Returning After Respite

I knew five months ago in March as I reached my 5-year cancer remission date and felt something missing. I knew seven months ago in January as people began to call me by my first time instead of my last. I knew, most of all, eight months ago in December as my body trembled when the heavy door closed on a dark, empty classroom. I would want to go back to teaching.

After leaving due to mental health, writing a newspaper article, beginning a new job, surprise adopting our daughter, and grieving the career I built over a decade, how do I even bring the topic up to the people I love? If I go back to teaching, will I be the biggest hypocrite? Did I put my students and family through the last eight months of change for nothing? What was the purpose of it all?

I wrestled with these questions internally and in prayer for months, taking blows to the face and chest as if I deserved fistfuls of guilt and judgment.

When I finally gathered the courage to say it aloud, most people asked me the same questions: Are you healed enough? Are you sure? How do we make sure you don’t end up in that place again? What was the purpose of it all?

When I first became a teacher, twenty-two and bright-eyed, I gave my students my entire heart and the first fruits of my passion. Teaching, after all, is advertised as the heart rich, pay poor martyrdom only for those uniquely called to sacrifice. I loved most of it. I loved guiding students to create. I loved laughing so hard that we’d need a few minutes to recover from the mirth. However, it wasn’t until I stepped away that I realized I never reconsidered how much of my core I was giving away.

I didn’t reallocate my love or passion output when I got married. I didn’t move things aside when we had our son. I also didn’t move things aside when I had cancer and recovered. For years, I tried to function as if I were three people with an endless emotional capacity. In reality, my family ended up with an empty husk that crawled into bed at 3 PM, a version of myself that needed to heal in quiet places. I gave all of my first love and passion to my career instead of my family and never stopped to reevaluate my priorities. I realized parts of my heart hadn’t healed; the trauma of having stage IV cancer, the grief of losing two good friends to cancer, and trying to find a purpose for my life outside of teaching. I can’t say these things are solved, but I know I need to continue to work on them.

As my family had the hard talks about my desire to return to teaching, they really wanted to know if they’d lose me again. This is non-negotiable, so we have the safeguards of regular meetings with my therapist and building more of a community for where we live now. We also want to keep the things we created during the last eight months: Wednesday pizza nights and reading books together. I need to love my family first while also recognizing there is a song in my heart that sings out to teach teenagers.

I accepted a position as an English teacher at a different high school in the county. There are some things that cannot heal in the same place as trauma regardless of time or reason. Tomorrow, I will turn the knob to my new classroom, halting guilt and unforgiveness at the door, and leaving the mantle of the martyr in the past.

What was the purpose of it all?

The purpose was to rest and that reason alone is enough.

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