Sunday evening we sat in our friends’ backyard for post-dinner drinks and an in-person chat. Monday morning I had coffee with a friend in her new backyard. Prior to March, I saw these friends regularly, every couple of weeks usually. Seeing them again, getting to sit together and talk for a couple of hours, was a gift. I felt my soul healing from months of isolation.
Then, mid-day Monday, my stomach curled up in knots. I’d eaten my regular breakfast sandwich (a routine my husband and I have down solid) and a latte I’d made. Both were things I’ve had many times before so I wondered what might have caused such pain. Stomach pain is not something I am familiar with. Nausea, sure. Pain like this, no. As the day went on it got worse. I finally curled up in bed, trying not to cry.
The day before, on Sunday, our oldest felt exactly the same way. She has ongoing challenges with stomach pain so she has been trying to stay hydrated, get enough fiber, eat healthy, and figure out good sleep routines. When Sunday was extra rough for her, I suggested it might not be a problem she could solve physically. I told her I thought her pain might be anxiety related.
So by Tuesday morning when I felt better, but far from good, I had to face the same thing myself. What if my pain were caused by emotions rather than a physical ailment? I’ve never been a very anxious person so it seemed a bit of a stretch to me. In the past 24 hours, however, I’ve come to realize it is quite likely.
This past year was awful. There was so much good and I wouldn’t have missed it, but it was exceptionally hard. Here’s a brief timeline:
- I changed schools meaning I had new colleagues and administration to get to know as well as new kids and families in a very different population.
- My new school was huge, about 1,000 kids in preK-3 so getting to know folks was extra challenging. I really got to know my third grade teammates and others with whom I interacted regularly. I probably still don’t know a good three quarters of the staff.
- In December I was placed on administrative leave after being accused of harming a child. That lasted nearly two months during which I was almost completely isolated from my school community.
- A month after I returned to work, school buildings closed for COVID-19. Between admin leave and the closing of buildings, I had about half the number of days at school with my students and colleagues as I should have had.
So that’s the past year. All of that would definitely add some anxiety to all of our natural anxiety about the coming year. (And I think we all have plenty of totally reasonable anxiety about that. I have no idea how to prepare to help my students, my own children, or my colleagues navigate what is to come. I feel completely at sea.) Here’s the additional anxiety inducing issues:
- My district decided (this was announced while I was on admin leave) to change our campus. Instead of being a preK-3 and a 4-6 school, third grade will move to the upper school. So I’ll have a few teammates I know, but otherwise all new colleagues.
- I don’t know my admin. I had a meeting scheduled with my previous principal and my new principal for late March. Obviously that never happened. I hear wonderful things about my principal. I also know she didn’t choose me and she’s getting me a year after I was on admin leave. I don’t feel super comfortable with how this is starting.
When I stop to think about it all, my stomach issues don’t seem terribly surprising. To some extent, that’s reassuring. At this point in time, any physical pain or discomfort or change can be pretty terrifying.
For the record, I’m confident I’ll be okay. I’ve been teaching and parenting long enough to believe that I, in collaboration with those around me, will be able to figure it out and makes things work. It might not be ideal but I’m not concerned it’ll completely be a mess. Writing is a coping strategy. I’ve also found, no matter how hard or strange things are, often there are others feeling or coping with the same. Sharing here means I frequently find myself feeling less alone. That is always a gift.
Reading this collection of essays may be doing quite a bit to help me face the emotions I would prefer to ignore or bury right now. It’s a phenomenal book.