A year ago, I was experiencing some of the worst times of my life. I was struggling with mental and physical health, and I was not feeling comfortable in my career. I loved my students but was so burnt out from the challenges of teaching and being a team leader. Even living just outside Disney World was not much of a silver lining, because I often didn’t have the time or the energy to spend time there. I stopped attempting to update my blog because I had started to hate writing as much as my students did. I promise, I’m in a much happier place right now, but I think it’s worth recording some of the challenges and highlights of my past year.
Warning: I’ll be talking about my struggle with (and victory over!) anxiety in this post as well as my diagnosis with cervical pre-cancer, so if that is not your thing, go read about this Indonesian paradise instead.
April was a struggle in terms of my mental health, which greatly affected my physical health, though I did somehow manage to “run” a half marathon and take a road trip to Alabama to take prom pictures for my brother and his friends. I also forced myself to go to an Earth Day celebration in Orlando, which was so far outside my comfort zone but reminded me that there was an entire world of cool people and experiences outside of the apartment where I spent so much time hiding from the world.
May was when I realized that I needed professional help for my anxiety. As my mental health improved, so did my physical health. I also started taking college classes again, as I needed to take 8 education classes in order to renew my Florida teaching certification. As the school year came to a close, my stress load from work decreased, which further lessened my anxiety. I started to push myself to leave my apartment and have adventures, even if it just meant going to a Passholder Preview event to see the new Pandora land at Animal Kingdom.
June gave me a one-week break between the end of the teaching year and the start of my next college class. I joined my dad, brother, and sister in Las Vegas, which kicked off the start of our road trip to the Grand Canyon, Four Corners, and Monument Valley. I spent the rest of the month attending summer intensive classes in Orlando and spending my weekends mostly in the Orlando area, eating good vegan food and exploring nature. I also managed to squeeze in a weekend trip to the Florida Panhandle!
I had a week-long break from classes at the start of July, so I drove up to the Midwest and spent some time in Ohio and Indiana with friends and family. After that, I spent the rest of the month finishing the last of my 8 required classes and then had a little less than a week to spend with family in Alabama and to go on a weekend road trip to New Orleans with my sister.
The school year began at the start of August. I instantly loved my students and I was finally feeling comfortable in my role as a team leader and a teacher at this school. I even had time to go to the first Halloween Party at Disney World in late August; in my previous years of teaching, I didn’t have time to do anything other than WORK NONSTOP until several months into the school year.
However, in September, health problems began to plague me. I got bad results from my pap smear and after going in for a biopsy, I was diagnosed with cervical pre-cancer; the doctor advised me to make sure I was living a healthy lifestyle with a good diet, plenty of exercise, and low stress levels. This would hopefully help the spots go away rather than progress to actual cancer.
In October, it became very clear that I was not able to keep my stress levels low. Many of my autoimmune issues were flaring up, and I had been getting blinding migraines on almost every work day. I spent a lot of time with various doctors, who all ruled out any physical cause of the migraines and referred me to a mental health specialist.
The psychologist I had been seeing since May felt that I had done an excellent job progressing and moving past most of my anxiety, but urged me to consider other career options, as the expectations of me at my current school were unreasonable and my requests for support for important things like student medical issues on field trips were not being addressed. I agreed that the stress from my job was likely the cause of these migraines (as I didn’t get them on weekends or days off), but I hated the idea of quitting in the middle of the school year.
Despite how hard I was working in my teaching job, I still wasn’t making enough money to put my desired amount into savings while keeping up with my Orlando living expenses and all my medical copays, so as I continued to pour myself into teaching in November, I also got a job delivering pizzas on the weekend. Believe it or not, the hourly breakdown of my teaching earnings and my delivery earnings were roughly the same! And unlike teaching, I didn’t get migraines during my delivery shifts. In fact, I really enjoyed driving around listening to audiobooks, with an occasional stop to drop off somebody’s food!
I had a weeklong Thanksgiving break at the end of the month, which I spent with my grandparents in Bradenton. I loved my time spent exploring one of my favorite areas in the world and spending time with some of my favorite people in the world, and I loved that I didn’t have any migraines.
However, despite my slight boost in health, I spent most of my time off with a feeling of dread looming over me; I really really really didn’t want to go back to school. I didn’t want to continue feeling fatigued, stressed out, and overworked. I didn’t want to spend all my time worrying that the constant stress I was under would cause my pre-cancer to progress. I started to look at other options.
In December, I made other career arrangements, which would include time to travel and rest as well. I turned in my notice to my school the week before Christmas break, telling them I’d stay for one more month and I would be happy to train my replacement, but my health needed to be a priority. Everyone was very supportive, which of course made it harder to leave a job where I got to work with so many people that I liked.
January was absolutely insane. I was trying to wrap things up at work, making sure I was leaving my teaching team and my students with a good foundation. My apartment lease ended a few days before my job did, so I was also frantically trying to sell and donate everything I didn’t need and figure out what to do with the rest of my belongings. I ended up making a quick trip to Alabama at the start of the month to bring a carload of my stuff to store in my family’s storage barn.
After my last day at work, I wanted to say a proper goodbye to Disney. I spent a few days catching my last glimpses of the parks before driving up to Alabama with a final carload of my belongings. I was truly devastated to be moving away from Florida. I’d had so many magical moments there, but I also experienced some of the darkest times of my life. I still see myself living there again someday, and I’m so excited at the thought that I’ll get to live there while experiencing good health and a more suitable career so that I can actually enjoy everything Florida has to offer!
My stop in Alabama was a perfect way to kick off my new journey. I had a great time with my siblings, and I was also excited to have the chance to take my brother’s senior pictures. We both had a great time finding various places for him to pose, including inside an abandoned building.
As February began, I found myself in Ohio, experiencing snow for the first time in 5 years. I can’t say I enjoyed it, but I was sustained by the thought that soon I would be in tropical weather. And as much as I was ready to get out of the snow, I really loved the time I got to spend with friends and family before Dad drove me to the Dayton airport.
And then, just like that, I was in Hong Kong! Well, first I was in Atlanta. And then Seattle. And then Hong Kong! I spent my first 2 days there mostly sleeping, eating, and trying to recover from jet lag. Then I spent 2 days at Hong Kong Disneyland and the rest of my remaining 5 days exploring as much as I could, with a trip to Big Buddha and many long walks between the Kowloon areas of Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Tsui.
It was so perfect. It was like leaving the country had given me a total mental reset; even though I had learned to manage my anxiety pretty well by the end of last year, that didn’t mean it was totally gone. And yet after arriving in Hong Kong, I kept wondering to myself Why am I not feeling anxious about this? until eventually I realized that I seem to have entirely moved past my anxiety!
Next up was a few days in Bangkok, where I had a fantastic time hanging out with a friend and exploring the nature in the city.
March has been all about Indonesia. I had a really difficult time when I lived here previously; a year was a long time to be away from home in a different country that was absolutely nothing like what I had expected. This time, I knew what to expect, and I had been looking forward to the chance to experience Indonesia with more of an open mind as well as the opportunity to slow down my pace and work on a lot of things that I hadn’t made time for in the chaos of my previous life (such as photo editing, organizing/backing up digital files, putting together videos, and blogging!).
I also finally feel like I’m doing what my doctor suggested when she said I have a good chance of beating the pre-cancer if I have a healthy diet, stay physically active, and keep my stress levels low.
I’m so happy to say that I no longer feel the stress and anxiety that was weighing me down even as I wrote my March update last year. Sure, I had a lot of highs around that time, but I had even more lows. That’s not to say that my life now doesn’t have challenges; but I feel very well-equipped to handle those challenges and to stay positive and calm in the face of situations that previously would have given me an instant panic attack.
I hadn’t intended for my anxiety to feature so heavily in this post, but it really has dominated my life for the past several years. I know mental health is a topic that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. And it does frighten me a little to be so open about it here. What if I am seen as weak because I let my anxiety get the better of me for a little while? What if a potential employer reads this post and doesn’t hire me because they think I can’t handle the stress of the job?
But I hope it is clear that I have moved past my anxiety for the time being, and even if it returns in some capacity, I have learned a lot of tools to cope with it. One of the greatest things I’ve learned in the past year is to get better at asking for help. I used to cause a lot of my own anxiety because when I was hit with an obstacle, I would go to great lengths try to fix it on my own, even if it could be easily fixed by asking for a little help.
Now I know it’s okay to call on others’ expertise when I need it. Over the summer, I had a lot of car problems, and I ultimately ended up asking a friend for help, which prevented me from having to have my car towed to the dealership. That might not seem like a big deal to some people, but it was a breakthrough for me! At work, I got better at asking coworkers for advice on things when I needed help, rather than just trying to use my own knowledge and googling ability.
Though I don’t feel like I’m qualified to hand out mental health advice, I would like to emphasize the fact that asking for help was my first step to becoming better. For me, it started with seeking help from a psychologist, and from there, I learned that it’s okay if I can’t figure out everything on my own. I mean, we’re all still trying to figure our stuff out, right? I still hold myself to high standards in terms of my work ethic and my interactions with others, but I’ve learned to value the power of learning from my mistakes and collaborating with others.
And I hope that anybody else who is going through a hard time right now will consider asking for help. I know it’s difficult; even when surrounded by an amazing set of friends and family, it still took me way too long to realize the truth of this statement: you are not alone.
I am so grateful to everyone who has stuck with me during the past year, and I’m looking forward to sharing more about my new adventures!