something that I thought I knew how to do all the time. Until yesterday.
I got out of my partner’s car, and stared at the mountains. I am only semi-cognizant of the tears on my cheeks. The flight of stairs to our apartment seems long. In our bedroom, I kneel down to open the drawer where my yoga clothes are. I am also aware that I have to get dressed. I am needed at the studio. Thai Massage and Restorative Yoga. Substituting. Helping. I get up. He looks at me.
“You don’t look so good right now.”
Then, I can’t breathe and I am wordless. Now I am crying. No. Sobbing. Long heaves, and I can’t breathe still and I have absolutely no idea what is happening to me or why. My heart is racing. He’s asking what I need. I am saying
“I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.”
And I don’t. This has never happened to me before. I am scared. He takes off my coat, and my sweater. He’s handing me essential oils that I can’t smell. Looking at the clock, realizing I need to be leaving, I am more distraught and it begins all over again. Bless his heart. He lays me down.
“Danielle? Are you serious? You’re not going anywhere.”
He makes the phone calls. I cry and shudder on the bed while he strokes my hair and my back for the next 45 minutes. I feel empty and hollow and also like it will never end. But it does. Luckily the support I gave him in his hard times, is returned to me. He takes care of me for the evening. I am aware how lucky that makes me.
I’d like to tell you that I had no idea how I got here. I take SUCH good care of myself. QUEEN of SELF CARE. PRINCESS of Handling My Shit. Pile it on, baby. I’ve got you. Except sometimes, I don’t care for myself, because I’m afraid that if take the time to do so, something will come crashing down and I won’t be able to maintain whatever life I’m living. This is pressure I put on myself. I recognize this.
I am reliable and sunshiney and positive. And sometimes, this yoga instructor and teacher extraordinaire CANNOT Handle Her Shit. This is humbling and terrifying at the same time. I completely lost it yesterday. Full on-could not be a person, could not help myself, or help anybody else-meltdown.
I know how I got here. I’ve been ignoring it for two months. Two to three yoga classes a week and monthly workshops, as our yoga community recovers from a teacher that we trained, abruptly jumping ship and opening a new yoga studio less than a mile away. A new job that needs my FULL ATTENTION if I want it to go well at all. I get to work at 7am, and most days don’t leave until 5pm. When I get home, if I’m not teaching yoga, I’m still lesson planning, because I have to plan for 2 different grades with kids experiencing debilitating poverty and a lack of social and emotional skills.
Or I might be supporting my partner with his work stuff and life stuff. Sometimes I am at a coaching meeting, as I am being trained by my district to be a literacy coach. Sometimes I am doing after school programming. I am just assuming you understand what it’s like to have a job where you are “on” solving other people’s problems all day long. That’s what teaching is. Somewhere along the way you teach them to start solving their own problems, but in a community where families might be blaming the school for the child’s lack of self-control, this skill is difficult at best.
I find this so hard to balance because my profession is not one where self-care is evident, let alone respected or held up. The stereotype of a good teacher, or a caring teacher, is the one who goes above and beyond always. We are always asked to do that much more. My constant battle is how to be a great teacher AND take care of myself. Often, I feel like I have to choose one or the other. Taking a sick day or a mental health day should not feel like a moral dilemma. It always does! Last spring, I made the choice to leave, but here I am, a glutton for punishment, back at it again!
Please do not mistake this for complaining. I am not. I am a lucky, lucky woman with lots of support. I just forgot that Handling My Shit, is not Handling My Shit and Everyone Else’s Without Help, nor is it Handling My Shit is Actually Believing That I Can Neglect My Own Needs and Get Away With It.
So, in conclusion.
How To Handle Your Shit (especially when you are a teacher):
-Learn to say “no” with kindness and compassion.
-Tell your loved ones you are having a hard time and that you need support and understanding.
-Make time every day to just be with yourself and do nothing.
-As much as you love your students, you need to support yourself in order to support them.
-Having a panic attack does not make you weak. It makes you human. Try not to get there, but if you do, know that this is okay too. Your body will tell you when you need to stop and take a break.
-Give love generously, and accept it too.
I am promising these things to myself. We all do the best we can. That’s all. xo.
Photo by Joshua Jayindo.