Friday, January 24, 2014

On Finding Balance.

We had a "cold day" today when wind chills were at -25 this morning. That marked the 4th day we've had off from school since school "restarted" on January 8 (I say it that way because we had the 8-10th off for snow/cold days). It was also a big bummer because we were scheduled to have a half-day today for the last day of exams (5th and 6th hour). So, instead the kids got an unexpected 3-day weekend and a random half-day on Monday for their exams. I'm grateful they gave us the half-day, so I can get all my exams graded and entered before we're required to report grades on Tuesday morning.

But the whole situation threw a wrench into my plans. Since the phone call to cancel school came rather late last night, I was a little hazy on exactly what was expected of me this morning. I was pretty sure I heard that buildings would be open for the staff, but after reading my e-mail this morning, I saw that I was mistaken and only the elementary buildings were open. So, my plans to go in and work in my quiet classroom were thrown out the window and I was stuck here at home all day.

I took advantage of the quiet this morning and settled in to finish Sister Carrie-thoughts coming next week. And after that? I putzed around, not sure what to do and avoiding my grading pile. Truth be told, I'm quite sick of grading and need a little break!

So, I settled in to straightening up the never-ending clutter and my bookshelves.

In the months I was away from blogging, I did read, but it was minimal and rarely something already on my shelves. I think I was pretty anti-reading, to be honest, and when the mood struck, I felt like getting something new-nothing appealed to me that I already owned. The result was that after reading these new books, I would just set them anywhere, rather than putting them on the shelves were they belonged. A good example? Matt and I went on a little vacation in northern Michigan in early July, and I just found that stack of books sitting on the floor in our office (which is still a disaster that I'm going to attack later). In that pile were some good books-The Bell Jar, The Grapes of Wrath, and A Farewell to Arms. I never read the Hemingway, and I don't think I even blogged about the Steinbeck, which I loved.

I think that tells you about the mental state I was in and how I felt about this space. I've said it before, but I'm going to say it again: I began to realize that blogging and my online presence was becoming less important to my sanity.

So what's changed?

I guess you can say that I have "returned" to blogging. I've been reading a little more diligently-returning to taking notes and marking places to discuss in blog posts. I made challenge lists. I revamped the look of my online space, crafted a new identity for myself, and I'm slowly working my way back to other blogs to read and comment. So how does that all connect to my sanity?

I think that anyone who has spoken with me, written to me, or read my words knows that I am a very passionate and dedicated teacher. I love my job. For me, I gain satisfaction from watching my students succeed and prosper. I love being in my classroom, interacting with teenagers and watching them discover literature and history in the way I did when I was their age. Teaching truly fulfills me.

For awhile, the blog filled that whole, then I got that fulfillment from school. But in diving into school with 100% of my being, I burned out personally. After realizing that I was sick last year and coming to terms with the extent of my diagnosis and what it means for me now and in the future, I had to take a break.

It took until the fall to realize that I needed to rebalance my life. I'm a person who will dive into something with everything I've got...and I will pour myself into it until I burn out. I'm pretty sure that's what happened with blogging. And I'm pretty sure my attention and 100% devotion to school led to some of the massive Lupus flares I had last year (I feel like I need to explain what I mean by my crazy addiction to school-grading for hours and hours after school, editing students papers before they turned them in, creating everything from scratch even though I had other resources, checking my school e-mail constantly when at home on weekends in case a student asked a question-all great things, but too much).

I had a chat with my doctor in early summer, after a nasty flare leveled out and when we made the determination to put me on Humira injections in addition to some of my other medication, about taking care of myself. In this conversation, we talked about my interests, my passions, and my work. He stressed to me then that I had to find a balance between my own life and my life at school. I had the summer to think it over, to try to find that balance and come to terms with what changes I needed to make to find myself in a happy place.

And for some reason, when school started, I found myself in a happier state. I was prepared for my classes and while certainly swamped with grading at times, I felt much lighter than I did the year before. I kept bracing myself for a nasty Lupus flare and it never came (I'm currently closing in on 8 months without a severe flare. I've had bad days, of course, but never the weeks of pain and sickness that I had before). I'm sure a great deal of that had to do with my medication finally being figured out, but I think a larger part of it came down to being okay mentally. To setting time aside for myself-to watch TV, crochet, be with my husband, go out with friends, read a book, write a poem, etc.

And guess what....I'm a far better teacher this year than I was when I was throwing my entire being into work. My students' test scores are way higher than they were last year (yes, some revised tests, but I'm also teaching much more effectively), I'm having more fun at work, and I'm enjoying the fact that I can be okay with leaving work at work a couple times a week. I'm sure that many other people had this figured out a LONG time ago-it just took me awhile.

So today, when I was shelving books and spending all this time thinking to myself about all of this, I thought that perhaps that same thing applied here-to blogging. I think I've found a balance here as well. Of course, it's hard to get back into the swing of things, but I'm happy with where I am, where I'm going, and the decisions I've made. Like teaching last year, I threw myself into blogging and reading only the classics. And I burned out, HARD. Now that I have rebalanced myself, I feel much better about making this into a space that truly reflects me, my personality, and the dusty shelves that are home to so many stories I have yet to read.

I finally feel excited about blogging again-in the same way I did way back in 2009 when I had this crazy idea in the first place. It's a good feeling.


  1. Balance is so important but can be so hard to achieve! I'm working on that too. It seems to be an ongoing process - tweaking it here and there as things change. Glad to hear you're finding what works for you.

  2. I too struggle with balance. I'm throwing myself in to homeschooling right now...hoping someday I can balance reading and book blogging back in there too!

  3. Oh, this is so funny for me right now. It's just kind of exactly where I am. I'm studying the classics in a Master's program at St. John's College. And I launch myself wholeheartedly into that. And I'm working in the Santa Fe public schools and I launch myself into that by turns. And I'm trying to re-invigorate my own blogging and find a space for it in my life. The result is that I just lurch back and forth from one identity/chief concern to another. I think for me it's because I'm not quite sure what I'm about yet, and I lurch back and forth in an attempt to figure out where I want to be and what I want to be doing. It's awesome that you're finding balance. I hope I do too, soon. Cheers!

  4. Finding that balancing point is so hard, especially when you have medical stuff going on that feels so out of your control. I'm so happy to hear that you are finding the balance with school and your downtime and if that means more blogging, well I have to say I'm pretty happy about that too! I hope things start to warm up there. I have to say - I've never been so cold for so long in my whole life! It got up to 32 today and it felt so warm! Next week is all in the teens with negative windchills, though, so it was short lived, sadly.

  5. "An examined life is worth living!" Figuring out how we can be happy and content can take a lifetime of trying to get it right. It seems to me that you are certainly headed in the right direction. Sharing your thoughts may help someone else out there in internet-land, someone who will read your words and the words will make a difference to their life. That's why I think blogging is a wonderful thing and you're doing a great job. Thanks.

  6. It's so hard to find balance. I just started a new job and it's taking a TON of my time and energy. I'm not sure how it will effect my blog but we'll see. I hope you find a way to do both that works for you.