“Make sure you have that week off,” I remember Casey* telling Melissa. “It’s always important to take a week to yourself before switching jobs.”
I was in the backseat of Casey’s car as she gave Melissa that advice. Melissa had just put in her two weeks notice at the childcare center we all were teachers at. Like many people in the field, she was setting up to leave ECE to become a nanny. I was week three or four into my two-month notice, giving the director as much time as possible to find a replacement before I left as well. I was desperately afraid that all the work I did with my students (which included a child with autism, a child whose parents were going through divorce, and a Chinese immigrant who had just started learning English and just stopped being afraid of the world) would be undone by a string of temporary teachers. I would later find out that it took them all summer to find a replacement for me once I was gone. Apparently very few people want to lead a packed Pre-K class filled with extenuating circumstances for less than what a full-time Hobby Lobby cashier makes.
My last day at that job was three weeks before my wedding. I spent that time packing up an apartment, finalizing a wedding with a whole bevy wrenches in the machinery, and filling out the paperwork for my new job in my new state. I would get married, fully move to the new apartment, spend two weeks abroad, and go right back to the rat race — with, of course, that one-week break in between.
Since my senior year of high school, I had always prided myself on doing it all. Yes, I can handle taking all honors classes — five of which happen to be writing-intensive English courses — while working a job that occasionally likes to give me more hours than is legally allowed in the state of Massachusetts for someone my age. I’ll do all that while getting my volunteer hours in for the Honor’s Society in, applying to college, and doing write-ups for every scholarship within a 40-mile radius. In no way will this have a negative effect on my health, causing me to have a nervous breakdown in April — which would stretch through until the end of May and really only dissipate once finals week was over.
In college, the deck of cards changed, but the game remained the same. Sure, I can handle taking high-level classes with professors who are bitter that they are not teaching at Harvard or Tuft’s. I’ll do this in two subjects — and I’ll maintain my GPA in order to keep my scholarship through the school while serving as a content editor for the school’s literary magazine and working an on-campus job at inconvenient hours and being perpetually in a state of job searching thanks to the requirements needed for the co-op program. Just ignore the part of the story when I turn 20 and have a complete & total life crisis.
The height of my Do It All lifestyle came when I found myself planning a wedding while working (more than) full-time as a solo Pre-K teacher, taking two night classes, single-handedly creating and implementing a graduation ceremony, packing up the apartment to move to another state, and interviewing for a new job in said state. I felt victorious when everything finally came into play, only to find myself in tears from pure exhaustion the morning before my first day at my new job.
I know I could blame a lot of what went down during my time as a teacher on so many external factors: administration, large classes, catch-22 policies and no-win situations. But, at the heart of it, the most damage created during my time as an ECE teacher was due to myself and my stubborn inability to realize when enough is enough. I refused to take a step back and say, “It’s not normal or healthy to burst into tears the second you get home — or when you’re on school grounds. It is time to put me back into perspective and walk away.”
Eventually I did. It took a lot of high-stress and downright toxic situations for me to finally go, “Enough really is enough.” At that point, I was so checked out and unhappy that I had transformed my school calendar into a makeshift countdown. With a big Sharpie marker, I wrote over the scheduled meetings and school plays with a set of numbers, counting backwards from the very last day of school. It was something I maniacally checked, crossing off each and every single day and noting just how many days I had left. Eventually that number dwindled down to, “one,” and I finished the school year with essentially a pat on the back and my husband waiting for me in the parking lot.
For the first couple of months, life was still too busy to really soak in what had happened. My husband and I went on a two-week, cross-country roadtrip, closed on a house, and spent all of July and August playing amateur handyman. We moved into our new place and closed up the apartment we called home for the last two and a half years (which involved a lot of spackling and scrubbing). I then had two weeks to magically unpack and set up the house for our housewarming party, because timing was allowing us to have the party on one date and one date only.
But things quickly settled. Somewhere in the midst of all that, I got an email from my tai chi instructor, asking if I could take over a potential class for her at a yoga studio. Nothing crazy: just an hour or two a week at a studio in Merrimack. I wasn’t working at that point, and the gig wouldn’t start until after Labor Day. Would I be interested?
Suddenly, the idea of having to meet the yoga studio owner for a whole thirty minutes and travel down to the studio twice a week sounded like the most onerous of tasks. I knew in my gut that I needed to take this, but I treated this position — which would take maybe 5-6 hours total out of my entire week — like someone had asked me to randomly go to law school. That’s when I knew how deeply necessary it was for me to take a break from life.
And that’s exactly how things were for four straight months. My “job” was teaching two classes a week. My husband would call me up in the evening and ask me how my day went. On more than one occasion, I would reply with, “Well, I taught tai chi … and that was kind of it. I was really unproductive after that.” And he would always reply with something encouraging, like, “You taught tai chi today. I’d call today pretty productive.”
In some subtle way, I was experiencing a nervous breakdown that had been nearly four years in the making. All my can-do attitude was good and gone, my tank was on empty, and I was more than happy to be the proverbial car at the side of the road. I spent a good chunk of time in perfect silence and solitude, diving headfirst into my writing and only begrudgingly coming up for air.
For Christmas that year, my husband gave the gift of a yoga teacher training that I had been considering, but had nixed almost outright because tuition was expensive and I was barely bringing in any income. In fact, at that point I was bringing in no income, as the yoga studio I was teaching at closed its doors just before Christmas. But I was in a much different place than I was in September. I had already returned to the modeling world and was enjoying the occasional go-see or gig — which I took with irrational exuberance, if only because everything was temporary. The go-sees were barely over 10 minutes and the shoots only lasted a day. No set schedule, no commitment. I was getting into a productive rhythm with my writing, even winning NaNoWriMo for the second year in a row. When I opened the unassuming brown box and found the new student questionnaire alongside the required textbooks, I was already starting to feel the itch, like there was something more I needed to be doing, something more I needed to put into place.
I devoted the next 8 months to all things yoga. I did my “yoga homework”, which included an online anatomy course and enough reading to satiate any English professor, and practiced teaching to empty rooms in my house. I taught tai chi once a week at a new studio, usually with the same students from the previous place, and went on the occasional go-see. I wrote in ways I never thought I would, even stumbling upon a few viral essays here and there. I was spending a lot less time in silence and a lot more time being social. But, in many ways, I was still slightly disconnected from the rest of the real world. My “to do” lists were the tiniest fraction of what I used to have on my plate. But the days where I admitted that I taught tai chi and did nothing else were gone. In May, I started to search for potential yoga jobs. I even applied for a few front desk positions at local gyms.
Come July — just a little more than year after I had finally left my job — everything suddenly fell into place. I landed a volunteer job at a homeless services center to teach yoga to the homeless. I met with a few other places about potentially teaching yoga there as well. Those eventually fell through, but I was soon approached by the owner of my favorite studio, asking if I would like to take over for a Sunday morning class in the fall. A few weeks later, I landed an interview for a front desk position I had applied for months ago. I started subbing for another yoga studio, with the understanding that the subbing might eventually graduate up to a rotational teaching gig.
In August, I completed my yoga teacher training, with a lot of tears and smiles and brand new friends. The transformation during training had been a slow burn and, on graduation day, I thought I was going to spontaneously combust. But I walked away feeling like a brand new person with a brand new outlook on life. It took a few weeks for me to realize that I had graduated from teacher training around the one-year anniversary of when I forced myself to agree to taking over my instructor’s classes.
The day after graduating was all the proof I needed that I was starting a brand new chapter in my life. When I wasn’t emailing the owner of my favorite studio about scheduling, I was on the phone with the studio I teach tai chi at. In the middle of that phone conversation, I received a text from a fellow trainee telling me that a studio owner we both knew wanted to get in touch with me about potentially starting a class at her studio. I found myself creating write-up after write-up: class descriptions, teacher bios, potential workshop drafts. That night, I tried kickboxing for the very first time and the instructor’s eyes lit up when she found out I taught tai chi. A few days later, I found out I landed the front desk position at the gym, starting in the fall.
After this Labor Day weekend, I’ll be teaching Tuesday afternoons, Tuesday evenings, Friday afternoons, and Sunday mornings. By late September, I’ll be manning the front desk three mornings a week at the gym down the street, with the potential for me to teach yoga there as well. Starting in October, I’ll be adding in a Saturday morning class as well. It’s the busiest my schedule has been in a very, very long time. But, it’s still nothing like I used to do.
I fully recognize that I was able to do something a lot of people cannot: take a year break from life. Even with a new house under our belt, we were in a position where I could take a step back and not necessarily worry about a steady paycheck. I had run myself into the ground and was given an opportunity to dig myself back out. It was a chance to go off autopilot, do a factory reset, and figure out where in the hell I was going from there. I needed a year where I did the absolute minimal to offset the years where I swore I was Wonder Woman.
I haven’t talked to Melissa since she left her job, and Casey sadly passed away last year due to a heart problem. The last time I saw either of them, I was a strung out 24-year-old, a baby in many ways and old before her time in others. I’m weeks away from my 28th birthday, a birthday I’ll hopefully be celebrating with people from all corners of my life, from my hometown friends to my new yoga buddies. I’m going into this new school year completely different than I did in 2013. While the events leading up to my year-long hiatus were less than favorable, they were exactly what I needed to get me to where I am supposed to be. I am so incredibly grateful for having that time to do the necessary soul searching and soul replenishing. And as busy as my schedule is about to become, I go forward with a keen eye on keeping myself happy and energized — and with the understanding that I cannot do it all, and that’s perfectly okay. My life is better with fewer things on my to-do list.
*all names changed