Have you ever felt like your cup was passed empty? Like it was dry and collecting dust? Have you ever felt like you were hanging on by a thread? Have you ever woken up some days and just cried? If you’ve said yes to any of those questions, you’re not alone. It’s a sad fact, but it’s totally normal. In this post, I’ll get on the surface level of whats the issue and I’m going to get to why it’s okay to have a break from work but first, story time!
It’s no secret, teaching is hard. Add a pandemic on top of it, it’s harder. Now, add on working at an inner city school with kids with lots and lots of behavioral issues, it’s just awful (if you’re someone like me).
If you missed the news, I went from an “A” school in an affluent community that I was so happy at to a school in the inner city with kids who fight…a lot and have difficult home situations. The kids followed instructions. Even my “problem” kids were not that big of a hassle. I felt great about myself as a teacher…well I felt better at instructing and classroom management. I was still learning the ins and outs of programs they used at the district level versus at a charter school. But I was happy! When they told me that they were reassigning me to a different school, I was bummed out. When I found out that it’s a rough school in pretty bad shape with difficult students, my world shattered.
I worked so hard and prayed and was so happy for all of it to go away. I was crushed. I was scared to get happy and excited about things because well, I somehow did mental gymnastics and told myself that I can’t be happy because my happiness would get taken from me. It took a while for me to push that notion out of my mind. I was ready to just accept the fact that I was reassigned to this school but when I went there for the first day, I was brought back to times where I was miserable at my job. I kid you not, in the first three days I was there, there had been at least 4 fights. I wanted out and tried to get reassigned somewhere else but the principal has to agree to it and she didn’t agree to it because they had a teaching shortage at the school (again…the kids are awful). I became dejected and upset.
One day, I was supposed to go to work like normal but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t physically leave. I had a knot in my stomach and I couldn’t breathe. I had also, stopped eating and was barely sleeping ever since I heard the news that I was going to that particular school. Like no matter how many sleeping pills I took, I just couldn’t sleep. I would wake up every day just crying and feeling like I was hit with setback after setback. I started to self-medicate in unhealthy ways. I stopped working out (I had no energy due to the whole not eating thing). I also started breaking out with angular cheilitis and what’s one of the causes? Stress!
Then came the awful thoughts of me not being married, me not having kids, not having a home to call my own…I wanted to die. My mind was telling me that it would be better for me to die because I wouldn’t be a burden on anyone else. I felt like I had so many problems and I didn’t know what to do. Needless to say, eventually I took medical leave and it’s been the best decision I’ve ever made this year. At first, I was ashamed of it. I was scared to tell people I was taking a break because of my mental health, but it’s not for them to understand.
What is medical leave? FMLA stands for Family and Medical Leave of Absence. It’s when you take time off of work. Maybe it’s paid. It could also be unpaid but basically you’re not at work to do either you or your family’s medical needs. Point is, you take time off from work, almost like maternity leave. For me? It was for mental health which I had no idea was possible and I’m so glad my therapist made it so that I can apply for it.
According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), more than 50% of the US population will be diagnosed with a mental health condition in their lifetime. Within a year, 1 out of 5 adults will experience mental illness. As you can see, with those numbers a lot of us have our mental health in jeopardy. Taking a break from work can help with that.
One of the reasons it’s important to take a break is because you’ll come back refreshed and more empowered. If you’re stressed out at work and have a lot of tasks, something is going to fall through and you will not work at your optimal level. It will help your physical well-being as you will sleep better, have more energy, and help you decrease your chances of cardiovascular disease.
You’ll be less stressed because obviously, you wont be in the work environment (let me insert that YOU SHOULD NOT FEEL GUILTY ABOUT NOT BEING THERE). Again, you’ll be more productive because you came back recharged and refreshed. You can actually rest, even if that means sitting on the couch and doing nothing but read or watch tv. It’s important for you to RELAX. Take a nap. Get a massage. Take a stroll outside. Try not to think about work and be present in the moment. If you need to set boundaries with yourself and others during this time, take the time you have available and do it. It’s okay to say no to things you’re not physically or mentally capable of dealing with.
I was speaking with my therapist recently about the differences between our generation (millennials) and the prior generation when it came to our work ethic and beliefs about work. I know for me, I was basically told to go to work, don’t make friends or get too close to anyone, do my job then go home. Like all that mattered was a paycheck and if they had “good” benefits. Not to mention how angry some would be when they got home because of what happened at work (check out this post about unlearning certain behaviors). Now I am not saying that there’s a perfect job out there.
People (some not all) like to s**t on millennials and it’s not fair. For one thing, our generation is full of hard workers and we’re overworked. We also (we make up like 50%) work side hustles, which is not a “break” from work. We’re doing more work after our day job. For one thing, the cost of living is high like really high and pay hasn’t really moved, which is why people are fighting for a livable wage (but we will not get into that in this post). On the flip side, we also value having a work/life balance. Millennials are overworked and underpaid. Our bosses don’t really see our value and believe that supporting us means a pretty pitiful pizza party in the breakroom (truth be told though, I’m not one to turn down free pizza). Pretty much gone are the days when someone stays with one company for 15-20 years. Millennials know their worth and add tax. If one company won’t see your worth, a different company will.
What does this have to do with taking a break from work? Well if you’re overworked or in a toxic work environment, your work life will suck. So, what are some signs that you need a break to prevent burnout? Here are some signs you should look out for:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Getting sick more frequently
- Changes in eating and/or sleep habits
- Physical sickness (ex: headaches or tummy troubles)
- Using drugs and/or alcohol to cope with stress at work
- Low mood
You may not need a month or a year or six months off from work. Maybe you need a week. Maybe you need a day. Point is, take your break for your mental health and for your well being. It’s said a lot but it’s true: you cannot pour from an empty cup. Your job will be okay and if it’s not, then maybe its not the place for you to work at or the field you need to be in.
There’s no use in doing jobs that you absolutely hate for a paycheck. I get that sometimes you cannot help where you work, at the end of the day the bills need to be paid but if you can’t find another place of employment, use your sick days. God forbid you die but if it does happen, guess what. Your job will have your position up within a week to replace you. Protect your peace.