As my year off, sabbatical, leave of absence, whatever you want to call it comes to an end, it’s hard not to look back and search for meaning. When I embarked on these past twelve months, I was so sure I would be standing in a glowing white light of understanding and newness. Some of this did happen, but none of it happened the way I expected it to or planned for it to be. Here are twelve ways my personal experience shaped me into something different and hopefully better.
- You have to shed emotional baggage, before you can shed physical baggage aka pounds. At the end of the last school year, I gained fifteen pounds and could not fit any of my summer wardrobe. I was so sure in two months, I’d get my body back and wear my favorite summertime clothes. Well, its been a year and I just gave away a few of those clothes that I didn’t fit. That’s not the point though. I had become apathetic and depressed over things I didn’t have control of. I dove into a dark well and buried my emotions with food and lipstick and nail polish and outings. I didn’t talk to anybody about it fully, just sharing tiny bits with a few here and there. Healing was step one. How did it happen? Honestly, two things: 1. Time; sometimes you just need to put space and days between you and the sadness. 2. Acceptance; this is really easy to say, but it is something that I was not doing. I was dwelling in conflict–not accepting myself fully–the good, the bad, and the ugly…as trite as it may sound. Once I had spent real time with my emotions from last year and allowed myself to cry if I wanted to or scream if that’s what needed to get out, then I was able to start working on my body.
- A few good friends are worth more than a lot of mediocre ones. Until the summer of 2015, it didn’t fully sink in. I wanted all my friends to be best friends and like Mindy Lahore says in The Mindy Project: best friends is a tier not a single person. I thought yeah, that’s me, I have a lot of best friends and different tiers, but this was not true. I placed all my friends on the same tier–besties. I wanted to be super close and intimate with all my friends. Then if they showed their human side, I would melt in a heap of disappointment and betrayal. I had incredibly high expectations for them and surprise, surprise, they didn’t meet these expectations. When I realized that one of my close friends was actually better off as just a friend and not a bestie, I thought I was in the wrong that I should fix it some how. But the lesson here is: it’s okay to have an inner circle and various outer circles. Not everyone deserves to be in the inner circle, which is how I used to live my life. Now, this may seem like a simple lesson; one you may learn in middle school, but when you grow with no boundaries, you learn it later in life. So now, I have a few friends who know all the details of my life and I know will support me unconditionally without placing any blame or judgment. Then, I have a few friends whom I see now and then and with whom I enjoy laughing and doing silly things.
- I love to read. Over the last decade, I slowly stopped reading for fun. Yes it’s true, I am an English teacher who didn’t practice what she preached. I couldn’t stand reading all the essays and grading them and then also reading for myself. It became taxing and exhausted me. I, instead, would binge watch tv shows to relax and unwind. Then, I’d judge myself for not reading enough in comparison to my other teacher friends who somehow even with children read four times as much as I did. [This is the theme of my life: I compare and then, put myself down.] The gift that this year gave me is I let go of the pressure I put on myself to read certain books and be all “English Teachery”. I began the summer by reading a couple of memoirs and realized that reading memoirs make me extremely happy. I took a break and didn’t read at all in October and November; I traveled instead. Then picked up three more books in December. It became a pattern that I’d get three books, finish them and then get three more. It was an easy number and I began to remember why I’d majored in English Lit and then went on to become an English teacher. I loved getting swept away in a story and creating meaning and connections and philosophizing about our world.
- I am still a dancer. After leaving the only dance company I ever belonged to in 2004, I continued to search for the same experience over and over again, always coming out empty-handed. While in New York, I took several hip-hop dance classes chasing the dancer I thought I should be. Even till I moved to Boston in 2009, I made up my mind to go regularly and become better. This February, I started doing something I used to do in high school and college–dance in my mom’s basement for hours pretending there was an audience watching me. First, I gathered my most favorite songs from then and now and created a playlist on Spotify. In the beginning, I felt a little awkward dancing in my bedroom in front of my mirror alone. However, as days went on, I began to look forward to this time of movement with myself. It wasn’t about anyone else or performing or recreating the exact choreography. It became a soothing release of emotions. I began to mix all the forms that I have learned through the years and create. I didn’t need the mirror anymore, either. I turned away and moved slowly when my body called for it and fast when it felt good. The dancer I am now is so different from the one I used to be. I don’t chase perfection anymore or the past for that matter. I realized moving my body in times of stress or depression is vital to my well-being.
- I do not need to be a published author to be a writer. Sometimes just the practice of writing regularly is satisfying. As I wrote about here, I set out this year to finish a novel, or a manuscript of poetry and try to self-publish something. However, last August in the middle of the night a friend and I declared that being the gifted writers that we are, we must collaboratively write something together. Now, PG will say she introduced the idea, and I’ll argue it was me who birthed this plan. Regardless of who initiated, we embarked on a delicious collaborative project of writing two separate episodic fictional stories. Though every few months, I’d get the itch to try to publish our work, PG would pull me back into the work itself. What I discovered whilst writing together was that I am happy and excited and satisfied writing with her, revising our stories and not worrying about the next step for now. It’s different for me to write and enjoy it without recognition by others. Similar to dance, it had become about others. Art for me can be enough; is enough.
- I enjoy time with my family, actually. For almost a decade, I struggled with my identity within my family. I had played a certain role in most of their lives and in trying to break away from this role to establish a new more healthy one for myself, I lost a few relationships and angered many. Thanks to the time and low stress of this year, I have been able to redevelop a few good relationships with my parents, and cousins and even brother. I wouldn’t say it is perfect, but I can say that I have fun now with all of them and feel a closeness that I haven’t felt in a long time. However, this closeness is different. I am not giving all of myself to make everyone’s life better. I am not trying to control relationships or lives. I enjoy the good and leave the bad alone. I don’t get involved past a certain point and this has allowed such an ease to our time together. Reconnecting with my family in India this past October was probably the first step in getting here, and I am oh so grateful for it.
- I am a teacher. At the end of last year, I was so burnt out and certain my teaching career was over. I couldn’t imagine ever feeling good about it again. The love was gone. I resented the job, and some of the people at the job. Even the students couldn’t get me to see the light. In the past, my students were my savior whenever I felt burnt out, they helped me see why I was still there. Many have asked me what changed, how I got to this point without warning signs. I don’t know a clear answer for this. Maybe it was a new principal asking me to come back to work a week earlier only to find that we were going to analyze test scores from day one. Maybe it was my large class sizes and volumes of essays that felt out of control. Maybe it was the pressure I put on myself to achieve it all–the right test scores and the right experiences. Maybe it was my colleagues judging my decisions telling me I was doing too much. Maybe it was the plight of the special education kids in my classroom and how hopeless I felt. Maybe it was having to create new relationships with a new team and new co-teachers. Maybe it was the loss of an endeared principal. Maybe it was my depression. Maybe it was because I stopped dancing. The Maybes could go on forever. I don’t know the exact reason. I do know that I needed a change. So, as the months accumulated during this year off, I began to wonder if it was the job or me. Could I be happy in a different setting? I started interviewing at private schools in the area. After each sample lesson, my answer was still the same. The thrill was gone. Until one March day, I drove into DC up onto a hill at the edge of Rock Creek Park and taught a group of bilingual 7th graders an intro to Macbeth lesson. At the end of the sample lesson, I had a brief five minutes to myself before the interview resumed. I was in the bathroom looking at my eyes in the mirror and they were alive for the first time in a long time. I knew then that I would be a teacher for the rest of my life regardless of where I ended up working.
- Everything is on the spectrum of gray. I used to live in black or white, yes or no. Life was always clearly one or the other. The times in-between were always dark times; I latched on to the past and got dragged kicking and screaming…usually at my poor husband’s expense. Anything that didn’t happen the way I wanted it to or expected it to was the universe’s deliberate way of hurting me. This year all I see is gray for miles and miles. I am in-between and there is no definite answer or clear destination. I may get what I want; I may not. Sitting in the gray area is new and sometimes frustrating, but I am learning to see gray as the new black.
- It’s okay to ask for help. It doesn’t make me lesser than to need a friend’s support. Most people find it easy to open up to me and share their life’s stories good and bad. I am good ass listener who also openly shares about her personal experiences good and bad. While this has been a strength for so long, it also gave me a false sense of superiority. One that made me think I didn’t need help from others, that I never needed to lean on my friends, cry on their shoulder. So I kept a lot of the sadness from last year inside always wearing shiny things on the outside to cover up the dark inside. However after my trip to India, I started sharing a little piece here and there with the ones who counted the most. What I found was an easier life; one in which I had a safety net made up of friends and family who loved me unconditionally and would be there for me in my times of need. It made me feel stronger.
- Rolling hills beat sharp peaks. I have written about this topic a million times–all or nothing thinking/living. It is a habit; one I have finally found a solution for. Although, because it is a habit, it is waiting on the sidelines for me to pick it back up especially when I am stressed. Thus, I have to work extra hard to manage the stress appropriately. This pattern applies to all the things I do in life from vacations to working out to work. I’m sure it served me well when I was younger or at least served me at that time. Now, however pacing my work-outs and well even hangout time is the focus of my life. I am someone who can easily get carried away by an idea and awaken from the trance days later completely burnt out. My good friend AP gave me a motto that I have looked at daily during this year off: “Don’t glorify busy”. I’m so used to doing the most that I forget the value in doing nothing and being okay with it.
- I am a gym rat. If you spoke with me just two years ago, I would’ve adamantly told you I don’t like solo exercising because I’m a dancer only group exercise did it for me. I paid way higher to attend boutique yoga and Pilates classes. Then in the winter, my former Pilates teacher told me she was teaching at a gym. So I went to get my free trial week just to see if I could be a gym person, the whole time ensuring the salesperson knew I was only there for the group classes not the gym equipment. I bit the bullet still unsure and joined the gym thinking well if I do Pilates and Yoga it will be around the same or a little less than boutique classes. One late morning, I went to gym just to do cardio on a cardio machine, my iPod loaded with a perfect combo of music. Within thirty minutes, I was suddenly looking at the other side of the gym longingly. My body wanted more and so, I began with bicep curls and squats. By the end of the workout, I was euphoric. I was reminded of how kinesthetic I really am that my body craves movement and rewards me when I do move.
- Tetris 15. I wrote about this in a former post, but this idea of setting my timer and doing chores has revolutionized my life. I am no longer a slave to my household chores and this is glorious.
Thus my year ends with gratitude for the events transpired and love for the ones who supported me, sometimes carried me through the hard times. In front of me is more unknown, but for once or at least today I’m not panicky about it.