When I left teaching at the end of 2018, I was completely and utterly burnt out.
I had lost so much confidence in myself. I blamed myself. I doubted myself.
It's actually hard to remember exactly how I felt, because I feel so far away from that now. I think it’s important to point out that now I am speaking from a place of good health, strength and confidence: a very different place to where I was two years ago.
Whilst I've just said I can't remember exactly what burnout felt like, I do remember my last day in the classroom.
A few weeks earlier, I'd already decided to leave and handed in my notice. I just knew that there was something else for me. I didn't know what it was, but I knew I had to take the opportunity to explore it. So I wouldn't regret and forever think about ‘what if’s. When I handed in my notice, I felt like I was choosing the right thing for me. It was a big leap, but it felt exciting and empowering. I had made a choice that was going to make my life better.
But looking back, I was already on the way to burnout. I was stressed, I was overloaded and I was unbalanced. Apart from that choice to leave, I was pretty disempowered in my role.
I was striving to have my greatest impact. But I was trying to do everything in order to have that greatest impact. And so I was feeling guilty when I wasn’t doing everything.
I was always trying to help others, and I wasn’t helping myself. It's inevitable that I was going to burn out. I just didn't see at the time.
My penultimate day in the classroom was the first day after the October half term.
I went back to work after a week’s break so I should have been feeling energised, relaxed and reset ready for my final term teaching. I had planned to go out a high! Instead, all I remember is battling through my afternoon PPA wading through treacle in my mind.
I was looking at the screen desperately wanting to make sense of what I was looking at. But my brain going slow. I felt really hot, and everyone else in the room felt really cold. I had a headache. I couldn't focus. Something wasn't right.
I knew the rest of the week was going to be stressful because I hadn't got on top of everything as I wanted to in that session, but I couldn’t focus or do anymore.
I went home just before the children that day. I knew something wasn't right. I was home by 4pm and I went straight to bed. I got up the next morning and I went to work.
It turned out to be my last day in the classroom.
I remember it like an out of body experience. I remember being there but I don't really remember much else. The overwhelming feeling that I can remember was I could not make decisions at the pace I need to make decisions. I hadn't realised how many decisions I made as a teacher every minute of every day. But there's so many.
What's the focus of this lesson? What instruction am I going to give next? What word needs to come out of my mouth next? Where's the resource I need to hand out? What's that group doing? When they’ve finished that task, what’s next? How will I know if they have understood? Should I check in with that child? Which child has got a dentist appointment this afternoon? What do I need to say to this child? Does my TA need help? Should I have given them a different resource? Does that child needs a sticker on their chart?
It was like the computer programming in my brain was having to be done manually.
All these decisions were coming in fast but the processing felt clunky. I couldn't make the decisions like I normally do.
And I didn't realise, but I must have normally made these decisions on such a split second basis that to actually recognise everything that was coming in and not be able to deal with it all was exhausting.
I somehow got through the day. But I felt like I was in treacle again.
Everything was slow. Everything was hard. I was struggling.
And I planned to go home early. But, as ever, there was stuff I needed to do and I finally left the building at nearly six o'clock.
I went home and I slept and when I woke up the next day, I just knew I couldn't do it again.
Not forever. But, I couldn't do it that day.
I couldn't do it the next day.
And I couldn't do it the day after that.
I remember going on the 111 NHS website (I didn’t want to bother the doctor by phoning for an appointment). I put in my symptoms of feeling so tired, not being able to make decisions and my head hurting and all the things that I felt and it came back and said, ‘We need to phone you in the next two hours.’ That’s when I knew how I was feeling was ‘real’.
I had that phone call with a wonderful, warm responder. She listened, she got it and she said to me, ‘You cannot go to work tomorrow. You need to look after yourself.’ I remember her saying that I was not to wake up tomorrow, decide I was ok and go to work. ‘You need to call the doctor. I don't want you to ignore this.’
That's when it really hit home that something wasn't right. So, the next morning I did as she said and I phoned the doctor. I can't remember how long it took until I had an appointment with the doctor or when I spoke to them, but I never went back to school.
It wasn't the high that I'd planned. But it was what it was.
As I said, I am in a much better place now – and I will share how I’ve got here too. But the fact I can even contemplate sharing how I was feeling in a very dark, uncertain time of my life shows me just how far I’ve come.