Absorbing the Mental Load

Forgive me if this is all over the place. So is my brain. Also, this blog won’t actually have any photos in it, so if you come here for the visuals, you should probably just press that little x at the top right of the screen right now.

I’ve been back at work full time now for about a month. During this time, Ontario has also entered the second wave of the pandemic, and cases are at an all time high. My kids are back in school as well. Truly, I savour every minute of knowing they’re at school, socializing (from a distance), and learning from a more qualified teacher than me (I’m great at teaching Shakespeare, but I can’t teach little kids to read and write). Every day we’re in school is a good day, despite the constant lingering fear that one of us will contract Covid. I mean, it’s in the schools. It could happen to us. I’ve stopped looking at that ever-growing list, because simply put, my heart can’t take it.

My first few weeks back were such a rush of excitement and exhaustion. Having been out of the building since March, it felt amazing to sit at my desk, greet my students in the morning (albeit half of them), and teach face to face. Even the afternoon virtual component of this hybrid model is fun for me. It’s crazy the types of engaging dialogues you can have with students virtually, when everyone is committed and invested.

But in the past week or two, the initial excitement has worn off, and teacher burnout has ensued. A big part of this is my students need me. I have 72 of them this semester (which is actually a small number compared to the 90 I’ve had in previous years), and they all email me with questions, requests for support, etc. I’m the one who they turn to not just for academic support, but emotional support too. I absorb their stress, burdens, and anxiety. I am their guide. And to be frank, during this time, that is entirely too much for me.

I’m really struggling to compartmentalize everyone’s emotional and physical needs. My students’. My own. My families’. Not to mention all the brands I partner with on top of all of this, which is essentially a third job beyond teaching and parenting. My brain can’t absorb this mental load, and I often wake at 5 am on the dot, panic-stricken at all I have to do that day.

So what gives?

Do I put my Instagram job on hiatus? No, because I’ve just been offered some amazing partnerships. Do I go to sleep earlier? I mean, you can’t go to sleep earlier than my already ridiculous 9 pm bedtime. I’m not really sure how to proceed without the inevitable crash. This isn’t long term sustainable. Usually I have a vacation to look forward to, but alas, that isn’t in the cards for a long time to come.

Basically I’m reaching out to all of you. Not to unload (well, okay, to unload a little), but to hear if you have any suggestions. I already practice so much self care, but it isn’t helping me stay afloat.

If you’ve made it to this part, I genuinely want to thank you for reading. Athleisure Teacher, out.

Locked Up

Let me start by saying I wanted to write this blog ages ago. We’ve been quarantined due to a world pandemic now for 5 weeks, and just now am I mustering up the emotional and physical energy to craft this. Real talk, the first few weeks were mentally the hardest days of my life. I’ve been through things with my health, but damn, being trapped inside with so much uncertainty was way harder on me than even battling illness. I’m an extrovert. I thrive on face to face social interaction. I love going to restaurants. Events. Social gatherings. Even just the mundane routine of driving to work daily and being in that physical space makes me happy. So having my world pulled out from under me was a shock unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

But here we are. A month in. I went through my stages of grief, and emerged on the other side of it all. Stage 5 – acceptance. Acceptance of my new normal; this life that I never signed up to, of being a stay at home mom who also works from home. Of watching my two very well adjusted kids become emotionally unstable, at each other’s throats, and just generally prone to upset and non-compliance. I’ve realized that this is not a short term thing, and just this past week, I made a schedule for what I believe my next three months in captivity will look like, and guess what? I’m happy now. I have some semblance of normal again, and being back at work has helped tremendously. Yes I’ve had to navigate difficult waters with elearning, but I’m here, I’m present, and I’m making the best of it.

So without further ado (haha j/k, I talk too much), here are my coping mechanisms for you. PSA: Coping mechanisms or not, you’re allowed to feel ALL the emotions during this. I’m tired of the “sad shamers” who tell you that you’re not entitled to grieve because people are enduring much worse right now. You can be grateful for being home and being safe, but you can also be sad. Mourn the loss of your canceled events. Mourn the loss of your social life as you knew it. Mourn whatever f*cking loss you need to mourn for and don’t let anybody tell you not to.

Okay. I’ll get off my soap box now and tell you what I’ve been up to and how it’s helped.

  1. Getting outdoors. Guys, I really hate going outside. I used to joke that if it was less than 20 degrees out, I wouldn’t step foot outside except going car door to door. BUT, life has changed so much this year, that I’ve basically had no other option. First I spent many days through the winter picketing 3-4 hours at a time, and well, that was frigid and no fun. Now, in quarantine, getting our steps in outdoors has been a game changer for everyone’s mental health. I even bought these weighted Bala Bangles to make my walks more challenging. It’s crazy how 1 lb on each ankle can make a HUGE difference. I’m obsessed, and I look forward to walking outside daily with the kids because of them.

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2.  Going for the occasional drive. We do it maybe once a week, and it’s been great to feel some normalcy. We listen to music, we chat, and it almost feels like regular life, minus having a destination.

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3. Daily workouts. This has probably been the biggest game changer for me and my mental health during this time. I LOVE the gym. Like really really really really love it. I adore taking group classes because of the loud music, the energy, and the sense of community. I like high intensity classes like spin, Body Pump, etc., and the sweatier I am at the end of that hour, the better. BUT, this was taking a toll on my body. I was perpetually in pain from doing high intensity activity 3 days a week, and suffering muscle pain and strain every damn day. At home workouts have completely altered this. Now I exercise 5-6 days a week, and sometimes only 20-30 minutes at a time. I do some lower intensity workouts like yoga and Pilates with Melissa Wood Health (I’m BEYOND obsessed and will continue to pay the monthly fee for her workouts when normalcy resumes and my gym re-opens), as well as LesMills barre classes. I still do Body Pump once a week, but with lighter free weights instead of the heavy barbell, and I do cardio like Body Attack and Body Combat, but I don’t run or cycle, which are the culprits of a lot of my muscle strain. And guess what? My body feels AMAZING. Not only am I pain-free, but I’m also getting way more fit, and my anxiety and stress is drastically reduced after these workouts. Can I get an amen?!

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4. Keeping up with the kids’ school work. Keeping them busy is a challenge, and I’m so happy that school has resumed, albeit virtually, if only because it gives us all something to do. Both my kids LOVE learning and school, so reading daily with my daughter and completing her math work has been great for all of us. I thrive on productivity, and this feels productive to us.

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5. And lastly, healthy eating. We are eating GOOD during this quarantine. I’ve had many amazing meal/food deliveries, including this beautiful wild caught salmon filet from Papa Earth, a high quality meat delivery service. Eating at home daily (with the exception of once a week takeout on Saturday nights) has allowed me to really fuel my body with the proper nutrients that it needs to stay strong during this, and also to be able to track what ingredients are going into my meals, and control my portions. I don’t weigh myself, but if I did, I’d guess I’ve probably lost a pound or two through this, because I eat way “cleaner” at home than I do out. I don’t think I’m eating less, per se, I just think I’m making better choices.

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Thankful.

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving friends! I know I haven’t blogged in forever, but the reason for this is threefold:

  1. I’ve been bogged down with planning and marking at school.
  2. I’ve been focusing on our podcast (episode 2 about food and nutrition as self-care is now available on the podcast app! Just search “Self-care with Lauren and Blair” to listen!)
  3. Aaaaand I just haven’t been inspired to write, unfortunately, and I didn’t want to blog for the sake of blogging.

But here we are, and damnit, I’ll try to write something relatively coherent and engaging for all of y’all, because I know my 5 loyal followers want it.

What am I thankful for this year? Like, a lot. It’s been a really good time both personally and professionally, and I need to make a list because I love lists and lists are awesome.

1. My health. Always first and foremost. How lucky am I that my body is healthy enough to allow me to do high impact exercise 3 days a week? To run around with my children? To get out of bed every day and live a productive life? I will never ever take this for granted. When I sit on that spin bike, I thank gd for my health multiple times. I also thank gd I’m not pregnant, because being in that body really freaking sucks, but that’s a whole other blog post.

2. My family. I mean, duh. I’m eternally grateful that my children are happy and healthy and not the spawn of Satan. I also feel so blessed to have a wonderful husband, the best parents, and the cutest of sisters eva.

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Apple picking when it’s still hot out is fun too. (TB to a few weeks ago…)

3. My friends. I tightened my inner circle A LOT this year and it’s been very liberating. I have the world’s most patient friends, because for the last four months, my conversations, meals, and life in general have revolved around Instagram. They don’t get to eat until I’ve photographed (or rather, they’ve photographed because I’m a shitty photographer) their meals, and my conversations with them are a steady stream of follows and unfollows, podcast plans, and asking which picture to post. I’m sorry guys. I really truly suck. You’re all amazing for tolerating me.

4. Impromptu weekend trips to NYC. The fact the most incredible city in the world is just a one hour flight away is nothing short of amazing! I don’t want to live there, but every few months I just feel the pull of the city and gravitate towards it. It’s an addiction, I suppose, but the energy, food, nightlife, and shopping are beyond magnetic.

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5. My job. I have the best students this semester. We have the most interesting class discussions, and they’re all so engaged and participatory. It’s rare to get a group where the majority of the students have strong opinions, so this is pretty much English teacher heaven for me! Also, in case people think teenagers are rude and disrespectful, I want to tell you that every morning, my students come into my class and greet me with a “hello” or a “good morning.” When they leave the class, they say “have a good day miss,” or “bye!” They’re such mensches! I really appreciate their warmth and kindness, because it keeps me in a good mood and sets a really positive tone for the day.

6. Refined carbohydrates and gluten. Pizza. Donuts. Tacos.

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This maple bacon donut from Dipped Donuts in Kensington Market is pretty much the epitome of fall in Canada, amirite? I think I am most grateful for this donut. Like, I love my family and stuff, but…donuts win.

First Week Back Starter Pack

Hello friends, and yay for making it through our first week back to work (or if you’re a student reading this, congrats for making it through your first week back to school)!

I’ve been doing this whole back to school (as a teacher) thang now for like…11 or 12 years. Yes I’m aware that makes me old af, but I can honestly say it never gets easier. August is a special month of dread, and when that first week of September hits, you’ll need some coping mechanisms. With that said, I present to you, my first week back starter pack.

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I mean, this is really the foundation of your starter pack. If you don’t take Xanax, do you even teach bro? You’ll need to double up on your dosage early (ask a doctor, but also, maybe don’t and just take my advice on this one), especially if you’re like me and you looked at dem class lists way too early in August.

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Also, get on that Trenta iced coffee addiction on Labour Day, so you’re well prepared for the caffeine jitters that’ll ensue for the remainder of this first week back. The odds of you talking a mile a minute to your students are high, and you’ll need to leave class multiple times to use the loo (look how classy and British I am today),  but the alternative is a caffeine drip right into your vein, so Trenta it is.

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This one is a new addition to my starter pack this year, and I suspect it’s a testament to how old I truly have become. Aging is funny. You think you can tolerate bucketfuls of coffee just fine, but one day you just find out you totally can’t. So after doubling over in pain all the night a few nights ago because of coffee-induced heartburn, I found my  new best friend; Zantac. Allllll the self-medicating.

And finally, the most important item in your first week back starter pack is…

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A safe and quiet space to cry in. For me, it’s a women’s washroom/locker room on the first floor of my school. Find yours ASAP. You will need it.

(Okay so full disclosure: I actually did not consume any alcohol or medication this week to help me cope with going back to work. Nor did I cry. I’m not really a crier. I actually had a really great week and just practiced self care to keep me stable and productive. I meditated, went to sleep early, worked out, ate well, took frequent pauses to savor the small moments, and overall, I handled my shit really well. This is all meant to be humorous so take it with a grain of salt!)

Students Effecting Change

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” This infamous quote said by Gandhi was the inspiration for my grade 12 students’ culminating task. Seeing as they’re leaving high school in 2 weeks (waaaaaaah), and entering the real world, bringing awareness to injustice in the world and creating a plan for social action feels very timely and appropriate for them. The students used their novel of choice as a starting point to select a social issue they were interested in, do some research, and then they presented “TED Talks” on the subject. The goal? To inspire and make their peers care. No easy feat today, considering the vast majority of teenagers are blind to what’s going on in the world outside of their comfortable, social-media obsessed bubbles.

Well, after viewing these presentations, I can confirm that there is indeed a ton of hope for our future. My students really conveyed their passion about these topics, ranging from poverty, mental health, racism, sexism, gender identity, sex work, religious fanaticism, and drug usage. They presented some very eye opening research on the subjects, varying from facts, statistics, case studies, and even some personal anecdotes, and I honestly left the presentations feeling like these 17 and 18 year olds shared insight and perspectives well beyond their age and realm of comprehension.

I honestly love what I do so much, not because I aspire to inspire students, but because the students inspire me. I’m so proud of their awareness and think so many of them have incredibly bright futures ahead of them!

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This pair used Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to show the implications poverty has on mental health.

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This pair used course concepts and research to examine religious fanaticism and its repercussions on children. They also posed a plan for social action with some interesting, tangible solutions.

New Blog, Who Dis?

Welcome friends! Thanks for stopping by! My name is Lauren, and I’m a 30 something year old high school English teacher, mom, exercise, and food enthusiast. I’ve had various blogs in the past, mostly about my journey into motherhood, but I never felt they fully reflected who I was beyond being a parent. Recently, my grade 12 students asked me what type of writing I’m passionate about. “Poetry?” Definitely not. “Creative writing? Short stories?” Nope. So I told them I used to have a blog and miss writing one, and they encouraged me to rekindle the flame. “I’d read it,” one 18 year old boy mused. Now, I don’t know why that would be the case, because I don’t really think he’s my target audience, but a bunch of other students chimed in, and here we are. The Athleisure Teacher. What can you expect from this blog? Probably some self depricating humour sprinkled with a healthy dose of sarcasm. Maybe some posts about things I eat, because I really like to eat (but not cook). You’re going to hear about my workouts, but I promise you I won’t talk about my “gains.” I’ll probably want to chronicle my upcoming endeavor to become a spin instructor. I promise I won’t try to sell you something. This is not my side hustle; just a hobby. I might talk about my kids a little. The two that I have at home (a girl, almost 6 years old, and a boy, almost 3), but also the 90 I teach every semester, because they have a pretty big impact on my life too. Anyway, I hope you enjoy reading!

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