One morning early in 2015, I couldn’t get out of bed for work. Nor could I the next day, or the day after that. I loved my job, but no matter how much I wanted to be at school, I simply couldn’t function.

Three ways I sustain my health

I had no energy, had difficulty sleeping, I was anxious all the time, eating made me feel ill, and my cognitive function declined. After nine months on the merry-go-round of doctor’s appointments, specialists and tests in search of the cause, I received a diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Looking back now, the pathway to illness seems obvious, but at the time it was a complete mystery. Now, I can see that I’d been at my desk from 7am every day for years, I often worked through recess and lunch, I stayed at work into the evening, I took piles of work home, I was involved in numerous extra-curricular activities, and I consistently put the needs of my staff above my own needs.

I constantly felt tired, my body always hurt, I suffered headaches, I picked up every cold going around, I had panic attacks, my mind raced about work constantly. But all of this seemed normal, and to this day when I look at my colleagues I see many of them exhibiting the same behaviours and symptoms. Isn’t this just what being a good teacher looks like?

No. It isn’t. Or at least it shouldn’t be. Unfortunately, the educational community congratulates overworked individuals and holds them up as dedicated and hardworking, but this is fraught with danger. It is leading us to being a profession with incredibly poor overall health and wellbeing.

For the past six years, I have focused on my recovery and achieved my goal of returning to full-time work. During this time, I’ve learned an incredible amount about what it takes to be a well person, and a well teacher. As a result, I am a better teacher and a better person. Here are three key ideas that sum up a lot of what sustains my health now.

Go slower

Today, I try to live and work by the motto, ‘do less more deeply’. I’m done with the days of spreading myself too thin. At home and at work, I commit to less and this enables me to be fully present and focused on the things I do commit to. I stop for recess and lunch every day. I enjoy taking breaks from my desk to shoot hoops with colleagues. I listen to music or podcasts in the car on the way home to wind my mind down from the day.

Do things you enjoy

One of the strategies that keeps me most well these days is spending more time on the things I enjoy. At the moment, the things that ‘fill my energy bucket’ are swimming, stand up paddle boarding, drumming, camping, Pilates and spending quality time with friends. Earlier in my recovery, I used to prioritise work and give up the things I enjoyed so as to have enough energy to be able to do my job. However, I quickly found that ‘bucket filling’ activities don’t drain energy, they put it in. I now have more energy for work because of the energy I gain doing the things I love as often as I can.

Pay attention to diet

Eating a wholefoods diet, drinking enough water, limiting alcohol and taking naturopath prescribed supplements has certainly helped me in my recovery, and now gives me enough energy for all the things I want to do. However, food and drink make up only part of our diet. My psychologist has also helped me attune to my emotional diet; the things and people who bring about positive energy and emotion in my life. I also attend to my sensory diet: limiting screen time, surrounding myself with music, and using essential oils.

How do you care for your own health and wellbeing? Do you have a story you’d like to share with Wellbeing by Teacher? Here’s a handy guide on how to get started.