I burnt out as a teacher. Numerous times. My doctor recently told me he had never seen someone work as hard and as much as me, and I thought he must not have many patients who are teachers, because I know many who are going in early, staying late, working on the weekends, and volunteering for extra-curricular activities, including coaching sports teams, supervising various clubs, and preparing for evening family events, like concerts and open houses. It was my life for 18 years, until I decided to resign because it was no longer sustainable for my mental, emotional, or physical health. Before making that decision, I was on an unexpected leave of absence for seven months. It was a difficult time; I was doubting and questioning who I was. I debated starting a side hustle, or finding other ways to stay busy, but my partner told me to enjoy the time off. We didn’t know how long it would last and maybe I should look at it as a gift. He encouraged me to pursue the things I loved (training for a marathon! hiking in the mountains!) and to discover new passions (refinishing old furniture! cooking!), and so I did.
I had never had so much free time before. As I was off work in the spring, I spent more time outside, planting my first garden, and working in the yard. All of my workouts were outdoors too, as I went biking, walking, or running nearly everyday. My partner’s shift work allowed us to go on road trips to the mountains in the middle of the week, when crowds were fewer, and we were able to do some spring skiing, and lots of hiking. I started experimenting more with cooking (never my forte), and got into a routine of recipe finding and meal planning, something I never thought I would do. I became more creative, refinishing old furniture, making homemade ornaments for the tree, and a wreath for the door. I read more personal development books and started listening to inspiring podcasts (I don’t know why it took me so long to jump on the podcast train as they’ve been life changing!). I grew my journaling practice by adding daily affirmations to my daily gratitudes, and I journal more than before to figure out what I want and how I want to live my life. I started a yoga practice, which I found quite grounding, and a meditation practice, which now I rely on to keep me more balanced and able to handle life’s ups and downs. Those 7 months were truly a gift and I am very grateful that I was given the time to just be me.
What I’ve come to realize since is that being given the time to do activities that nourished my spirit was the ultimate in self-care. Before I had thought self-care was more of an indulgent soak in a big tub with bubbles and a glass of wine (and if that’s your thing, go for it!), but for me it was doing things that I enjoyed, alone or with the people I love, that nourished my mind, my body, and my soul. I was taking care of me and putting myself first, something that before I often didn’t do, and that was the reason I burnt out teaching. Self-care is a necessity, not a nice-to-have, as without it we cannot be the teachers, parents, partners, family members, employees, entrepreneurs we want to be. Just like putting your oxygen mask on first when you’re on a plane, you need to prioritize your own wellness so that you are able to be the best version of yourself for the people who love (and depend on!) you.