You have come such a long way over the last 18 months, it’s truly incredible. Have you celebrated that? When you reflect over the past year don’t forget to appreciate how much you grew. All factors considered, it may not feel like something to appreciate and maybe it’s not fair that you were put in that position, but celebrate anyway. What you’ve accomplished is nothing short of amazing.
But that’s not what you’re asking me. And the question of how you heal really isn’t the right question. What you want to ask is, “How do I start to heal?”
And that’s a loaded question, you see, because your journey to healing did not start nor will it end with the pandemic. Every way you reacted over the last 18 months has been based on how much effort you’ve put into your healing prior to the pandemic, how much resilience you had built, and how many strategies for dealing with any mental health issues you had found. But we can’t always stare in the rearview mirror or we will crash, so it is amazing that you’re looking out the front windshield.
But it’s awesome that you recognize the need to heal and you’re ready to start. Please allow me to give you some starting points.
So much of what we suffer from can be dialed in to two issues: identity and belonging. We need to know who we are and we need to know where we belong. Our brains are literally wired for this. The last 18 months challenged both of these. So much of who we believe we are was challenged through multiple lenses. And where did we belong when we felt like our identities weren’t as strong as they once were? If we were changing, was everyone else? And better yet, who the hell are we in the first place?
So much of my work in educator engagement is based on the emotions that happen behind the education curtain that make people want to leave the profession. The two main issues being burnout and demoralization (although there are a total of six categories that I regularly name).
If I ask you who you are, is “being an educator” one of the top three answers? If your answer was yes, and I have now spent the last year challenging everything about being an educator, you may be feeling demoralization. Demoralization is when your moral obligation to make a difference in this world is challenged, and I believe that it boils down to an educator identity crisis. If I have challenged the very thing that makes you the person you identify with, it is going to make you question everything – even the continuation of being that person and if the risk of re-finding out who you are outweighs the reward of being that person and staying in the profession.
Burnout is, of course, about our own lack of boundaries and our complete and utter exhaustion, but in the education profession, burnout also tends to equal I’m too tired to be the person for other people that I typically am. Which means, it can be a belonging issue. I can’t do that for others because I’m exhausted. I can’t be a part of that group because I don’t have it in me. I can’t support that project because I can’t do anything but watch Netflix. Other people are overwhelming me. And after awhile, you start to wonder what kind of value you’re bringing to the people around you. While burnout should be about you and taking care of yourself, when you place so much of your human value on what you bring to other people, it can make you feel devalued as a human.
This summer, most importantly, rest. The most crucial messages for healing will happen in the quiet moments. Pay attention to your mind and body.
Also, you’ll hear about building resilience through mindfulness practices, gratitude, and various other self-care activities. Please do these if they feel right. However, these practices are not actually where the healing begins, they’re simply tools. The real healing begins by increasing your self-awareness, your emotional intelligence, and developing a more internal locus of control. Behaviors are simply a symptom of emotions, triggers, and past experiences that make us act a certain way. Until we understand these emotions, triggers, and have worked through these past experiences, it’s difficult to move forward. Read self-help books. See a counselor. Pay attention to your thoughts and actions. Reacquaint yourself with who you are and where you belong in the world. Spend time laughing with the people you love and that make you the happiest. I promise that this will help you more in the fall than reading any educational book will.
It’s important to recognize this summer as the beginning because the fall may bring on a setback. As you being to recognize some of your pre-pandemic school life, you may begin to feel the impact of any trauma you suffered over the course of the pandemic. You may start to have post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. Over the course of the last 18 months you have held in all the stress, heartache, and feelings that you were not teaching to the best of your ability. When things start to feel like normal, those boxed feelings are going to come out and at some point you may think, “Things almost feel like normal, what is wrong with me?” There is nothing wrong, dear one. There is only so much your human can hold at one time. So, when that happens let it out and understand that’s just one more place on the healing journey. To be completely healed is not a reasonable outcome. Whenever we heal from one thing another thing will pop up. Therefore, to look at healing as an event…let that go. You will only ever be at a point in your healing journey, and wherever you are is okay as long as you keep moving forward.
I know you are itching to do something to make yourself feel better. To feel like yourself again. You’re going to have to go slow to go fast, and that begins with taking time to heal and look within yourself for the answers instead of defining yourself by outside factors in which you have no control. There is no prescription. I’m sorry I can’t give you a step-by-step process. This isn’t a quick fix. It will take time. You can do this.
For more information on the importance of belonging, I highly recommend you check out Ilene Winokur‘s work and new book.