A couple of months ago, E. broke a glass while emptying the dishwasher. He didn’t drop it – he was putting it into the cupboard and he went to stack it with another glass (like we always do) and it…just broke.
For months now, I have felt like that glass. Outwardly whole, but inwardly one wrong knock away from breaking into little pieces.
I had started to seriously consider whether my languishing had tipped over into becoming a true depression.
I was tired all the time.
I couldn’t concentrate when I needed to read challenging texts or do precise work.
The things I enjoyed in the early pandemic – taking photographs, tending my garden, raising butterflies – all now seemed like too much work.
Then Andrew Morris posted about burnout in one of his biweekly emails (he’s great, highly recommend), and a light bulb went off in my brain. And then the Atlantic produced an article on why the pandemic is still making us feel terrible and another light bulb went off. And then there was this article in Macleans, where someone put into words exactly how I was feeling and why I was struggling. It made me ugly cry, especially the line (emphasis mine):
Children have sacrificed so much with no say in how all of this would go down: two entire school years, a sense of careless normalcy, any semblance of routine or stability, countless birthday parties, hockey games, recitals and playdates, even the version of their parents that they would have gotten if all of this were not hanging over our heads, still.
I am burned out.
More burned out than I have ever been in my life before.
Despite all the privilege that Q. and I enjoy (and we enjoy a great deal), I am hanging on by a thread.
My burnout cannot be fixed with cheery exhortations from my institution on Wellness Wednesday to “go for a walk!” or “make time for self care!”.
How I feel cannot be fixed with a massage or a cup of tea.
I have taught for ten semesters in a row, every semester since Fall 2018, including every semester of the pandemic thus far. I have a four-course load this year, two of which are brand new preps outside my field of expertise.
The only reason I am keeping afloat is that the kids have had a blessedly disruption-free fall (although E. is currently in our basement, in the final days of a two-week self-isolation period caused by a positive case in his class). And there is finally, finally some light at the end of the tunnel for my household, as both of my kids have vaccine appointments this weekend. Our provincial vaccine portal was supposed to open yesterday at 8 am, but experience had taught me it’s always available earlier, so I logged in and booked both kids at 6.30 am, before anyone else in my house was awake. And then I put my head down on my kitchen table and cried. I cried because at some point in early February (assuming an eight-week spacing between shots like the NACI is recommending) my kids will be as safe as I can make them, and I can stop carrying the continuous weight of what-if worry that has been my constant companion since the pandemic started.
In early October, I asked my Chair not to run the course in SU2022 that I usually teach for them every summer. It’s an entirely online course that I’ve taught several times before. Under normal circumstances, I quite like teaching it. Under normal circumstances, it’s not that much extra work (other than the marking).
But I need the rest so much more than we need the income.
My Chair has school-age children who, like mine, have spent the majority of their past two academic years at home (from mid-March 2020, when the schools shut for the first time, my kids were in school from mid-September to the first week of December 2020, and then again from mid-February until the first week of April. Until September 2021, that was it. Five months out of eighteen.). “T.,” he said, “I’ve never been so tired in my entire life. I get it.”
He approved my scheduling request.
I’ve read so many stories of women leaving the work force because of the pandemic, unable to balance their job and their caregiving responsibilities.
I’m not leaving.
But I am taking a step back.
So I don’t shatter.