As an educator I get a week off mid-April to recharge and build up energy for the busy sprint to the finish line of the school year. Most years, pre-pandemic, I figuratively crawl into spring vacation, almost but not quite defeated by my school year. It’s a long run of uninterrupted school days from New Year’s Day to April break. Occasionally we get a snow day and we get a day off for President’s Day but that’s about it. By the time we get to April my students are unmotivated and uninspired, my own children are whiney and grumpy, and I am so tired.
This year, however, took that exhausted “I need a break” feeling to a whole new level.
I was, truly and simply, burned out.
I love this metaphor of being “burned out” because fire fascinates me. I love watching a raging, beautiful fire as it provides so much light and warmth it can be overwhelming. There are times when we have a fire in our fire pit that is so large and so strong I’m convinced it will burn forever if we don’t dampen it. But it eventually begins to disappear. It loses its energy. It always, eventually, burns itself out. Something so strong and so full of light and warmth and power turns on itself and burns itself right out.
I would describe myself as a strong person, both emotionally and physically. I have grit and perseverance. I’m independent and strong-willed. I have powered through multiple surgeries and illnesses. I have soldiered through grief and emotional stress and pain. I am a compassionate being and I give a lot of my huge heart away to my struggling students or to anyone in my life who needs support. I like to think I provide warmth and energy to those who need it. But, just like any fire, I burn out. And when I burn out, I’m a whole different person.
I dragged myself into spring vacation this year on my last spark of energy. Teaching in a COVID world has been almost impossible. I have had to re-think every lesson and every skill I teach. I’ve taught myself how to use new digital tools so I could engage and teach my students remotely. I’ve figured out how to take remote lessons and make them hybrid so I could simultaneously teach students physically in front of me (masked up and six feet away) AND students on a remote learning platform. I’m managing students who are struggling socially and emotionally as well as academically. I’m managing my children who are struggling socially and emotionally as well. I’m trying to have patience and compassion for the adults in my life who are also struggling. It’s been…a lot.
I thought I would use the break to get in some good productive self-care as well as family-care. My kids are bored and tired too and needed a break in routine. We would tackle some projects around the house to clean up and beautify our space. We would get out and about maybe and find somewhere fun to visit or something fun to do. I would exercise every day and get the kids out and moving too. I wanted to write, submit some posts to some other sites, and spend some time growing my blog and my social media presence. I was going to get my energy back.
Here is how it went…
- I didn’t exercise. Well, I went for a run on Monday of that week. That was it. I have some chronic hip pain and I’m waiting on an MRI and a treatment plan. After my run on Monday my hip was definitely in bad shape so I decided it would be best if I gave it a break on Tuesday. And then again on Wednesday. And then…well you get the idea. Did my hip hurt? Yes. But the real truth was I was just too tired to run through pain I always find a way to manage. I just didn’t have it in me.
- I didn’t do anything special with the kids. We went to shopping one day to spend some Easter money on spring clothes. I took them to out to lunch one day. I took my oldest daughter out in the car to get her ready for her driving test. They each hung out with some friends or their cousins a bit. We spent time cleaning out each bedroom and re-organizing for spring. But that was it. No trips to the zoo or aquarium. No nights away at a resort. No day trips to see something new. We woke up late each day, ate meals when we were hungry, and did a whole bunch of nothing. We were all just so tired.
- I didn’t write. I didn’t open my social media accounts linked to my blog presence. I ignored any notifications I received of engagement. I didn’t look at my email. I didn’t read either. I didn’t read anyone else’s posts. I didn’t read any books. I barely even interacted on my personal social media accounts. I only took a handful of pictures all week. If I don’t take pictures, we have a HUGE red flag. I have a new blog and a new presence and need to keep producing and interacting so I can build a base of readers. And I completely dropped the ball. I had nothing creative in me to share. I was completely, and thoroughly, burned out.
On Sunday afternoon I started to think about how little I did over the vacation and how fast the week flew by. I waited for the “end of vacation remorse” to sink in.
But a pretty cool thing happened…
I realized I was feeling rested. I was feeling motivated again. I spent the rest of Sunday cleaning up the house, updating my calendars for the upcoming week, making lists of both work tasks and personal tasks that I would need to get done the next week. I opened up my blog and my social media accounts. I made some updates and jotted down some ideas for some new posts.
I walked into work Monday morning not with a huge smile on my face, because seriously let’s be honest here, but I was ready for my week. The beginning of my week has been hugely productive both at work and at home and I’ve found time to exercise each day as well.
I have my energy back.
Because instead of seeing the break from work as an opportunity to do OTHER things, I used the break to do NONE of the things. I actually took a break. I let my body and my brain rest. And I think it speaks to my growth as a person to say I took that break (pretty much) guilt-free.
I needed it.
And now I’m back. Let’s do this. Summer, here I come.