Burnout, noun: 3. physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.
I haven’t figured out how to phrase the way I’ve been feeling towards the end of this Covid school year. At this point in my life, I’ve felt as if I was burning the candle at both ends; pun intended. With all of the energy I had put into my students, caring about what others thought of me, suffering silently through the year while putting my body through physical and mental abuse all the while not being able to forgive myself, I realized I wasn’t enjoying the best days of life. I found the love of my life, got married and began a life I’ve always dreamed of with the teammate and partner I always deserved. Yet, I was more depressed than when I resigned from the Department of Education. Many would say “Why did you have to get married during the school year?” Or “Why did you choose to get married during Covid?” My answer simply should have been because ‘WE decided to.’ No more explanation that that. My now husband, who I am eternally grateful for coming into my life, constantly says to me not to allow others a glimpse into why you choose the choices you make unless they deserve to know. To me, this task is the most difficult as I have been honest and open about myself throughout my life to a fault. Maybe growing up as a catholic school girl I felt guilty if I didn’t explain myself? All the while overthinking and feeling badly if I was making others angry or uncomfortable, when doing so, I made myself both angry and uncomfortable. I always thought of others’ feelings before my own. Being an empath is both a blessing and a curse you know...
I started to think of myself as a candle; which by definition is “a cylinder or block of wax with a central wick that is lit to produce light as it burns.” I found that so ironic, sad and beautiful at the same time. A candle is destroying itself for someone
or something else. It doesn’t ask for forgiveness, it doesn’t boast at how it creates flame and light to help others. It uses its core to produce something unusable by itself. Sure I could say that if it didn’t burn, it wouldn’t be doing it’s job, but once it’s burned out, it’s beauty, fragrance, light and purpose is finished. That’s how this year made me feel.
I can’t begin to account for the burnout I felt from teaching this last year and half. One may read this and say “What is she complaining about? My job is harder.” Believe me, I’m sure it may be. I’m so grateful for all the essential workers who helped get us through the dark days we endured before. But like the candle burns brightly to light the way, better days are ahead and are finally here. “Teachers who love teaching, teach children to love learning.” This quote is written on a wooden sign my late father gave to me as a Christmas gift. It hung in my classroom even on the days there were no smiling faces or joyous voices to accompany it. But now I realize, loving what I do doesn’t make me love life. I’ve become a candle, burning out my own light to light the way for another. I’ve come to terms with that.
Working conditions like mine and so many other teachers who suffered through this year produced the greatest number of choices to leave the profession than ever before.
An article by Madeline Will from Education week, June 2021 is headlined by “Teachers are more likely to experience depression symptoms than other adults.”
One thing I would never do is not share my experience with others. Those experiences that could help others feel that they are not alone and yearn for a better life. Not only is mental health a stigma our country that has yet to normalize, accept fault in and work on the treatment of those who suffer from multiple health problems and disabilities but the total disregard of the medical accommodations requested by teachers to work officials, administrators and coworkers is a clear violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. “It’s concerning,” said Elizabeth Steiner, a policy researcher at RAND Corp. and the co-author of the report used in the article by Madeline Will, “People who are experiencing symptoms of depression and burnout can be less engaged in their work, they may be absent more often. … Those behaviors can impact students unfavorably, not to mention the impact depression has on teachers themselves and their well-being and their relationships.”
I realized that my candle was just about to lose its flame if it hadn’t already. The joy of teaching children, helping them through crisis, encouraging them to see beyond their disabilities was starting to snuff out my flame. It wasn’t the children’s fault in the least. It was the overall treatment we endured this year as Covid teachers. I was lucky enough to have the best parents and children I could’ve asked for during the pandemic. They always praised my efforts, checked in on my feelings and mental and physical health as well as put their own finances, effort and interest into their children’s experience and education during the most difficult time of their lives and I will be forever grateful for that. But Covid drew lines in the sand for teachers and caused loneliness, anxiety, fear and oppression and I fell victim to it. Me, not just a woman with a Special Education Master’s degree, over a decade of experience teaching children with disabilities, plus 30 credits and professional accolades including being published and appreciated by parents and children alike, me, not just a black belt who fought and won a national sparring title but me, the little girl inside whose flame was about to snuffed out.
The creativity in me that was yearning to break free, the love I had for working with my hands and being my own boss, while teaching children privately, and helping others to love their homes again without burning a hole in their pockets and with their own pieces of family history was knocking on the door to my heart so loudly. My true purpose was not to be burned out for the sake of others but to keep my candle burning brightly for my own future family and myself. My true calling was to be happy in any way I could. It reminds me of the safety tutorial on an airplane, we do remember airplanes don’t we? Those days where we could fly to exotic places or just a few states away to visit our families. The airplane safety guide always says to put your oxygen mask on before your child ensuring that your child gets proper care only because you cared for yourself first.
I finally decided to put my own oxygen mask on first. I can’t wait to continue to share my journey and the re-lighting of my own candle’s flame. It’s been out for too long and I’m not ashamed to say I need help to relight it. If we don’t have our health, we don’t have anything. Just remember you are not alone.