I came to a realisation yesterday morning. The events of the past week, and the past month and a half, have pretty much left me empty. Not empty in the sense that I am an emotionless husk of a woman, but empty in that I have nothing left to give at the moment. In general I am someone who is always giving to the people around her, generous with my time and efforts, and rarely expecting things in return. But I’m not an emotionless husk of a woman, I like to have my efforts acknowledged at the bare minimum if not appreciated. Lately it feels like all I do is give and be patient and understanding without receiving any of the same support.
As a regular person this would be draining enough. But as a high school teacher whose very job it is to give all of myself to my students, my time and patience and efforts and attention, this is near fatal. My rapport with my classes has greatly improved from the start of the year, but there are still students who require a LOT from me, and if I am running on empty I have nothing to give them, which means that I’m being a pretty terrible teacher. Part of the problem is the expectation that teachers are supposed to give so much to their students and their job. The issue of workload and expectations is one that every teacher at every school is aware of. Some schools do a better job than others at managing the workload of their teachers, and I think I am very lucky to be at my current school. Last year’s school had a huge workload for teachers, academically and pastorally, and I would be near catatonic if I was in this mindset at that school.
But as good as my school’s admin is at managing workload there are still things that fall through the cracks; problem students that never get dealt with, questions never answered, issues never followed through on. And it is these things that pile up and require so much attention that drain you the most. So putting aside my out-of-work issues, my job alone requires me to maintain a solid level in my “cup” in order to function efficiently and effectively at school.
Unfortunately for my students (who have been waiting about a month and a half for work to be marked and returned) I have let my cup empty way out at home, which means I have no motivation whatsoever at work. Term three is a crucial time of the year, and the time that naturally gets everyone lethargic and blah. So for me to be so empty and out of it now is a problem. Unfortunately it is not one that I know how to fix, at least not when it comes to my personal life.
Self-care is something that I try to value highly, and one of the things that I always advise to anyone new to teaching; if you don’t take care of yourself you can hardly take care of the academic and pastoral future of all your students. I know that I am down, and I know that my students can’t afford for me to be down, but I am at a loss as to how to bounce back. I thought I had a fortnight ago, finally engrossed in the content, assessments and programs written and forward planning starting. I was content at home and content at school, and didn’t think there was much I couldn’t handle. It had been a rough couple of months with my best friend moving out and my grandpa admitted to hospital then passing away and then before I knew it, it was back to school with a new program of geography content that I had not prepared for at all. I was on the back foot for the first few weeks with family and the programs but I felt like I was finally back on track. I hadn’t really given myself the time to grieve my grandpa and feel lonely without my best friend but I was starting to slow down and feel those things, which I thought was the good, healthy thing to be doing. I know myself; I don’t like change and when I bottle things up instead of talking about them or express my feelings is when I feel the most out of sorts. So I thought that while I didn’t have the time to be sad, eventually things would slow down and I would be able to process everything that was happening.
I think I was in the midst of all that when the rug was pulled out from under me (I am suddenly very conscious too that I am using a lot of clichés, sorry) in the form of my best friend. He was annoyed at me about something (or so he said) and had been barely talking to me for a few weeks. Because I was hectic with work I didn’t mind this at first, but as the days went by it began to gnaw at me more and more. Things came to a head last Monday when he accused me of being unreliable and when I hit back with him not talking to me, he pretty much told me to give back the spare keys to his house and get out of his life. Shockingly, this wasn’t the first time this had happened, but because the gesture of him giving me the keys in the first place meant so much to me (literally the most significant thing in our friendship/relationship), him asking for them back just broke me. More than any of the other times he broke something inside of me last week. I was on the phone to another friend hysterical, just crying and crying and so I didn’t reply to the message that he had last sent about me “dedicating [my] attention to something else because [he’s] over it”. My friend on the phone said that he was probably mad about something else and just taking it out on me, and she was probably right because he messaged me later that night asking me something, and the next day, and then when I saw him on Thursday night when he picked up the cat he gave me a hard firm hug. After that he messaged me and we talked (not about the fight, of course, that he was pretending never happened) but unlike other times where it was me grovelling and pleading, I think something in me just broke. The stress from all of that, along with the cat leaving on Thursday and stresses at work has just completely drained me.
Sunday morning I was up at a good normal time, I had spent the day prior vegging out so the intention was to finish house and school-work on Sunday. I had breakfast, read a magazine and started to clean up but I don’t know exactly what happened or how next, but I was hit with an overwhelming wave of just apathy and emptiness. I had no energy to do anything, go anywhere, see anyone. I have nothing left to give anyone or anything. I considered not coming to school the next day because I was just so so broken and empty that I couldn’t even think of facing students the next day. But I am so inherently giving that even that small thing of taking the day for myself to rest and recharge was too much, I had to be there for my students doing their OLNA tests today. So I am at school today, writing this in my spare time because I know that writing at least in some small way helps me to process things and get them out before they eat me up inside.
Otherwise I feel completely shattered. Broken, empty, to the point where I can’t even think of other words for broken and empty. I can’t even handle the idea of facing my colleagues at recess so I am currently sitting in a classroom waiting out the bell. I feel like I have so much to do, and that I should be taking better care of myself, but I just physically and mentally don’t have the energy to do so. I have always been someone who gives and doesn’t know how to take what she needs. I feel like I have been asking for help but people either can’t see how desperately I need it, or they don’t care enough to help beyond saying “figure it out yourself, that’s part of growing up.” Pretty sure that if I knew how to do it myself that I would not be asking for help. I need help but I wouldn’t know where to start. I’m not an overly social person, while I like having people around I’m also happy to do my own thing. My problem at the moment I think is that I have had too much alone time, and the people that I ask to come keep me company maybe don’t realise that I wouldn’t ask that of them unless I was really, really lonely. And I am, so at last check I am broken, empty and lonely. Score. Even though my best friend usually works nights, because we lived together I always knew that I had someone there, even though we both enjoyed time to ourselves. And then even when he moved out, I was still looking after the cat so I at least had Tom to come home to, so I wasn’t as lonely as I am now. Still pretty lonely, but not at rock bottom yet. But now that the cat is gone I am all-alone and barely know what to do with myself. I miss having someone around, not to constantly be with, but just knowing someone was there. I miss having someone there for me physically, emotionally and mentally. I am forever giving myself to people but rarely find myself getting anything similar in return. Which has left me feeling very alone and unsupported and helpless.
I think it is a combination of all these things that have lead me to where I am now. Typing away at some semblance of sanity while my year 12s are watching a documentary. I feel like the laziest person sometimes, and I’m sure my students are sick of me by now. I just don’t know how to reboot and recharge before school holidays. And I need to, in order to not just do my job but to function full stop. I don’t know what else to do with myself and I’m really well and truly floundering. I would like very much not to be a fish at this point in time. I just have nothing left. Nothing.
PS: anyone who is thinking that teachers are always on holidays? Go punch yourself in the face right now.