A month ago today, March 17, was supposed to be the first day of a voluntary three week leave of absence from my work. After finally recognizing I was in the throes of burnout in various areas of my life, I made the decision to take the time to rest and restore myself to a place mentally, emotionally, and physically so that I could find a way back to being the person I wanted to be.
Burnout is one of the things that we are taught to watch out for when entering into the field of school counseling. This is one of the best descriptions I have found for burnout:
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.
Burnout reduces productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give.HelpGuide, 2019
I found an online burnout self-test, and when I took it over a month ago, my score was 59 out of 75. Based on that score, I was at “severe risk of burnout” and encouraged to do something about it “urgently”. The next level would have been “very severe risk” as opposed to “severe”. I also filled out a compassion fatigue questionnaire and scored at-risk on it, too.
There was a time in my life where I would have looked at my scores and thought, “Oh, you’re okay. You only scored 59. If you were really burned out, you’d score 75. Maybe you’re not working hard enough.” Like many others, I had been conditioned to wear stress like a badge of honor. That if I wasn’t filling every second of my day with something productive, then I was lazy. That while I might be going through a hard time, others were going through even harder times so I should suck it up and quit whining.
Thankfully, in my 39-year-old wisdom, I was able to recognize that I had to stop going down the path I was on. Actually, I don’t know if it was wisdom so much as exhaustion – mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion. Either way, I was able to recognize that I was not okay and that I needed a break. A break that would allow me the time to figure out what was going on, how to handle it, and work on creating new habits for both my personal and professional life.
So I made a plan.
As I have often found throughout my 39 years on this Earth, when I plan, God laughs.
Actually, I don’t think He laughs. I think He shakes His head and says, “That’s not quite what I had in mind.” And then the whole “Thy will be done” thing comes into play.
Here’s how it happened:
- February 26: I hit bottom. That’s the morning I woke up and thought to myself, “I can’t do this today.” I ended up taking two days off work.
- March 4: I spoke to my husband and then principals about taking some time off of work. A three week leave of absence was scheduled to begin on Tuesday, March 17 and I would return to work on Monday, April 6. During my time off, I was going to go to church, get a physical, see my counselor, go to the dentist, read, write, exercise, get good sleep, clean, get a skin cancer check. I couldn’t wait.
- March 5 – 13: I got my last rounds of classroom lessons in for my students and teachers. Some small groups were met with one last time and arrangements were made for other small groups to continue in my absence. Practice MAP tests were ready to go for 3rd & 4th grades. I met with some of the students I saw on a regular basis to make sure they were well-equipped for my hiatus.
- March 15: While at my parents for an early St. Patrick’s Day dinner, rapid updates were coming in about steps being taken, including school closures, to combat the spread of the coronavirus in Missouri. The reality that I wasn’t going to get the leave of absence I desperately needed and wanted began to hit me and panic began to set in. As I drove my family home that evening, I felt defeated. I drove home in silence. When I went to bed that night, I cried. I’m talking about full-body sobs. The hope I had been carrying that I was actually going to get better was gone.
- March 16: My school district announced that schools would be closed beginning Tuesday, March 17 through Friday, April 3. Classes were to resume on Monday, April 3.
- March 17: I spent the day at home. With my children.
- March 19: My day was spent at school preparing for distance learning.
- March 20: I spent the morning running errands, stocking up on food and supplies, and beginning to experience real anxiety about the reality of how the coronavirus could affect my family, especially Moses.
- March 27: My school district announced the school closure was extended through April 15.
- April 9: Governor Parson announced that public schools will remain closed through the end of the school year.
- April 17: We’ve settled into somewhat of a routine here at home. We are muddling through homeschooling two preschoolers at best. The children are living their best lives. We may not be able to convince them to go back to school, whenever that may be.
During this month, I have been able to take time for myself to rest and find some peace mentally, emotionally, and physically. I took the online burnout self-test again today and my score is now 46, which indicates I’m still at risk of burnout and that I still have work to do. But it also shows that I’m on the right track.
This last month definitely hasn’t gone the way I envisioned on so many different levels. Again, my plans and God’s plans don’t often seem to mirror each other. Thankfully, I learned to let go of my plans and trust in His a long time ago. Even though I still don’t understand why this has worked out the way it has, I trust that one day I will understand and maybe even be grateful.