Posted in Burnout, Career Change, Self-Care

Learning to Breathe Again

I had a meltdown at work Friday, or almost did at any rate.  My body told me to go home before I think it would have happened.

We’d been running air conditioning all week and I have this thing where I can’t be too hot so I need it but if it’s running for too many days in a row, I get sort of fuzzy headed and can’t think.  This was the first cooler day, but being inside all the time, I didn’t really have the benefit of outside air yet, and beyond that I had had a work training where two men sat on opposite sides of me, completely ignoring the standard buffer I try to get around me and I also had to interact and stuff.

None of these things were big things, but suddenly everything was enormous.

I went home and went to bed and didn’t really feel a lot better when I got up.  I felt mad and sad and just out of sorts, and I realized at some point that Friday would have been the last day of school, had I still been at school, and I wondered if that wasn’t part of my feeling that was making me not myself.

Regardless, I had a fight with my husband about needing help, threatened suicide and went out on the porch to flop down and cry because there were too many people in the damned parking lot across the street to even consider walking over to that river.  After a while, my aunt happened by and she stopped to chat.

My aunt was also a teacher (retired now) and a principal…once.  I never really understood what happened when she left her principal job that she also loved, but I always thought she quit.  Now I’m wondering if she was asked to leave.  Regardless, she said she knew this was going to happen to me, and that it had happened to her the same way and she was most definitely not all right for quite some time afterward.  She said I should expect a couple of years of feeling this way.

For now, she said, the thing to do is focus on doing one thing every day after work for 20 minutes.  No more, no less.  One thing.  Unpack a box.  Clean a small area.  Garden.  One small thing.  Because to do more would be too much, and that I need to accept that I have to relearn how to live my life now, now that going back to education isn’t viable.  She said maybe I could teach, but really, teaching isn’t teaching anymore and administration is too political now, so it’s just not something most people can do anymore.  Neither are about the kids and both of us care too much about kids to be part of something that’s not even about them anymore.

It’s hard to admit that I can’t do more.

In an online game I used to play, one of the players once died (in a particularly tragic way; let us say that veterans are never given enough mental health care) and we had an in-game funeral.  His eulogy was written by one of the staff members and she talked about watching a documentary about climbing Everest and how they can’t just wander up the mountain.  Instead, you have to stop and live at a certain altitude for a while and then start up again for a bit, stop, and learn to breathe again.  This career change thing has felt like that.  I want so much to run away from this new job, to run back to what I loved, but really, I have to admit that that path is no longer open to me, and that has been hard.  I must be content that I did it once and I loved it, but I can never do that again.

And I also have to understand that changes like this will not be easy.

For now, I wonder about whether to reveal my Disability at work to explain why I really had to go home, but watching Survivor has taught me that I don’t really need to tell my boss anything.  I had time, and I felt sick, and I went home and I got better.  End of story.  She doesn’t need, nor is she entitled, to know the details.

Because right now I am playing a sort of Survivor.  I need to learn how to be someone who is not a teacher or principal.  And unlike the last time I left education, I have a family to support so I can’t just go do the next thing and then the next thing until I fall into whatever-it-is.  For now, this workplace is where I’m going to be for the foreseeable future since I have to, and I have to learn to breathe again before I do anything else.

When I left teaching the first time, I learned that everything is teaching and I always think about how I can use every experience to teach.  But this time, that isn’t my issue; I gave up being in charge and making life better for kids.  I gave up leadership, not teaching, and now have to do mundane tasks and pretend I’m taking a while to catch onto tasks that are too easy for me so I don’t show up my boss.  I have to mask for a while, at least, and possibly forever, so that my Autism doesn’t become a thing.  I have to play the game for myself.

A hard enough lesson for us Autistics in general, but this particular lesson comes with it so many feelings of defeat and despair, it is nearly impossible.

But at least I know that I’m not the only one who has gone through this.


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