I didn’t realize at first that I was depressed; it crept in quietly. I started to notice that it was taking me longer to get out of bed in the morning, I was skipping showers, wearing the same thing day in and day out. I was irritable and easily annoyed, napping for long stretches of time, and isolating myself. It was my therapist that mentioned she hadn’t seen me smile in a while. And it was true, I hadn’t. Even though my teaching career was stressful, and the kids were a handful, they still made me laugh. Every day. And I missed that laughter. I missed that spark that came when a kid’s face lit up when they ‘got it’ for the first time. I missed being needed.
A few months ago, I applied for long term disability. I filed the paperwork, never thinking I would be approved. I had been told it often takes several attempts and disability is rarely awarded on the first application. But, within a few weeks, my application was both processed and accepted.
Initially, I felt relief, but then I began to feel a lot of shame. Disabled- a label that has been hard for me to accept. Though I can continue to work in some capacity, with a low stress, low demand job, I am no longer able to do the job for which I was trained, a job which I mastered for more than two decades.
When looking back through my medical records, though, the evidence is clear. My body has been showing the impacts of acute stress for the past decade. Physical ailments begin in the year 2011 (three years after designing and implementing my life’s work, The Freshman Academy) and continue through to the present day, gradually getting worse.
Teaching is no profession for an empath. The thing that makes you so good at your job is also the thing that leaves you open to ailments, secondary trauma, and irreversible damage to the adrenal system. You must have a shield around your heart to be a teacher, now more than ever. Teaching to tests, active-shooter drills, and social media culture? Not for the faint of heart. Additionally, the increasing abuse by students, parents, administrators, and even fellow educators can only be handled with an objective, non-emotional response. Something few empaths can pull off.
So, I have come to terms with it. I can no longer do the one thing that I felt I was made to do: teach. In losing that, I lost a lot of my own identity.
Along with the loss of my career, I also faced the loss of the other half of my identity: travel. Travel kept me going when things got bad. It was the thing I always saw on the horizon that offered me incentive and hope. It was the thing that reminded me of how strong I was and that I could handle anything. And now I feared that was gone as well.
So, when a good friend found a super cheap flight to Jamaica and invited me along, I was torn.
How could I travel if I was disabled? What would people think? What if the insurance company found out? Would they take away my claim to disability? Would people judge me, thinking, “if she can travel, she can work!” All of these thoughts went through my head.
I didn’t book the flight. My spark was out.
But, over the next few months, I kept thinking about Jamaica. The cost was so cheap. $200 round trip flight and $30 a night lodging. On top of that, my good friend Beth, who can always make me laugh, was going to visit her home-away-from-home. Beth is a no-bullshit badass and Jamaica is in her blood. She is one of my moped friends and her bike is a moving tribute to the island. This was where she scattered her dad’s ashes. Where her good friend Clovis would be picking her up from the airport and the kind people at Just Natural, the local restaurant and watering hole, would be waiting with Banana ting-tings and callaloo.
Just hearing her stories was enough to bring a smile to my face.
After isolating myself in my apartment for days on end, and feeling no joy even with the sun peeking out and the birds chirping away outside, I picked up the phone.
I called MESSA, the insurance company which granted me my disability, and I asked them: Can I still travel?
Their answer? “Yes, no problem.”
I took a deep breath.
I went online, and surprisingly, there were still seats left on Beth’s flight. I booked it. A little later, her nephew (who also makes me laugh like no other) booked as well.
I still have reservations. Money wise, this will be no problem. I used what I gathered from walking dogs to pay for the flight and still have a lot left over. No, If I’m honest, my reservations come from still being worried about what others might think.
But, you know what? That kind of worrying is what brought me to this point in the first place.
Nothing good comes from focusing on what other people are thinking about you. 90% of the time you are wrong anyway. And as for the 10%? I can’t live my life for them. I can only do what I feel is best for me. And all I know is, the moment I booked that flight, I felt a spark coming back where there was none.
So, I am filling a backpack with a bathing suit, a few t-shirts, and my passport. I’m ready to get on with the business of living my life. My future is out there and staying home mired in depression is not going to help me find it.
I will continue to travel, continue to explore, and continue to search for what is next for me. I’ve been really low, but I know this too shall pass. I am no longer allowing myself to worry about every little thing. Because, as they say in Jamaica, “Every little thing gonna be alright.”
Pictured: The fine folks at Just Natural. Vegan Restaurant in Negril, Jamaica.