I used to regularly recite Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sweet poem:
My candle burns at both ends; it will not last the night;
but ah my foes, and oh my friends- It gives a lovely light.
This poem when through my head while I biked 15 miles to the middle school where I taught math; worked to have the lessons come alive. I cared about these kids, believed in them, wanted them to succeed. I tutored them while I crammed in my lunch, volunteered to lead math programs for girls, taught an extra-curricular class called Young Voices for the Planet. Then I biked home to my own kids, cooked dinner, and spent an hour or two planning the next day’s classes. In short, I did what every teacher/mom does. And I mostly loved it.
I started my teaching career at age 46. I’d already burnt my candle at both ends a few times – in management consulting to start, then grad school at MIT, and 10 years working in environmental economics while I had two difficult pregnancies. About 7 years into teaching, my body began communicating more loudly to me. With chronic, debilitating sinusitus, I’d push through my day because, I mean, this isn’t really ‘sick’, right? And chronic gi upset, migratory joint pain, ear ache, heart palpitations, deep fatigue – these weren’t the kind of things a teacher calls in sick with. I looked ok. I felt awful. I saw oodles of practitioners – gi specialists, rheumatologists, infectious disease MD’s, ENT’s, functional medicine practitioners, acupuncturists, chiropractors, mental health counselors. No one had what the whole of what I needed to rebalance my life: part counselor, part doctor, part priestess.
Finally, after a decade teaching, I quit. This most obvious medicine of ‘less’ had been staring me in the face, chanting in my head. I studied Ayurveda, revived my yoga practice, and began rebuilding a balanced life. I have tools now for taking care of my body, my mind, my spirit. Rebuilding is joyous and hard. I now know there were a myriad of accessible shifts I could have made that could have kept my candle burning brightly in teaching middle school.