I don’t know if it was the searing pain in my back or the fatigue in my brain that prompted the decision to resign from my career. For the past few years — let’s face it, more like 30 years — I had been juggling absolutely everything. I was highly skilled at making the challenges in my life look non-existent. My childhood and teenage years were spent coping with a difficult mother and home life. I grew up quickly, learned life lessons, and at a young age was equipped with skills to weather the messy end to my marriage and balance the demands of a selfish narcissistic partner — who really was, simply put, a vulnerable person struggling with self-worth. Naturally I had the developed the skills to cope with the effects of our bitter, acrimonious divorce. My childhood has been an adult training ground for life. Emotional trauma, however, is utterly exhausting, and eventually it catches up with you.
The daily demands of teaching high school students, raising three children on a single wage, and working hard day in and day out for every dollar I received ensured my brain’s default setting was constantly switched and set to on. It was fight, fight, fight. There was no flight option. As a sole parent and a decent human, the well-being and lives of the three children I loved meant my emotional and parenting responsibility was to constantly provide for and nurture my children. I would always cope no matter the difficulties. In happier times in my marriage, I had aided the setup and start of my husband’s dream — his own business — and I worked on it as much as he did. Before our business we had built a house, and I have nailed more nails in timber than most handymen. By the end of my 30s and start of my 40s I had been served papers and sat in court more times than the lawyers in “Suits.”
How I managed to survive all the difficult moments in my life, I still don’t know, but I did it seamlessly. I showed up every day to work, life, parenting, and when my husband moved overseas 10 years ago I took on the role of parenting solo at an extreme level. I was vulnerable every day and daily. I moved along an invisible burnout scale.
As the pain in my butt inches its way up my spine, around my hip, and down my thigh, it is a stark reminder that it is time. Injury, I have discovered, is the way my body tells me enough is enough.
The universe, in her wisdom, three years ago tried in a not-so-subtle way to tell me I was burnt out, but I did not heed her warning. There’s nothing quite like landing yourself in a Beijing hospital with a mild traumatic brain injury to hint to you that something needs changing in your life.
Eighteen months is the time it took for me to fully recover. I won’t bore you with the details — but brain fog, a compromised lefthand side of my body, and a constant pulsating tinnitus in my ears are my daily reminders of my injury. I am lucky to not be dribbling in a wheelchair.
The super trooper that I am went back to teaching a month or so after in a limited capacity, but I pushed myself to keep on, keeping on. It was tough with a capital T. It was exhausting, mentally, physically, and emotionally. Soon it was 2017, and with a rising frustration with myself and discontent with my physical ailments, like a marathon runner I just kept metaphorically running and pushing through the pain. Except there was no finish line and it was not a race. I resembled a the mouse running on a mouse wheel, I was constantly working harder and harder for longer and longer hours. I needed to get out of my cage and I searched for an escape.
Quietly the universe had whispered — enough. I quit my long-term teaching position and packed up and moved my life and myself to Sydney.
Neglecting to listen intently to the whispers of the universe I continued in my professional life. I was in search of an ideal position, one that utilised my Masters skills and I was wishing for an ideal life. 2018 ended with my spine having spoken. My lumbar discs and spinal nerves caused their own revolt. They could not sustain the stress my body was under any more. I sustained a second serious injury — when you can’t feel your left leg or sit down, you know that the mild back injury from a few weeks before is more serious than first imagined. What followed was a prescription drug-induced analysis of my life whilst laying flat for three weeks. It gave me a lot of time to think, ruminate, and reflect.
I am a teacher and burnout in teaching is at epidemic proportions. I am exceptional at my job — my internal standards ensure that I am harder on myself in achieving goals than the toughest boss will ever be. However, combine my high internal standards and expectations with a demanding autocratic boss, who expects that you will work 80 hours a week, and demands to be copied in on every email whilst insisting you log every professional conversation, and you will understand that the gauge on my burnout meter imploded.
So I quit my job and I do not have a new teaching position to go to. Hallelujah. Hallelujah, hallelujah. I finally listened to the universe’s chorus of whispers and I tuned in to the signs in my life that indicated that I must care for myself. I am disillusioned that my vocation teaching, something I am exceptional at, has ended with me fleeing its full-time demands. In my recent position as an educational coach and mentor, I bore the brunt and anger of teachers who are under extreme pressure. They are overburdened, overworked, underpaid, and overwhelmed. It is all too much. The disrespect from society, the expectations of school systems, and the lack of leadership, empathy, and understanding from ineffectual leaders.
My spinal nerve injury was my last straw. I could not absorb or hold up the demands of my professional and personal life anymore.
Where to now? Personally I need to leave the fast pace and the high economic cost of Sydney and head back to my home, further north out of Sydney amongst nature. I need time to heal, to think, to write, and listen to the birds nesting amongst the trees and walk the beach where the waves are salty and the people on the beach say hello. I need to be able to afford to live. I will work casually and sell my house if need be. Downsize and destress. Mindfulness and yoga helped me enormously after my brain injury, and once my doctor and physiotherapist clear me to exercise, I will resume gentle yoga. Until then I will walk daily, swim at my local pool, and focus on the black line, counting laps, and my blessings.