“So….your bloodwork looks okay...But it looks like you are low in iron… Could it be fatigue? Have you really been tired?” queried my primary care physician, Dr. Lui?
Duhhhhh, I was thinking. Dr. Lui knows I am a school leader. And COVID is real.
I remembered that I initiated this call with my doctor. Prior to this call, it was taking longer to get to bed by midnight. And it was excruciating to release the comfort of my bed to make it to a 5 am gym session. When I started each day, I experienced a wave of persistent and understated nausea that continued on for months. I didn’t know if the nausea was onset from some bad dietary choices, acid reflux, or something else I couldn’t pinpoint. And I struggled to focus on anything productive. I seem to have endless lists of things to do in multiple notebooks, on Google Keep, in Trello, on my whiteboard, on stickies, and even in reminders on my Google calendar. The groundhog day of this effect was debilitating.
July 2021 marked 16 months of leading a K1-8 community through COVID. 75% of my time was devoted to making sure people were surviving the thrashing of twin pandemics. We did virtual cooking classes, outdoor parking lot parties, and “hang in there” post-it notes for students and staff alike just to keep people coming back. When I wasn’t devoting my time to ensuring my community was okay--I was sheepishly examining the state of academics--which was laughable at times. Don’t get me wrong--my teaching community, social workers, nurse, and administrators kick things up a 1000% every day--going above and beyond to bring Chromebooks and food boxes to our Scholars homes; creating care packages with workbooks, fidgets, and STEM kits for pickup; hosting tik tok video parties & resilience groups; and more. Unfortunately, we weren’t seeing the math and reading uptick that we were accustomed to, academically.
For so many of my colleagues across the nation, we have found ourselves utterly exhausted and burned out from trying to lead our schools bravely through the fire. While we invested so much of ourselves into being present; standing in the gap for those who dropped the baton; and/or for those who were broken by the traumas of an unapologetic virus that has caused millions of deaths across the globe--few if any checked in to see how we were coping with the unfathomable task of keeping a community physically and emotionally safe.
It is inherently important that you pause and place the oxygen mask on yourself and BREATHE!
I am finding mindfulness to be a great asset to combatting the stresses of my days. Mindfulness is the self-actualization of your state of being. You pause and allow all of the thoughts and emotions to surface throughout your body. You may acknowledge their presence in your consciousness but you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself when those thoughts find themselves competing for your attention. For as simple as 60 seconds you can close your eyes and focus on your breathing and good visualizations to you me calm down.
In one of his meditations, Thich Nhat Hanh, author of You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment, has us consider ourselves a tree. As a tree, we envision ourselves rooted in our ancestors who poured their hearts and souls into the world so that we could be. The emotions of the world will vacillate up and down and around us regardless of how rooted we are. It is a mind-shift to be aware of those emotions and anxieties are temporary and anchorless. We are in control of our minds, bodies, and spirits. We should delight in how liberating it can be to acknowledge that the stresses exist and watch them wash away in the coolness of the winds of life.
My mindfulness practices have been on again and off again. However, with 20+ years in the education game, I am finding myself opening up to the promise guided meditation brings to so many lives across the globe. And for the last six months or so, I have HAD to stop and pause and focus on my breathing because the anxiety of a maddening world becomes too loud at times. Devoting mere minutes a day or week to belly breathing has saved me hundreds of dollars in prescription meds and doctor visits.
One of my favorite people on Earth, Rose Pavlov, founder of IVY Child International, has a great guided meditation called Healing through Hope which provides a booster shot in the arm for our “psychological immune systems.” Rose has also partnered with the Sounds True Foundation and Santosha School of Yoga to launch a monthly virtual healing retreat for BIPOC leaders across the globe. This beautiful convening of hearts and souls has afforded me a sacred space to just “be” as I continue to navigate the peaks and valleys of my journey.
On my follow-up video call with Dr. Lui, one balmy September morning, she beamed with delight. “Whatever you are doing--keep doing it. Your bloodwork and all of your tests are coming back pretty good.”
Admittedly, my nausea was gone. I was sleeping more. And I wasn’t experiencing heart palpitations anymore.
“What are you doing? What’s your secret?” she queried.