Overwhelmed. That’s the word that keeps coming to my mind. Overwhelmed. It’s what I have been feeling since August. Overwhelmed. It’s no coincidence that the last article I wrote was in August. That was the last moment that I had the emotional and mental energy to spare. The version of me that existed back then was different than the current incarnation. He had control over his life. He had things that he was certain of. He had certainty. I don’t have any of that.
Let me explain. I’m a teacher in 2020. I don’t have control over my life. In the midst of this pandemic, the last thing that I wanted was to go back into the classroom, but that was not a choice that I was allowed to make. On some level, it might have been a choice, but that choice was between risking my life by returning to the classroom or losing my source of income and becoming homeless. When you think of it that way, it’s not much of a choice at all. My lack of choice has led me to a precarious position: I’m out in the schools every day, against my will, and as the Corona numbers rise, all I can do is wonder when my luck will run out.
This led to changes in my behavior. This summer, I would write an article a day at the very least. In a world that became more chaotic by the day, this was the one thing that I could depend on. This summer I would work out every day. I would also walk for hours a day. Then I had to return to the classroom in the middle of a pandemic. Then I had to face a November election that would effectively decide the fate of American democracy. That changed everything. Overnight, I went from constantly producing content to not producing at all. Don’t get me wrong, I would write something from time to time, but I had neither the focus nor the emotional energy to see any of those scribblings to completion. Suddenly, I had neither the energy nor When teaching morphed into enforcing social distancing, hand washing, and mask wearing, it was suddenly more than I was mentally and emotionally prepared for. Suddenly, a job that was challenging and rewarding became stressful and damn near impossible. This change became my constant complaint: After doing the things I had to do, I didn’t have the mental and emotional wherewithal to do the things that I wanted to.
Faced with more than I could handle, I was in a fight or flight scenario, and that’s when I discovered that there is a third option: Freezing. And that is very much what I did. I froze. I did all of the things that absolutely had to be done, but I spent the rest of my time like a statue. Overwhelmed. I was absolutely overwhelmed by all of it, so I just turtled.
I only recently emerged from my frozen state, and you’ll laugh when you find out that it was because of a haircut. Seriously. When the original shutdown happened, I stopped shaving. It wasn’t a conscious choice, rather something that just kind of happened. I also accepted that it would be a very long time before I got a haircut. In September, I was looking very much like a cast member from Lost, circa Season 3. One day I was pondering my feelings of helplessness, and I asked myself what I could control. The only thing I could think of was my hair. I shaved that day. Somewhere inside me, something woke up. The next day, I got my first haircut in six months.
As I admired my new do, I felt better than I had in a while. That’s when it hit me. I had done something. I had taken control of a situation and made a decision. It was a small thing, but it was something. Since then, I have been able to take more small steps forward, and that motion has led to more motion. I’m doing what I can, when I can. I’m not back to where I was this summer, but at least I’m not where I was in September. It’s not a perfect process. Some days are better than others, and I am still learning to show myself grace on the bad days. Nevertheless, I once again moving forward, and I am grateful for that movement, no matter how slow it may be.