For much of my first two years of teaching, I experienced a phenomenon on a nearly-weekly basis that I call the Sunday Afternoon Megasad Life Hole.
I first fell victim to the Sunday Afternoon Megasad Life Hole during my first year, once the shiny happy first few weeks of school had worn off and I slowly started to realize several sad things about teaching.
1. Classroom management was REALLY hard.
2. Teaching 36 kids at a time who were 2-3 grade levels behind was REALLY hard.
3. Doing 1 and 2 with minimal support and resources was REALLY hard.
4. On Sunday afternoons, you are about to face five days of things that are REALLY hard.
The stress of Sunday afternoons was a mental thing, but also weirdly physical, too. Around lunchtime on Sundays I would burst into tears. That was followed by a brief self pep talk and then a deceptive upswing in mood. But then around 2:00 or so, I’d crash again. I would crawl into bed and just exist. And it wasn’t the awesome kind of being in bed where you might grab a book or turn on a TV show or play Words With Friends on your phone. I didn’t even have the energy to distract myself. I would just try to be as still as possible because moving felt bad.
I call it a life hole because it is very much like a black hole. Megasad Life Holes have their own gravitational pull, and despite your best efforts, you just, SHHHHHHLOOP!, get sucked right on in. And once you’re in, you’re kind of a goner.
And you’ll be that way forever. The end.
This week I read a statistic that around 25% of teachers suffer from depression, and while that made me sad, it definitely didn’t surprise me. The combination of physical, mental, and emotional stresses of teaching is enough to make anyone fall victim to Sunday afternoons. For me, it was toughest in the first few years, but I’ve heard from plenty of decades-in veteran teachers who still find themselves in the Megasad Life Holes, unable to pull themselves out.
Being in a Sunday Afternoon Megasad Life Hole is hard enough on its own, but what made it harder for me was that I was sure I was the only teacher feeling that way. I was convinced that I was just born with a gelatinous backbone and that’s why I couldn’t handle the pressures of teaching. After all, almost every piece of literature I’d ever read on teaching talked about how it’s is always so awesome and wonderful, and even though it’s a tiny bit challenging SOMETIMES it’s so rewarding that it ALWAYS makes up for it!!!
(I don’t think we should burn books, but if someone ever forced me to hold a bonfire I’d say to go ahead and throw in all of the books that sugarcoat education.)
I had a fantastic support system. I have a family who loves me like crazy and the best friends in the world, but none of them knew what to do to help me on Sunday afternoons. And I don’t blame them for that--if I were one of them, I wouldn’t have known what to do or say, either. Teaching is really one of those things that you can’t understand unless you’ve been there.
So in other words, it’s kind of hopeless. I wish you the best of luck.
Just kidding again. That’s not the end. Here’s the good news about Sunday Afternoon Megasad Life Holes: while you can’t always prevent yourself from getting sucked into them, you can take steps to navigate yourself away from them in the first place AND make it easier to get out once you’ve fallen in.
1. Find a really, really good therapist. During my first year of teaching, I went a few times to a counselor who was free on my insurance. She was so kind, but not exactly helpful. This increased my feelings that I was a giant failure and couldn’t be helped and that Sunday afternoons would never get better. But a few years ago, after asking around for recommendations, I found the world’s greatest human/therapist who helped me immensely. She is not on my insurance, but I found ways to be able to afford her (moved my budget around, saw her once a month instead of every week), and it was still to this day the best investment I’ve ever made.
Side note: I think everyone should go to therapy, even people who don’t find themselves in life holes.
Side note again: When I’m president, ALL therapists will free to teachers.
Last side note: I don’t ever want to be president.
2. Stay busy on Sundays. Schedule yourself so that you have minimal time to ruminate and fall into a life hole. Don’t fill your time with things that will stress you out or take your energy away; fill your time with things that make you feel good. Which brings me to number 3!
3. Make a list of go-to activities that make you feel happy or powerful. Now I’m not talking “happy” like downing a margarita or “powerful” like finding vacuum cleaner bags on sale*. What makes you feel deeply happy or profoundly energetic? Mastering tough new recipe? Building something with your hands? Making art? Learning something new from a TED talk? Going on a long bike ride? Turning on your Teen Pop Spotify playlist and cleaning? Helping other people? Whatever it is, write it down and keep your list handy. The next step is to make the things on the list as accessible as possible, so that BEFORE the Life Hole arrives you’ll be ready to go. If you wait until Sunday afternoon to try to take action, even the things you love the most will feel like too much work.
4. Insist that you’re not alone. When you’re alone in your bed on a Sunday afternoon, it’s very easy to feel like you are also alone in your Life Hole. But you’re not. Trust me: I’ve been there, and I know that there are hundreds of thousands (if not more) people with you in that Life Hole. It doesn’t mean that you’re weak, and it doesn’t mean you’re a bad teacher. It means you care a lot about your work and are working extremely hard, which are good and honorable things. (It also means you’re not taking care of yourself, but number 3 should help with that.)
5. Believe it will get better. It will. It may take some time, or it may take an environment switch, but Sunday Afternoon Megasad Life Holes will eventually fade away. After my first two years, even though I went through some really rough times as a teacher, I don’t ever recall feeling depressed on a Sunday afternoon. I know it’s hard to tell yourself “this too shall pass,” but one day, you’ll look back on it and realize you were right.
Let me know if you've ever been in a Sunday Afternoon Megasad Life Hole. If so, what did you do to cope?
The kind of love that reaches alllllllll the way to the bottom of Life Holes,
*although I think most of us would agree that both of those things are quite excellent