How do you maintain responsibilities when you feel like your world is collapsing around you?
Life often happens in unexpected and tumultuous ways. As everyone can attest, the world does not stop turning when these things happen. Jobs keep working, due dates keep rolling, and dependents still require attention. No matter what happens, there will always be responsibilities and things that can’t perpetually be neglected despite life throwing a curveball.
Grad school on its own has been a bit of a bear for me, as I know being responsible for my own classroom will be in the next few months following graduation. For the past year I have been ramping up for this, getting excited about finally being done with school after about eight years, and moving on to the real world as an adult. Two months prior to graduation, the last thing I was concerned about was being able to graduate. After finding out my dad had become quite sick (we’re still waiting on his biopsy results to come back to see if he has pancreatic cancer..) my life seemed to be stopping. Everything was great, I was on my way to seeing my dreams come together.. until they weren’t. I have had great difficulty being able to focus on my incredibly heavy course load, and have had to have multiple conversations with my professors about what we’re going to do if the worst happens, and what the process of graduating with incompletes might look like.
It was the last thing on my mind until it became my reality.
Over the past month or so, I’ve had to have some real heart to hearts with myself, my loved ones, my cohort, and my professors. These are conversations I had never thought I would need to have, and I had no idea how to manage them at first, or if I even should be. If you find yourself going through a similar situation, if you’re going through a period of loss or are struggling to cope with the stresses of your life, here are a few tips that really helped me in learning to cope with my grief:
1. Be gentle with yourself.
As an overachiever, it’s often difficult for me to cut myself a little slack. I get frustrated when I am unable to complete my work at the pace I set for myself (which is sometimes unrealistic) or when I am unable to kick myself into gear while recovering from a difficult life circumstance. In learning how to get through this process of grief, one of the most important things I had to come to terms with was letting myself not be ok, letting some responsibilities go for awhile so I could have time to heal and get things back together in a way that would be healthier for me. We’re not expected to have it together all the time. Most people are more than willing to help, to listen, and to work with you if you involve them in your grieving process, which brings me to…
Unfortunately, not matter what is going on your life, the world is still turning. Due dates keep rolling and people are going to expect things from you. Depression and anxiety kind of do this thing where they make you want to hole up and avoid the world at all costs, but that’s not really a luxury most of us can afford. Although it’s difficult, although it’s painful, although it is quite literally the last thing in the world you want to be doing right now, you need to communicate with the people around you. Especially those who need things from you.
The amazing part about this is most people are more than willing to be accommodating, and what’s more want to help you through your grief in any way they can. Give them the chance to. Us overachievers have a hard time admitting we don’t got it, that we need help, but sometimes it’s in everyone’s best interest for you to reach out and admit that you need a little help to get through things, even if only for the moment. No one is going to think less of you for it; it doesn’t make you any less strong, it just makes you more human.
3. Find time for the little things.
Finally, remember to take care of yourself. Throughout juggling your responsibilities, make time to do the things that make you happy, that will help you relax and be able to focus later. It often makes my anxiety go wild when I choose to do something that isn’t homework for a few hours, but it can make all the difference in the world for my mental health. I’m a sculptor, I find great peace when I work with my hands. After things started picking up with my dad, I decided to take a community pottery class (which I knew I needed more experience with anyway if I wind up teaching ceramics), and I came out of the first lesson feeling happier than I had in weeks. Your mental health is important. You are allowed to do things just for you, even with a plate stacked high full of responsibilities. Take time for yourself, take time for the little things.
At the end of the day, you’ve got to remember that no one expects you, or your life, to be perfect. Sometimes all you can do is roll with the punches and make the best out of what you have. Although us teachers often don’t have the luxury of being able to take off work with the hassle of getting a substitute and throwing off our classes when life goes awry, their are things we can do to lessen our load. You’d be amazed how empathetic your kids can be. If we expect them to be honest with us about what’s going on in their lives, and ask them to use their experiences in their art making, we have to be willing to do the same and let them into ours as well. It’s ok to admit you need a little more time and patience from those around you, even from your students. If our classroom is a community that is designed to support and uplift each other through the hard stuff, we have to be willing to humble ourselves as teachers to be just as big a part of this community as our students.