It wasn’t that long ago that I considered the mental health day taboo. I’d hide my stress, overwhelm and declining enjoyment for life behind a fake illness, phoning through to work with a pretend croak in my throat, hiding my true pain because I thought it meant that I was weak – that I was failing as a teacher and that didn’t bode well for my perfectionism nature; I was constantly bashing myself for not being good enough, I told myself that there was something wrong with me because I couldn’t always handle life as a teacher. The number of days that I held back tears in the classroom because I was constantly being spoken over, complained to by a parent, or just trying to deal with my life on the outside are too many to count. I struggled to separate the human from the teacher, but because that was what was expected of me when I was in the classroom, I taught myself to push my needs deep, deep down below the surface. I taught myself that my students were the most important things in my life, that I owed them every inch of myself, even if that meant avoiding the things going on in my head and heart that needed urgent attention.
It wasn’t until 2018, after 7 years of classroom teaching and hiding behind a façade, that I acknowledged what was really going on in my head. I wrote about my feelings and described the tornado rolling around in my head, the struggles I face as a teacher and as a mother – a woman caring for everyone else but myself. I let the words flow freely from my heart, not thinking about the consequences or how my words would change the direction of my life.
Hundreds of teachers told me they felt the same.
Hundreds of teachers told me I was in their head.
Hundreds of teachers told me they struggled too.
Hundreds of teachers sharing my story made me feel normal.
But it also made me feel heart broken.
I began to change the way I look at my job.
I began to change the way I look at myself.
I began to unpack my stress cycles.
I began to unpack my why.
I began to put myself first.
I began to write.
My life as a teacher, my life as a mother and my life as a woman fills pages and pages, ready to be shared. I’ll admit it’s a scary thought to share something so raw.
I began writing because I felt this overwhelming responsibility for the teaching profession, although I now know it’s not a battle I can win alone.
I began writing because I wanted to find a way to keep myself in the classroom.
I began writing because I wanted to understand myself better as a teacher but I ultimately ended up learning so much more about myself than I ever could have imagined.
I wanted to process the things I struggle with so I could catch myself before I needed to take another mental health day; but, what I have really learned is the mental health day needs to be taken before you reach that point where you feel like you just can’t go on. It needs to be taken before the panic attacks begin. It needs to be taken before you have that meltdown. It needs to be taken. It is NOT your last resort – it should be your first.
Pay attention to your stress cycles.
Pay attention to when your energy is feeling low.
Pay attention to when you feel the negativity begin to consume you.
Pay attention to when you just feel like screaming.
Pay attention to when you feel like you are living under that cloud.
Pay attention, and take action.
The thing is, at the end of the day, you are the one responsible for yourself and your own wellbeing. While our workplaces can put things in place that support us, we tend to end up being our own worst enemies. We choose to push through the pain because we think we have to, or we don’t want people to look at us through judgmental eyes and see us as weak, incompetent or just not good enough. We choose to push through because we think we have to. We choose to push through because we want to wear our stress as a big badge of honour and show the world the parts of us we want them to see, and we hide the sides we are ashamed of. We choose to push through because we put other people first, and we believe that is how we show people that we care.
Today I took a mental health day because teaching is hard.
Today I took a mental health day because parenting is hard.
Today I took a mental health day because being responsible for so many people and their differing social, emotional and academic needs is hard.
Today I took a mental health day because I needed to put my own needs first.
I needed to sleep.
I needed the beach.
I needed to write.
I needed a break.
Life can be hard.
I could feel those feelings that don’t help me creep up on me and I knew I had to practise what I preach.
It is ok to put yourself first.
It is essential that you do.
Maybe it’s the energy of the super blood moon, in fact I am certain it is, but those feelings of losing my light began to increase as my enjoyment for life and my enthusiasm for what I do began to fade.
I had a sleep.
I went to the beach.
I had a break.
I feel better.
I still don’t have a title for my book, it turned into something bigger than I thought. I thought I was writing a book to keep myself and other teachers in the classroom but something else happened. My why changed. I thought I had found my calling, but I learned that a calling is not one final destination but more your heart calling you onto the path you need to follow, a path that can twist and turn with many rest stops along the way; I think classroom teaching is just a rest stop for me, and not my final destination.
The day I wrote about my first mental health day and shared my writing with the world changed my life. If you want to read about my journey, you can jump on my mailing list so you can be the first to know when it’s ready to be published. I healed myself while writing it as I reflected on so many aspects of myself – my behaviours, thoughts, feelings and beliefs as a teacher but also as a woman, and I know it will help so many who read it.
Be the first to know when my book is ready:
Read about my first ever mental health day here: https://aimeenicole.co.nz/2018/11/09/when-your-best-just-isnt-enough/
I have nothing but love to share, but only when I love myself first.