As some of you have already read on this blog, I lost both of my parents in the same year to cancer. My step dad passed in November 2017 and my mom passed in March 2018. A few weeks after her passing, I entered back into the classroom to finish off the last month of the school year with my fourth grade students. This would also be my last days at a school I had been a part of for 10 years. My last day of school in 2018 would mark my first day of my year long mental health break.
In January 2018, I made a bold move to step away from my job and just take a break. I was working on fumes. My dad just passed, my mom was sick, my job was eating me alive, and I had an almost two year old and husband who needed me too. Turning in a resignation was more difficult than I thought. I always viewed myself as a teacher that would happily teach until retirement, and saw a future of nothing but the education field.
Yes, the current state of public education in Arizona was a piece of why I resigned, but more importantly, I just needed a break. I know I am extremely lucky to even be able to walk away from my job for an unknown amount of time and to rely on my husband to be the sole provider for our family. Not everyone has the opportunity, and I am thankful each day I could.
My year long mental health break wasn’t all Eat, Pray, Love. It was grounded in reality and minimally planned. Reflecting back on this year for me I have realized it wasn’t the random, question marked, no makeup, yoga pants filled year I thought it was. It was highly more productive than I expected or planned and I am going to share some milestones from along the way.
- Most obviously, I got to spend more time with my family. This wasn’t just family trips but day to day activities. I was no longer so tired at my son’s swim lesson I could barely keep my eyes open. I was more present and alert. I was excited to be involved rather than obligated.
- I got to sign up for a parent toddler preschool class with my son. With only 1 week before the class started, and one less salary, we decided to sign up. Each Friday for 2 hours I get to take my son to school and play and learn alongside him. The early childhood educator in me is gleefully happy at this opportunity. If I were still teaching, this wouldn’t be an option for me to enjoy with him.
- The massive control freak in me took a chill pill. I still had organization and order in my life but I embraced my future of “ I don’t know.” This phrase spread into many aspects of my life and I learned to let go and found it’s okay not to have everything perfectly planned.
- I got to do some things for myself that I always wanted to do, but never had the time. I traveled for fun, started writing for this blog, went out to lunch with friends, and fostered dogs at the shelter. Time and energy had forced these items to the back burner.
- I was able to finally take a deep breath in our year and a half journey to get pregnant and refocus. Trying to get pregnant during such a stressful time was not working. I had time to focus on my body and had time to see a reproductive endocrinologist. Boom. In just one cycle, I was pregnant.
- Most importantly, I allowed myself to grieve. I originally thought working would help. I thought it was a healthy distraction, but it wasn’t. For the first time in my life I saw a therapist. I was so scared of making others sad when I talked about my parents passing, so I was talking to no one. Seeing her really pushed me to open up and allowed myself to grieve and work through their passing.
I can actually say I enjoyed this last year. My job, my family dynamic, and who I was as a person always led me to take care of others before myself. This year I learned how important it was to take care of myself. I also learned that my future is always changing and it’s okay not to have it all planned. Everyone may not have the luxury to take a year long mental health break like I did. It’s not about the time but rather the active thoughts and execution of putting your needs on the priority list too. Set aside time for yourself no matter how short or long.