Four months ago, this would have been my usual day: wake to a screeching alarm at 5am. Guzzle a cup of coffee. Make it out the door by 5:30am. Arrive at work by 6:30. Guzzle two more cups of coffee. Begin a day of teaching, talking, walking, standing, guiding, mentoring, advising, cajoling, mediating, manipulating, and correcting. Stop around 11am for a 20-minute lunch of microwaved, processed food. If time permits, stop to pee before heading back for another round of teaching, talking, walking, standing, guiding, mentoring, advising, cajoling, mediating, manipulating, and correcting. Leave at 3pm. Battle traffic all the way home. Greet the cats, throw something in the microwave or pour something out of a box. Ravenously gulp down food. Fall asleep on the couch. Get up, have more food. Pour a glass of wine. Pour another. Maybe one more. Climb into bed around 8:30, maybe 9:00. Fall asleep. Repeat.
When I look back at myself and my life at that time, I feel sad and so very tired. That was my life for the past decade. Sporadically, when it all got too much and I felt my clothes getting tighter, I would put myself on a plan. This plan usually consisted of counting calories obsessively, exercising frantically, and getting absolutely nowhere. I would tell myself that I was, “doing it for me!” I would wrap my eating and exercise plan in a nice bow and say that I was, “caring for myself.” But, there was no care involved. I was punishing myself for over-eating and over-drinking.
I was punishing a body that was already overly taxed from managing stress, exhaustion, and frustration. It is no wonder, looking back, that I ended up in the hospital. It was my body’s way of telling me that something was terribly wrong. It was my body telling me to stop.
Now, four months later, I am coming to a realization for the first time in my life. That realization? It doesn’t have to be this way.
On October 4th, I walked away from teaching. I left behind a job that was my life’s work and passion for over two decades. I left behind my students, the one part of the job I always loved. But, I also left behind stress. I left behind growing pressures from the State of Michigan, I left behind the lack of support from administration, I left behind the uninvolved parents who expected me to fix 14 years of chaos. I left it all behind. Stress was having an adverse effect on my health and had been for half a decade. (It is no coincidence that my Hashimoto’s Disease began about two years after I decided to dedicate my teaching to the most at-risk, marginalized, and challenging students in the district.) For my first month off of work, I focused mainly on getting back on my feet after falling to my knees.
Over the months, though, something else started to happen. I started, for the first time in my life, to put my love for myself, for my body, for my health above the need to sacrifice all of those things for others. I have learned, and am learning, to love myself.
No longer am I dedicating countless hours trying to heal traumatized kids who have been dealt a hard blow from this world. I am instead focusing on healing myself. I struggled, and still do, with guilt. I feel like I have abandoned them, but I am one person. I have done so much over my career for so many. I am stepping back, hoping someone new will take my place. I am putting up boundaries and healing my body, a body that has been battered by stress for far too long.
I am no longer napping every day. Instead, I spend my afternoons walking dogs, something that brings me joy, and laughter, and some much-needed income. I went from making almost $2000 every other week to making $600. And I have never smiled so much or felt such calm.
I am no longer forcing myself onto an exercise machine, miserable, watching the time tick by at a turtle’s pace. Instead, I get exercise by playing with pups. I have also started yoga, thanks to the kind gift of a great friend. Yoga allows me to treat my body with kindness. It allows me to acknowledge all the little miracles my body provides when it moves and bends and yields and pushes. It reminds me to take care of myself. To care for my self. It is so very different than my abusive exercise routines of the past.
I no longer guzzle two glasses of red wine every night. Instead, I pour one glass and sip it slowly across the night. I savor it. I appreciate it. I truly taste it.
My relationship with food has also changed. I am not dieting. I am not obsessing about weight and calories. I am being kind to myself. I am offering my body medicine in the form of turmeric, and ginger, and carrots, and sweet potatoes, plums, cauliflower, all the colors of the rainbow. All grown from the earth. All there to offer my body the sustenance it needs to function correctly. I am walking away from processed foods. My body has to work so hard to process it. It is time for my body to rest and to heal.
I am also walking away from meat. This world is filled with so much pain and trauma. I no longer want to subject an animal, an animal much like my two sweet cats, to that terror. I feel better for it. I am also considering going vegan after trying it for two weeks. After all, cows used for dairy live a miserable existence and, at the end of their service are ‘processed’ for food. Same goes for chickens.
I love cheese. Like, love cheese. So, this will be a tough one for me, but I am willing to give it a go. I will surely slip from time to time, and that’s okay. I plan to lower my footprint greatly in order to heal our struggling planet while healing myself at the same time. Also, I heard of this farm in rural Pennsylvania, Gita Nagari Eco Farm and Sanctuary , that produces their own cheese from some of the happiest, and most well cared for, cows in all the land. It might be worth a road trip to check them out. I plan to be more choosey when consuming dairy products, egg products, and most certainly meat. When I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, I did a lot of research. A holistic endocrinologist warned against consuming anything that died in terror or pain. It sounded hokey at first, but then I thought about it. I have seen first hand how stress and trauma can saturate the body. Why would I think anything different would happen with animals.
In the past, I looked at this type of eating as, “making a sacrifice.” My mindset has changed. I now look at this type of eating as being kind. Kind to the earth, kind to its wildlife, and perhaps most importantly, kind to myself.
So, on this Valentine’s Day, I celebrate love. Love that heals. Love that is enduring and without stipulation. Love that strengthens. I celebrate the greatest love: my love for myself.