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Don’t Let Your Candle Blow Out!

Published: 01/15/2007 by Marilyn Hahn B.Ed

» Health and Wellness

I all too clearly remember the morning my candle blew out. As a teacher, I thought I could take my little light and change the world. I prepped, planned, created, coached, trained, and cajoled each and every day. I would stay awake at night to search my heart and mind for any little trick or technique that might spark a child’s learning. In the morning, I determined to be there for the kids with at least a little something of the best of myself to make learning easier or more useful. I loved the art of teaching; I studied the science of teaching. I cherished kids, admired colleagues, and felt beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was put on this earth to do one thing – teach. I possessed a fully lit candle and I was determined to shine it brightly! No, not just brightly, but vibrantly and expansively!

But here is my moment of truth I want to share with you all. Despite being trained as a teacher and despite passionately loving the profession (often exclaiming to anyone who’ll listen that I would do this for nothing!), there came the day a huge gust of weariness and disillusionment blew across my doorstep…and something inside of me just snuffed out. After pouring myself into all the roles and responsibilities of teaching, I eventually slumped onto the kitchen floor after being weepy for weeks, feeling angry with the world, sweeping up gobs of fallen hair (even my eyelashes!), forgetting things, making stupid mistakes with the things I actually did remember, waking up with nightmares, anxiety, stomach aches, and spending the day stuffing myself with sugar and caffeine. All classic symptoms of burnout.

Me! A trained professional and the hugest lover of teaching – burned out, worn out, and sobbing on the kitchen floor, groping about in my “dark night of the soul”! That morning I was forced to realize teaching was a tough job, even for the stubborn, trained, convinced, and passionate; and there I sat, a sputtering candle. Here are some stats. In 1997, of all United Kingdom teachers – trained and practised, 40% visited the doctor for burnout, 20% drank too much, 15% were alcoholic, an inordinate number suffered from chronic fatigue and fibro myalgia, 25% suffered high blood pressure, insomnia, and gastro-intestinal pain, and 37% of sick days in high schools and 19% in elementary schools were due to poor health. Compare this to 9% of absences in nursing and 5% of absences in banking! Who says teaching is easy.

OK, so how do you know you’re experiencing burnout? Are you feeling a deep, profound physical and emotional exhaustion, which leaves you too worn out to control your body and emotions, and you are convinced that your inner resources (your strengths, support systems, ideas, and abilities) are too inadequate to manage tasks, leaving you feeling powerless, hopeless, drained, frustrated and detached? Are you either extremely angry or extremely apathetic, swinging between the two like an out of control Quasimodo, dangling and hurt from all the crashing, crazy bells clanging around you? Sleeping poorly? Gaining or losing weight? Feeling unusually gossipy, scrappy, exasperated, badtempered, and just plain ol’ mean?

What about illness? Have you or someone close to you been sick for a drawn out period of time? Is there a new baby? A new job? A recent or impending move? Are there marital problems, in-laws moving in, a teenager moving out, or too much company dropping in? Are there household moulds or fumes poisoning your body? Drinking, smoking, eating, shopping, or too much?

Here’s a real reality show scenario: We are entering a season of stress, with Christmas and progress reports and feeling socked in by bad weather and flues. Life happens. And all the while, something inside of you gets dimmer and darker and more desperate. If your little sputtering candle looks something like what’s been described above, you have GOT to run like your shorts are on fire to get some help!!! This is about YOU! Don’t sit there too alone, too proud, too scared, or too nice to ask for help! TELL someone - your facilitator, board principal, friend, doctor - tell anyone who can change something for you. You have GOT to ask for “a light”!

Me? I asked from Life to take a year off from teaching. I watched Oprah every day and practiced what she and her guests recommended for strengthening one’s spirit. I journalled, sat quietly and listened for a new dream, whined, bawled, dieted, talked, exercised, and paid good money to turn myself inside out, upside down, and all the way around in order to twinkle again. It wasn’t always pretty or easy, but it was real and it was necessary. And I found my light again!

Teaching IS tough; you’re not imagining all the stress! Kids are complicated, learning is unpredictable, and Life-stuff is “wobbly”. Sometimes you don’t have all the tools you need to do the job, and switching hats between parent and teacher can cause a crazy commotion! But feeling abandoned and depressed is tougher than unpredictable life circumstances.

Just remember… teaching IS tough, so don’t beat yourself up and sit in the dark! Again, even trained teachers and helping professionals get “here” too!

What you need is comfort and support. Have you heard the joke “Duh Nile isn’t just a river in Egypt?” (If you don’t get it, read it out loud.) When your candle burns out, do not deny yourself help or back-up or the tools needed to survive not just teaching but Life! When your candle burns out, do not deny yourself a conversation with a health or teaching professional.

Give yourself a chance to light up again on the inside! Run! Find someone who can strike a match for you and put that spark in your eye again, someone who can aim a light on your strengths and talents, someone who will sparkle as you share your ideas, and someone who will set alight your spirit as she affirms your areas of expertise. Friend. Doctor. Facilitator. Life coach. It doesn’t matter! Just search for, ask for, pray for, whatever, for that special person to come into your life and light you up – like fireworks!!! Skip the lattes and highlights, and pay for a professional to listen to you and to send a twinkle your way, if you have to!

Just don’t sit another moment in the dark. You are special, and the world needs your lovely light! <>