We all have distinct memories of pivotal moments in our lives. The day we got married, the day our kids were born, the day we knew we had to quit our job. No. Just me?
I remember texting my husband saying that it was a tough day at work and that I wasn't going to be leaving anytime soon. The problem was that it was the last day of school before a break; a time when school staff are usually bolting for the door. I got home later than I planned, walked into the kitchen, and immediately burst into tears. This had become an all too familiar scene in my life. I cried at work, at home, in the car. The emotional stress of my job was getting so bad that it seemed to be brimming over the surface at every turn. That night standing in the kitchen my husband said that it didn't matter what I did next year; I wouldn't be going back to work as a school psychologist.
Up until June 2015 I had spent 14 years (minus my two maternity leaves) as a school psychologist. I left graduate school full of passion for the job I loved. I chose this profession because of my love of school and learning, and a drive to help kids find success. Over time I found my passion waning. The pushdown of curricular expectations, the high stakes testing of No Child Left Behind, and the increasing demands of parents in the high pressure school district where I worked all contributed to decreased engagement and increased stress. After the birth of my second daughter I took a full year leave from my position. Prior to that leave I had already begun to notice a shift in my feelings about my job. During that leave, my husband and I decided that what was best for our family was if I didn't work full time. However, I was on the cusp of a large salary increase upon my return to work. As well, we hadn't planned for me to leave my job and therefore had no savings to make that happen. But, we had a plan.
The next three years of work became just that: work. More like drudgery. I changed schools and while I loved my colleagues I didn't have the same comradery as I did at my other school. I found myself retreating socially. Meanwhile, the needs of the student, staff, and parent populations increased, as did my workload. I was spending more time on meetings and paperwork and less time with students and staff working to creatively solve problems. The needs of my young family continued to increase as well and I constantly felt the push/pull of the work-life balance teetering off kilter. I was never in the right place at the right time. I spent every Sunday afternoon at the library writing reports while my family carried on without me. My girls went from saying "Mommy, why aren't you coming with us?" to "Mommy, why ARE you coming with us?"
I no longer looked forward to going to work and my overall anxiety began to increase. I would sit at my desk for hours trolling the Internet instead of working because I was too overwhelmed to focus. When I was working, I was juggling so many balls at a time that nothing was being done to the best of my ability. I started settling for "good enough." I never wanted to be an educator who got lazy and phoned it in. Knowing I had become that person only made the reality of the situation worse. While I never used the phrase "burned out" I knew that I was mentally, emotionally and physically checked out. I'd hear myself saying "I just can't do this anymore."
Which brings us back to that day in the kitchen. We started crunching numbers and realized that we could pull off me walking away from my job. It was a huge risk, but I think it's paid off. I'm not sure if I'm recovered from my burnout. It's hard to know given that I'm not working. I've had time to reflect, and the amount of stress I was feeling was shockingly, dangerously high. Without work I have found myself to be a calmer, more patient, less anxious person. I sleep better and have more energy. I am happy. Recently I overheard my mother and husband talking about what a different person I am, down to the sound of my voice. That was a startling realization.
I'll go back to work part-time at some point in the next year. (Sadly our plan was not for long-term unemployment.) When I do return to work I hope that I don't ever reach the point of burnout that I did last year, and if I do, I hope I see it coming and make the necessary changes before another defining moment in the kitchen.
For more from Cora visit: http://ctworkingmoms.com/.
This post is part of an editorial series produced by The Huffington Post as part of our monthlong "Work Well" initiative, which focuses on thriving in the workplace. The goal of the series -- which will feature blogs, reported features, videos, and more -- is to present creative solutions you can use to take care of yourself as you take care of business. The effort is also part of The Huffington Post's "What's Working" solutions-oriented journalism initiative. To see all the content in the "Work Well" series, visit here.