This blog post is not my normal blog posts. It will be more personal than I usually write. I hope that you bear with me.
This year has been the most difficult one of my entire life. I have frequently said that this year was the perfect storm when a lot came crashing my way. It started where I expected it, with my parents, my dad, most specifically. I know that a lot of people reading our blog are around our age and know what it is like to deal with aging parents. In my dad’s case, not only is he now in his mid-80s but has dealt with a well-known autoimmune disease, Lupus, for about a decade. At times, he is okay and at other times, he suffers from significant pain and exhaustion. On top of that, he has had other medical emergencies and surgeries. Last summer, for instance, one medical emergency led to another in which he had two surgeries and two hospital stays in ten days. Since then, he has struggled more on every level, including now showing symptoms of Parkinson’s.
My parents mean the world to me. On top of providing nothing but unconditional love and support while teaching values of hard work and sacrifice, they are my go to people. What do I mean by that? I turn to them to process my day or days depending on how frequently I talk to them. If I’m upset, I can always go to them at any time. I don’t need to make plans with them unlike friends. We are very close. So now is the time that I have help them. Clearly, I want to keep them safe, no matter what. Once covid hit, that became even more of a priority as my dad would not survive it if he were to contract it.
The perfect storm also included my own health. I had begun to struggle with various ailments a few years ago. With each one, I would just try to deal. My sister suggested that all of them could be part of a larger problem. This summer, I could no longer ignore what was going on as I realized that eating, sleeping, and more had been altered. So, I started the long process of getting it checked out and dealing with the symptoms as I could. This resulted in many, many doctors appointments and thousands of dollars in medical expenses (and that is with good insurance). To make a long story short, I fit many of the symptoms of an autoimmune disease like my dad and my sister. I will know, for sure, when I go for a biopsy in November. Now, in a covid world, it is not just about protecting my parents but me, too, as the rheumatologist told me to be “extremely cautious”.
Then, there is my job. As many/most of you know, I have been a teacher for over twenty years. It is the only career I have ever known. When I went into teaching, I knew that I would not get paid a lot but I figured that it would offer solid benefits, security and a good retirement. More importantly, I loved kids and loved talking about history. My love for teaching has not changed. I still love planning lessons and the kids. My heart practically bursts when I think about all the kids over the years. That being said, while I love teaching, I have grown to hate being a teacher.
In 2011, our governor along with the state legislature stripped power from public sector unions, especially teacher unions. School budgets dropped dramatically causing those great benefits I had been promised to decline. The job instantly got harder and continued to do so each year as class sizes grew, expectations increased, while funding and support decreased at every turn. Still, teachers did the best they could and made do with what they had, often suffering personally as a result. Then, decisions made within my district added to the mess by showing lots of disrespect towards educators and removed more of those benefits. School based decisions piled on. I began to wonder how much longer my love of teaching would be enough to keep going.
Covid meant closing the physical doors of schools while moving teaching to the virtual space. I appreciated the safety but it was hard to pivot. I missed the relationships. I also missed the days when schools and teachers were not subjects of the news everyday. It was like no matter what teachers did, it wasn’t good enough. While the public criticized, my world saw more expectations added to my already overburdened plate. This became really hard as my body was screaming more and more for rest. Guilt was an added layer on top. Again, no matter what I was doing or what other teachers were doing, kids were suffering as a result, we were told or was implied. If anyone pointed this out, then the gaslighting started. “Oh no. No one is making you feel guilty or are implying that you aren’t doing enough.” Self-care was a topic at staff meetings while adding five more tasks to do.
At this point, I decided to start looking. After all, I had been doing a lot of political organizing and campaigning for the past decade or so on top of teaching. Surely, that would open up doors. Only it didn’t. Here’s the thing. The one area of my life that I feel success in is my career (school before that). Now, I wasn’t getting anywhere in this job search leading to a lot of self-doubt. The summer turned very dark very quickly. School was looming; rejections were pulling up; doctors appointments were leading to extreme costs and little answers. Without me even being aware that it was happening, I found myself with pretty significant depression on top of my usual brand of anxiety. The feeling of hopeless was overwhelming. I sought help, often having to share too much of what I was thinking and feeling, leaving me feel even more exposed and vulnerable. Why couldn’t they see how hard it was for me to ask for help?
Thankfully, I did have my family as they supported me throughout. I also had friends who saw that I was drowning and reached out without judgment. They sought to understand why I felt the way I did and accommodated me in order to best support. By the middle of August, I, at least, had a plan. It started out with a medical leave from school. While it was what I needed, it was still so hard. Years of being made to feel guilty when you do something for yourself is hard to break. My decision to do that was confirmed within the first week of the school year with many covid positive cases in my classroom and a situation with my dad resulting in an ER visit. Thankfully, I had not been exposed so that I could be there for my dad without putting him at risk. If I had been in the school building with no physical distancing in classes of over 30 students, I would be exposed each and every day.
Then, after months of searching, I was finally offered a temporary position at a political organization fighting for fair maps here in Wisconsin. While the job is not perfect, it is remote and only requires 40 hours a week, which is a lot less than I am used to. Plus, it would give me good experience and help me network if I want to continue down this path. So after crying and talking and crying some more, I opted to take a leap, to make that jump, to leave my shelter for danger. Yesterday, I officially resigned from the school district, sobbing for hours.
I have started at the new position and it’s wild. My job is literally to politically organize and, yet, it feels FAR less political than being a teacher. (That says a lot.) I love that my charge is to fix some of the damage done when Scott Walker took the office. That feels good. After all, what he did to teachers and to public school was a trauma. I know many won’t think so and think I should just “get over it” but it isn’t just me. Every single teacher I know who experienced it ALL feel that way. It fundamentally changed everything about teaching here.
This weekend, I am taking some time to grieve and to let people know that I made this heartbreaking decision. I’m sad about it. I’m angry that I was forced into it. Yet, I do believe in the end it is the right decision for me. I am proud that I was brave (or crazy or stupid) and I’m still scared about what comes next. As I work my way back from the abyss, I am going to work on a few things to try to build a life that would make me happy.
This brings me to fandom. I want to make sure that fandom feels good for me, too. A lot of my life has been and will be spent fighting the ugliness in our democracy and country. I don’t need ugliness in my fandom. I don’t need competition. I want fandom to be fun. I want to be supportive of other fans and them of me. I’m not as excited about debating the good and bad moves that Duran makes or whether or not a song hits someone expectations. That level of discourse is not what I need or want right now. I want to enjoy it and if something isn’t enjoyable, I simply plan to walk away from that conversation. Now, maybe as my world finds a new balance, I will feel differently. I have been around long enough to know that there is an ebb and flow to fandom. For now, as I work towards my new life, I’m hoping to be able to enjoy the upcoming album with others who feel the same way. That’s all.
Wow. That was a lot. It has been a long, tough road. I haven’t gotten to my destination yet but I’m getting there, I think. I hope. I’ll take that hope.