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Learning How to Tell the Truth

The Importance of Self Care and Finding Your Voice

By Robyn NeilsenPublished 2 years ago 4 min read
Learning How to Tell the Truth
Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Every summer, I start the school year with the same resolution. This is the year I will put my health and wellbeing before the job. This is the year I will prioritize myself over everything. And usually by November, I am crying in my boss’s office, burnt out and exhausted. Year twelve was shaping up to be more of the same. By November 2019, I was overwhelmed by a full schedule of classes I’d never taught before coupled with a pile of grading I never got to the bottom of. I was drowning. Truth be told I’d been drowning for twelve years.

I put immense pressure on myself to be perfect. To be the best. Compared myself to other people at my school who were doing it better than I was. I squeezed all of my resources, money, energy, and time until there wasn’t a drop left. And when I was completely depleted, I got up and did it again. For the kids. Better than yesterday. And chastised myself for not being more grateful. All while sprinting to the June finish line. The toxic narrative of the martyr teacher.

I learned the hard way that you can’t sprint a marathon. I can’t, anyway. Journal entry after journal entry from the first half of the 2019-2020 school year logged the struggle of a woman who was stuck underneath a truth she was too tired and scared to face. Something needed to change. I just didn’t have the strength to change it.

And then quarantine happened. March 2020. It was only supposed to last for two weeks. But two weeks turned into a month turned into two months and then it was June. I worked hard during that first phase of our new normal. I continued to write lesson plans and gave feedback on student essays. I learned how to use new online platforms and held Zoom meetings so the kids could interact with one another.

It killed me when they asked about school reopening. They were seniors. There were questions about prom and graduation. All the milestones that mark the end of high school. Of childhood. And I had no answers. Nobody did. But we kept a brave face because that’s all we could do. Keep showing up to let them know it was all going to be okay.

The uncertainty was terrifying. The rising numbers and news stories about people who had lost their lives during a once in a lifetime international health crisis were enough to keep me housebound.

Quarantine made my life small. It was a built-in no. No visits with family and friends. No browsing Barnes and Noble. Or catching a movie on a Sunday afternoon. And small made my life simple. I had more yes to give myself. I had time. I slowed down. Nowhere to go meant having nowhere to rush to. Being home with just my partner and my cat meant there was no one to compare myself to. And in solitude was freedom.

I could hear my thoughts again calling me back to my truth. I need to do something different. This was the moment to change the way I prioritized myself because one day the world would open, and I refused to be a victim to my circumstance. The way I’d been doing things kept me sick and dissatisfied. I owed it to myself to be better. To honor what I’d always wanted.

I started to write. I’ve been a writer all my life, but writing stories over the last twelve years always felt like trying to catch the wind in a jar. Sometimes I could do it. A sliver of light would reveal itself, and I’d be able to push the door open to see to the other side. But mostly my creativity was spent on my job, which left me no room to explore. I would leave it for the weekend, but once the weekend came, I was too tired to think. In quarantine there was space. It was luxurious. I started journaling every day. And attending writing workshops. I wrote a novel. My imagination was fat with stories that I was all too happy to tell.

I challenged myself to write the hard stuff. Pushed myself to write in ways I had never written before. Put myself first. In storytelling I found my voice.

For me, being a writer is self-care. Words, especially in times of isolation, can create whole worlds in which to lose ourselves. To let someone else know that they are not alone. To make ourselves feel less alone.

I spent twelve years saying yes when I wanted to say no. To people. To intrusive thoughts. To things I’d rather not be doing. But when I pared it down to the essentials, I found two things to be true. I am a teacher. And I am a writer. There is space in my life for both, but I must be an active participant in carving out time. In order for a craft to grow it needs to be nurtured. And as we move further into 2021, I resolve to be an advocate for myself against the wishes of my inner critic who likes to compare. I will keep making stories. There’s no going back now.

self help

About the Creator

Robyn Neilsen

I am an educational content writer, cat lover, and Ina Garten enthusiast. My creative non fiction essays have been published on Thought Catalog and Mogul. I am also a novelist and flash fiction writer.

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