THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Heather Hollis Headshot

The Moment I Knew

Posted: Updated:

When we asked readers to tweet about the moment they knew they needed to de-stress, the responses were alarming. Breaking points were marked by health crises, family problems and other types of suffering. We decided to go deeper into some of these stories in the hope that others can recognize signs of extreme stress and start to figure out their own paths to de-stressing.

My student's father is listing my faults like he's ticking off a grocery list.

"He knows you don't like him. You don't call him 'my angel' like his teacher did last year."

"You humiliate him in front of the class."

"You blame him for everything."

No mention is made of the fact that this child has been noted for anger and social issues since he started school.

No mention is made of the fact that if another child looks at him sideways, he hauls off and punches them. And then screams and cries that he has been wrongly accused.

No mention is made of the fact that this child has disrupted the entire class over and over again to the detriment of all the other children.

I try to explain that I am very concerned about this child's success and happiness but it falls on deaf ears. I'm sweating and my heart is beating a mile a minute. My fight or flight impulse is on full throttle and I start to wonder if I'm having a panic attack.

Dad is on a roll and I'm about to be flattened.

Finally, he concludes his list of my offenses by saying quite matter-of-factly, "I'm afraid he's going to hurt himself or worse and, I don't like to say it, but I think it would be because of you."

And that's when it happened.

I could feel the proverbial straw breaking the camel's back. Except instead of the camel's back, it was a little something inside my head.

I was suddenly cold but calm.

I stood up and said, "I have to go now" and walked out of the room.

As I walked away, I started to cry.

I cried for 10 hours straight.

The next morning I got up and went back to work.

But it was different. I was different.

I took the next week off -- stress leave they called it. But it was more than that.

Something inside me died that day.

Logically, I knew I wasn't to blame, but emotionally? That was a different story.

My class that year was overloaded with children who had a wide variety of special needs. With resources stretched thin, it was impossible to give each one the attention they needed and deserved.

I dealt with unhappy, frustrated parents who (rightly) complained and demanded better services. Worse than that, I had students who often sat idle because they could not do the work without one-on-one support.

But it was like getting blood from stone. There was no money in the budget for extra help and the ratio of 29 students to one teacher was a recipe for disaster.

This is not to say it was a terrible year; quite the contrary. In fact, I loved my students and they, for the most part, loved me. We laughed and learned and had some wonderful times.

But there was a hole in my heart that just kept widening. I darkly joked to my fellow teachers that it didn't matter if anyone got upset with me anymore because I was "dead inside."

When I found myself sobbing in the bathtub the night before the last day of school, I realized it was time.

I had survived the battle but lost the war. My love for teaching was gone.

I spent the following year on an unpaid leave of absence. Luckily for me, I had a supportive spouse and a healthy line of credit. It was a year well spent regaining my mental and physical health.

Sleeping came first. I slept like the dead for months.

Then I started exercising -- long walks, yoga and fitness classes, jogging. Meditation and heart-felt chats with good friends and family. I focused on eating healthy. I eased up on the daily wine habit that had become a quick and easy way of blotting out the feelings of anger and frustration.

I read voraciously and watched television in the middle of the day.

Finally, I started writing again. Honestly and from the heart about issues related to teaching and women and mothering.

It didn't happen all at once but eventually I saw the changes. My heart began to open again and the bitterness started to seep away.

I stopped whispering horrible lies to myself, like, "You were a bad teacher. Those children shouldn't have had to endure a year like you gave them." And I started to listen to my true voice that said, "They knew you loved them. And look at how far they came! Insult yourself and you insult them."

I know now that I can't single-handedly change the education system. I can, however, change the way one teacher handles it.

Bring it on. I'm ready.

Is there a moment you hit a stress breaking point and knew you needed to change your life? If you'd like to share your story, please send personal essays under 1200 words to stress@huffingtonpost.com for consideration in this series.

From Our Partners