“We need to give up what no longer works, in order to stay close to what is sacred.”
Mark Nepo This is really long, and if you read it I really appreciate it 🙂
I have been holding on to an old version of me; I have been fighting and chasing it, and believing it will return. It is exhausting and futile to continue this fight within myself, to not accept 2016 Traci.
Who was 2013 Traci? I was a first grade teacher, an awesome one I might add, and I loved my work. It was my 18th year teaching and I still had the fire. I loved watching my students learn and thrive; I loved being creative with my lesson plans; I loved the staff and my boss. My bipolar was in check, sure there were some ups and downs and episodes, but my team always helped me get back on track. I moved through life with a certainty that I would retire at 55 and that my bipolar would always be just something to manage behind the scenes, until the spring of 2014.
In 2014 teaching changed, and not for the better. There were so many changes coming at me at one time; I couldn’t deal with the avalanche of new requirements and new methods of teaching and new materials. Also, we were required to work as a team on everything, and I mean everything. If my coworkers were making snowmen then I had to make snowmen; if my coworkers were teaching a concept that my class might not be ready for yet, then I had to teach it too. The government came in, and they came in like a bulldozer demanding “rigorous” teaching. This word rigorous was thrown around throughout the new changes; sometimes we made jokes about it; we had to have a sense of humor to survive. I felt like my autonomy was taken away; I felt like a machine. The children were just as stressed because the content was too hard at first; sometimes they would cry and it just wasn’t fair. The changes just kept coming, with zero support from those up above. I even emailed human resources and asked if they would conduct workshops like how to manage stress, and I never heard back from them. But you could be sure if I was out sick they were on that immediately. All the teachers were stressed; some would cry; some took a leave; some retired early. It is a disgrace what happened to teaching. Once I was told we had to fill out a form every time we met as a grade level team, I could see our power, our creativity, our independence slowly being taken away. And I slowly began to fall apart.
I started isolating myself by eating in my car and crying. I cried at work when I was alone in my room. I cried when I got home. My anxiety was in overdrive. I reached out to my boss for some accommodations and she was helpful, but nothing was working. I was slowly starting to shut down. And at the same time I am recovering from a divorce and raising a teenager! I kept thinking that I just have to get to June and I’ll be okay. When the summer came I never felt that sweet relief; I noticed it and thought it didn’t make sense. I did the usual things, swim, go to concerts, read, get outside, work out etc. but nothing was making a dent in my psyche. At the end of the summer I realized I had to go back and I was so upset; in the past I would get so excited about going back to work. I loved setting up my room while u2 played in the background. For the first time, I didn’t have these feelings. Then divine intervention or coincidence showed up; I broke my foot. I was wearing flip flops and I stepped off a curb and went down hard. I was crying and my pants were ripped (I loved those pants). There was blood dripping down from my knee and my right foot. There were tiny rocks stuck inside the open wounds. Then my left ankle and foot started swelling up and I couldn’t walk. I went to urgent care and they showed me the x ray. It was a clean break of the fifth metatarsal. I ended up in a cast for 6 weeks and a boot for 2 weeks. So needless to say, I couldn’t return to work in September. Even though living with a broken foot was so difficult, I was relieved that I didn’t have to go back to school.
Finally, I got clearance to return to work. At this point the children had a substitute for 3 weeks. The day I went back I was excited, but as soon as I entered the room my anxiety woke up with a racing heart, shaking, and my brain started to filter things, like noises and conversation into the background. My brain started to shut down. The second day I went back I had a tough day. I remember trying to teach a math lesson to the students and I could hear chairs squeaking, and pencils tapping, and talking and my breathing got shallow and I began to shake. After the kids got on the bus my intention was to do work at my desk. I sat down and immediately started to cry and I mean sob. I called my mom and she said to take a family leave act, so I called human resources and it was taken care of that night. My doctor filled out the forms and when I went to see him I told him I didn’t feel right. I thought he was going to put me in the hospital, but he wanted to wait to see how I felt the next day since I didn’t have to work. The next day I called him and I told him I didn’t feel right. Ten minutes later I was packing for the hospital. This is the day my bipolar flipped a switch, and it hasn’t gone back to 2013 Traci.
I’m not working now, and I do feel better, but not like I did before 2014. My doctor said to me recently that my bipolar changed and he’s not sure why. He said it could be transitioning into menopause (yay, not), or/and my chemistry changed. I didn’t want to hear that. I believed I could get back to 2013 Traci. I even made an attempt to return to work in 2015, by just having meetings with the principal, who is amazing. After a few meetings I started sobbing again and my brain starting shutting down again; I was relapsing.
My doctor said that I believe I am going to get back to 2013 Traci, and I am trying to live like a person who doesn’t have bipolar by trying to control everything. He said you are walking around life looking for answers and there aren’t any. He said my disease changed and he doesn’t think it will return to the level it was at in 2013. I didn’t want to hear it. Like a rebellious child I insisted I will get back to that Traci.
This week I realized he may be right, based on my current symptoms. I know there was a shift and it hasn’t returned to a remission stage. I get confused when I talk to people. I have low energy and I have to pace myself or I get overwhelmed so easily. So this week I decided to let go of 2013 Traci and to embrace 2016 Traci. It feels freeing and I feel lighter. I do have to fight the feeling of defeat. Rationally I know it’s not weak, rather it is strong of me to surrender the past and embrace the present. Life feels a little more steady and focused now. The defiant child has relaxed into the reality of the truth, even though it is scary and full of unknowns.
I have freedom now and I am grateful for it. It feels good to stop fighting. I have returned to working out and taking my vitamins and accepting present Traci.
I bless 2013 Traci with love, and I let her go. I embrace 2016 Traci and I am excited to see where she takes me.
Know when to let go,