The year of 2017 was interesting. It breezed by so fast, that I can barely remember what took place, or perhaps I’ve blocked out some of its challenges. There are a few things that stand out though. The biggest thing on my timeline is making a decision to leave my job as a high school literature teacher for a staff writing position at a local magazine. Before I can even get into the details of that transition, I must say that teaching is the hardest thing that I’ve ever done in my life. As I often tell people as a concise response to explain my shift, “It’s a lot easier to write than it is to teach kids how to write.”
After deep reflection, in October, I decided to “focus on my writing” instead of staying in an unfulfilling position that often made me feel like a failure. In 2016, I made the decision to relocate to Greater Boston to teach high school English through Teach For America, a national program that assists professionals with teaching placements before being certified, that I can confidently say is problematic. Due to a lack of support, systemic issues, and the daily stress that comes along with teaching, I ended up spending the majority of 2017 anxiety ridden and depressed. My anxiety had never been as bad as it was until I began teaching. As much as I wanted to see myself succeed in the classroom and to assist my scholars on their journeys to the best of my ability, I realized that teaching at the capacity that I taught was unhealthy for me. I went from sporadically having anxiety attacks to having them several times a month, and often finding it impossible to even get out of bed. I’ll never forget when I received an email from my former principal about returning to work from 2017 summer break. I immediately had an anxiety attack. The thought alone of returning to work made me have a melt down.
I also gained a tremendous amount of weight. Stress was a huge contribution to the weight gain, but I’m also sure entering my 30’s and having a slower metabolism also contributed. It got to the point to where I didn’t even recognize myself in the mirror. Not only did I not recognize myself, I didn’t want to see myself. When I looked in the mirror, all I saw was an overweight, unhappy, anxiety ridden failure that even a few cleanses, diet pills, sporadic trips to the gym, and Fitbit competitions couldn’t cure. I decided to try a green smoothie week-long cleanse alongside a celebrity-endorsed diet pill over the summer. Although I lost maybe a pound or two, that trial ended with me having an intense anxiety attack, and me begging my partner to take me to the hospital. I realized that was due to the amount of caffeine that was in the diet pills. Not to mention, the way that my anxiety is set up, I had to give up coffee, earlier in the year. My anxiety had gotten so bad that even the slightest sip of coffee would incite an anxiety attack.
In 2017, I also felt tremendously isolated. I’m a black queer woman Detroit native, who has also lived in New York City. Moving to New England, or New Hampshire to be more specific was quite the culture shock. I went from living in one of the nation’s blackest cities (I’m not quite sure if this statement is accurate due to gentrification) to living in a state that is 93.9 percent white, and 1.1 percent black or African American. Need I say more.
On the bright side, although leaving my teaching position made me feel like I let my scholars down, I took a leap of faith and swiftly landed my writing position. I received a phone call with an interview offering literally within 15 minutes of submitting my application. About a month later, I found myself on the masthead, and sitting in my new office. What also took me by surprise is the fact that I had touched so many students. Upon my departure, a myriad of students had let me know how much I had inspired them as a teacher. And it’s interesting because you truly never know who you might touch. Some students reached out to me, who I never would have thought would have cared that I was leaving. What I learned the most about my transition is that if I’m unhappy in any situation, I can change that. I’m not a tree, and I’m never stuck. Sometimes, we get comfortable within our environments, or comfortable with a salary, etc. and we end up scared to make moves and change our situations. 2017 taught me to never be afraid of change. I now seek it and embrace it. Although I still have a lot to work on, my anxiety has gotten a little better. I’m nowhere near where I want to be weight and health wise, but I can at least look in the mirror and see more than the negative. I also have a travel plan that will allow me to see more folks that look like me. I’m excited about the stories that I’ll write this year, and I’m looking forward to teaching opportunities that are a better fit. Cheers to 2018!