Burnout

Sometimes it’s like building a bonfire and throwing in all the things you own to fuel the flames. You’re waiting for the fire to burn bright. To burn bright enough to illuminate something just out of sight. You know what you hope to see, but you can’t know for sure.

Yet it doesn’t matter.

Now, tell me why?

If this were the world of Inception, the only answer would be, “Because we’ll be together.” And it’d be a train, not a bonfire. But this isn’t Inception, and no dream within a dream can ever bring us as close to our subconscious as Cobb’s adventures and their ambiguity–what is a dream, we wonder, and what is reality?

I watched Inception last night, and then I watched Donnie Darko. Both of them are favorites of mine, favorites I haven’t watched in years, and I was hoping diving into movies I love might move me out of this funk I’ve been feeling. It didn’t.

But they did get me thinking. It’s the first time I’ve watched Donnie Darko since I became a teacher, so watching Noah Wyle and Drew Barrymore and even Beth Grant (as Professor Monnitoff and Karen Pomeroy and Kitty Farmer, respectively) layered upon the movie realms of meaning that had been lost to me before.

From Monnitoff: the eagerness to encourage student exploration, but also the risk that we never know how our students will use what we give them, and at times they ask for more than we can give. In the movie it’s a conversation about religion (that I think is less “risky” now than in 1988) and in reality it’s measures of content beyond “content”–the study skills, the interpersonal skills, the emotional and psychological support. And, trust me, teachers give all this–even when they’ve got nothing left to give.

From Ms. Pomeroy: the desire to be expansive and even deviant, to challenge authority, to break the old ways of thinking and replace them with new ways to approach the world, to approach teaching, to approach living. And then the risk that all this carries, and the untenable balance demanded to make it all happen.

And maybe even the need to scream “FUCK” at the top of your lungs sometimes.

And from Mrs. Farmer: the pressure all teachers feel to conform, not merely to the status quo imposed by their administrations, but also the parents, the community, and third parties that think they know better how to educate when they have no experience or training in the field of education. She helps illuminate the biases that we’re forced to fight against, or forced to succumb to, and while at times her character is little more than comic relief, the reality is she’s a model of the present enemies of education.

Which brings us to the recent elections. I haven’t looked at the results, but from what I’ve been told by coworkers, the school board has been stacked with representatives hand-selected by the local teachers’ union. And while I’m usually pro-union, the union here has been little else than militant and while they claim to be “for the students,” their actions say otherwise. I agree that charter schools and private schools pose a risk to public education; but I also believe there’s room for charter schools to be effective when properly regulated and monitored for fair practices and favorable outcomes. Instead the union has actively fought to shut down the school where I work in the name of the students we serve–students who would be fucked over if our doors were shut.

Not to mention it’s been a long time since I’ve had a day off, and all the extra work that goes into maintaining a classroom and teaching supplies has meant extensive exhaustion with little time to rest and even less time to dream.

Like Inception, there are many layers, and it’s hard to know at any moment how deep they are, and how deep I am. On the surface there’s the daily demands of being an educator and the daily demands of owning a dog (which have a lot of benefits mixed in, but can still be demanding). Just below the surface there’s chronic depression and general anxiety that make all those other actions harder to do and more exhausting having been done. Below that are the physical impacts of my new diet (which eventually I’ll blog about) and the persistent cravings spawned by the aforesaid depression, and the lapses in willpower that lead to following those temptations, and then the physical discomfort that follows. Somewhere external to all this, yet still underlying all these things, is the reality that every action requires some amount of money to perform. I pay to get to work; I pay to go home. I pay to feed myself, to have housing, to feed my dog, to keep up the house, to keep the lights on and the water warm. Hell, even taking time just to relax usually comes with a hefty bill as well. Yet because I’m an educator, despite having two master’s degrees, it still feels like I’m living paycheck to paycheck.

And then there’s the reality that over the last two years, overwhelmed by grad school and getting my bearings as a teacher, I wasn’t as frugal as I should have been, and without keeping track of my spending, I spent far more than I should have. So now I’m trying to pay down that debt while still managing to actually have a life that goes beyond traveling to and from work without anything in between. It’s stressful and taxing.

All this feels like making excuses, but the reality is this is what reality really is. Trying to conform to a budget often feels like choosing between hanging out with friends or staying on top of my spending. That struggle makes everything feel worse.

So despite recognizing all this, despite all of that, it still feels like I’m stuck. I can’t seem to get enough rest to not feel exhausted. I can’t seem to do enough to feel like I’ve made progress toward anything I’m trying to do this year. And that’s demoralizing, which only compounds the exhaustion even further. It’s a vicious cycle. How can I escape it?

So I just keep going. I keep throwing fuel into the fire because if it burns out, everything falls at once into darkness. Yet when all that fuel is running out, how long will it be until all I’ve got left to do is throw myself to the flames?

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