I’m going to do something I don’t normally do on this blog: Bring you into my world a bit more. I’d like to share with you something I’m really proud of in the last couple years: My journey to where I am now.
For years, I struggled with a couple of things a lot. Anxiety, back issues and insomnia.
I’m not going to say those things are magically 100 percent erased (especially with that last one, insomnia, given that I am currently writing this at 2:25am from my bed typing into a notes memo 😉) but hot damn if I’m not stoked where I am today.
Lets go back several years. I was in grad school getting my masters in education, living in Montana. Many years had led up to this point but at its worst, it would, on average, take me 7 hours to fall asleep lying in bed at night. Yes. Almost a full length of a days work just trying to fall asleep. I didn’t realize I had insomnia because eventually I would fall asleep even if it was for only a few hours. AND I had always had a tough time falling asleep, even as a baby. It’s just that, gradually, the length of time, or hot water, to use a metaphor, cranked up until I was a lobster in a pot not realizing I was getting cooked alive.
So I went to a doc and she was like “ya brah, duh. You have insomnia.” (In so many words.) So she prescribed Ambien for me. Another year went by, I was still on Ambien but it was no longer working. Needed more. And more. But still wasn’t sleeping.
To add to that simmering water, even before that, before the loose diagnosis of insomnia, I had started having back problems. The first time I threw my back out was when I was working as a cashier at a grocery store doing micro lifts all day long, and, let’s face it, probably lifting the exact wrong way, (you bend, twist, and lift right?) I came home one day, lifted my average-weight-roommates cat and *boop!* threw my back out and was immobile for several days. Yikes. Luckily I had a lovely boyfriend at the time who helped me out.
A few weeks after that, I was walking (or hobbling) up a hill and I saw my shadow and it looked like the Hunchback of Notre Dame was creeping up behind me, but no, low and behold, it was me! Yikes. I realized I needed help.
The years past, I went to grad school, (yes, I realize this timeline is screwy. Keep up!) add in chronic severe insomnia (and ambien-uh-oh) and then I’m spiraling into what is supposed to be a career in teaching. I’m doing my practicum observing a high school history class, quiet in the back and hating being there but trying to convince myself I like it, but am feeling a swell of panic and self loathing creeping up into my throat, while keeping a dumb-everything- is-fine smile on my face. I go home and let the panic attack take over. “Wow I hate this.” I think to myself. “NOPE! Push that feeling down. This is your career. You’re meant to make the world a better place and you can’t think of any better way of doing that, so this is what you’re doing Julia!” I keep telling myself, in so many words.
On i trudge down the tunnel of teaching.
I also realize at this point, I’m partying too much. I’m at the same bars with the same people with drinking problems. One night I was having a conversation with my bestie (shoutout to Sydy! Who does not have a drinking problem, by the way.) We were in an alley outside the Badlander Bar (Missoula people, is that still a thing?) and I’m venting to her that “I don’t think I wanna be here.” She opens my mind to, “Well, you don’t have to be. Maybe you need new surroundings.” Simple, right?
She was right. So, I submitted a request to do my student teaching elsewhere and settled in Colorado. Moving to Colorado was good. First step in my journey! But it got worse before it got better.
Flash forward to teaching in Colorado…….I’m going to push fast forward on this part because it is some of the hardest years of my life. I was (and am, I would say) a good teacher. But I was bad at classroom management. Those kids ate me alive, particularly the middle schoolers at this low funded public school.
Couple highlights- Getting called a bitch, a lot, being disrespected by a student saying he was going to “whip his dick out and piss all over this place” me breaking up a fight in the middle of my classroom while the very tall middle schoolers threw punches over my head to try to hit each other with me in the middle, and last but not least, a student briefly setting an outlet on fire in my classroom because she saw it on a Tiktok challenge. Yes, this was my world. Notable mentions- getting panic attacks while lesson planning at home at 4am, realizing the career is not who I am but pushing that feeling far and away. Other shitty feelings: Seeing kids experience poverty, illiteracy, and lashing out at me because things are rough for them at home and me feeling like a fucking failure for being unable to help them, let alone maintain a calm classroom.
Things were rough for other teachers too. I have endless respect for teachers to this day.
A fire burns in me to shout, WE NEED TO CHANGE THE SYSTEM TO SUPPORT TEACHERS MORE. Supporting teachers is often ironically missing in the education debates. See that list I just rattled off? You’re sending teachers into battle everyday.
TWO THINGS: PAY TEACHERS MORE AND MANDATE SMALL CLASS SIZES. Those things will help teachers and help students immensely. I digress……
So- things were rough for me. Meanwhile I had been on and off Ambien (Am I awake or am I asleep?) which really messed with me and I was still throwing my back out frequently.
I took a pause one moment and realized- I’m not doing good. I don’t want to feel this way anymore. I need to change myself and what I’m doing. That was the second step in my journey. Simple and unglamorous.
Then I went to therapy. This was a third and perhaps best step y’all! Ten out of ten. Would recommend. (Thanks healthcare, at the time.) In therapy I realized many things. One of which was-I don’t want to be a traditional teacher. And I don’t have to be.
I put in my notice at the middle school in February 2020. You all know what happens next in March 2020…..drum roll please…..
The pandemic hit America. March, Friday the 13th, 2020. (Yes, note the date.) Our school has closed for in-person learning and we must now teach from our laptops at home and not go into the classroom anymore.
I was ECSTATIC. “I dont need to go into that wild-west classroom anymore?!” Praise the universe! Great Goddess I am saved. (The pandemic and fear of that was real and terrifying. But I was so grateful to not be thrown into that classroom anymore, I have to admit.)
After teaching I had NO clue what my next step was going to be career-wise but I felt light as a feather. I felt like someone’s heavy boot had been lifted off my chest. I was free to do whatever and be whatever the hell I wanted. I took the pressure off myself and all of a sudden the world was mine.
Here we go guys, the good part! I moved to Denver into a renovated garden level apartment below my friends, volunteered for Girls Rock music camp, and walked around the city, feeling like a happy go lucky kid, open heart bursting with the feeling that something good was finally on the way.
I then got a job I never in a million years knew existed which was working at a music store running a lessons department. And I found my passion. Suddenly I was surrounded by blaring music, weirdos, and laughter. On one of my first days, my co-worker rounded the corner with a tambourine and did this funky dance waving that tambourine around and then said “we’re all a little crazy here!” And my heart settled and I thought “Ah. I fit in here. This is my place.”
My anxiety subsided because I was finally doing something authentic to myself and for which I was really good at (top ranked.) I began tackling my insomnia (which I no longer struggle with, more-so, harness, with different methods. (Hit me up if you want tips on tackling insomnia. Hint: no more Ambien.) I have lessened the back issues by seeing a good chiropractor who set me straight when I needed it most. I exercise and stretch everyday and, this is perhaps the biggest one with my back: I realize my back issues are related to my emotional state. Look up a book called “Healing Back Pain” for info about how majority of back issues are caused by tension and pent up anger.
Also, I am working on being present in the moment which has helped me immensely. Oh yeah, and I breath more. Do you ever realize you’re holding your breath and you didn’t even realize it?
I have a couple philosophies or mantras that have helped my mental state in so many ways:
1. I’m doing good-this one helps me because I am an overachiever and way too hard on myself. Or should I say, I used to be!
2. Be myself and have some fun with it
3. Focus on my well-being (which will also help me help others)
4. Follow what makes me excited
That last one I took from a book I highly recommend called “Follow Your Dharma.” Finding your calling is something we all deserve. And the world deserves a happy, healthy us, stepping into our power, into ourselves, to make the world a better place in our unique, distinct, dharma way.
With this journey, I feel like I am stepping into the person I want to be. And going the places I want to go. I’m playing more music, guitar, piano and drums, I can clock out at the end of a work day, a game changer. I have more mental space to be with friends and family, I drink less, my back feels so much better and I feel incredible joy each day. Wow. I feel lucky.
Well dear readers! That was a long one. If you made it to the end of this odyssey that is me these last couple years, thanks for reading. That was cathartic to share. If I can leave you with one thing: I am so glad I risked it being myself and actually listened to my heart. I’m so much healthier and happier than I was before.