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Teaching Profession Opinion

Why Do I Always Feel So Guilty About Taking Care of Myself?

By Starr Sackstein — October 11, 2016 4 min read
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As a teacher and a single mom, I can honestly say I don’t put my own needs first as often as I should.

Working through sickness, bodily injury and sometimes sleepless nights, I do everything in my power to keep routines going and maintain an air that everything is going to be okay for the benefit of others and a fear that if I don’t the world will collapse around me.

I know it sounds silly because rationally I understand that the world keeps moving even when I cannot, but I still feel utterly guilty and anxious when I get to a place that requires me to take better care of my own needs.

Last week my back started hurting. I have two herniated discs in my lower back that was originally caused by a bad car accident over a decade ago. I used to be really good at taking care of my spinal health ensuring I never got a place where I couldn’t move again.

But when it didn’t bother me for a while, I stopped going to the chiropractor and figured, if it got bad enough I’d go back. Fortunately because I eat healthily and exercise regularly (something I will no longer give up for anyone), my back doesn’t bother me often, but this time when I ignored the signs, I had to wear my brace to work and then had to take a day off to get in to see the doctor.

Making the decision to take the day off was uncomfortable. If my son is sick, I don’t think twice about it because I have to care for him and he is my first priority, but when it comes to me, I’m not as thorough.

So I went to the doctor and boy did I feel better, so much better that I completely overdid it the next day only to wake up in great pain one day later again. In my mind, my body functions as well as it did in my twenties and bounces back as well too. Unfortunately, my body has another plan that is more in line with my more mature age of almost 40.

This past March, I got the flu for the first time in my life the day I was supposed to go to SXSWedu. I had been planning for it for months and was so excited. They even set up a book signing for me. I went to work in the morning only to be sent home and when I tested positive for the flu, my doctor told me I wasn’t going anywhere. That was the worst week of my life and not just because I didn’t get to go to Texas. I have never felt worse, ever.

What I’m recognizing the older I get is my body tells me when to slow down, a message I have a hard time hearing and an even harder time adhering to. Dishing advice out to others like it’s my job, I can see this happening to my colleagues and friends and I can remind them how they have to take of themselves or they’ll be no good to anyone else, yet taking my own advice is a challenge.

Usually when I get these very literal opportunities to slow down (not out of choice, but because I physically can’t move), I have to reflect on what is going on and how I got to where I am. How did I let it get so out of hand that I’m here now?

Here are some familiar symptoms:


  • I’m not sleeping well. Either I’m stressed about work or life or money and I’m up thinking about it all of the time. It makes it hard to focus and calm my mind before bed. When it gets back enough I’ve taken melatonin and try to meditate, but that still doesn’t offer enough consecutive nights of sleep to help.
  • I’m not eating right. Sometimes when I’m on the go to much, I don’t eat at all or just snack but nothing substantial. Again when I’m stressed, my appetite is greatly impacted and therefore taking the time to eat those healthy meals three or more times a day is a challenge.
  • I’m not drinking enough water because I’ve supplemented my usual amount of water with coffee to help with the fatigue and stress.
  • I’m somewhat unmotivated, but I still push through doing what feels to be a subpar job which leads to me beating myself up because I know I can be doing better. For the record, no one else tells me I’m not doing a good job, but I feel like I should be doing more. This is an underlying symptom of a life recovering from perfectionism. The same way an alcoholic always has to work on his/her program, a recovering perfectionist, always needs to remember that he/she isn’t perfect and at times that is really hard.
  • When I have free time, I find myself wasting it doing silly things like watching reality television because it requires little to no thinking and when I feel really stressed and unmotivated, I don’t have the energy to think that much.

Starting a new job this year has added a bunch of new responsibilities and I’m always worried that I’m not doing enough. Afraid of not pleasing my new bosses and even more scared of feeling like a fraud, I overwork myself, judge myself and then run myself into the ground.

The irony is that I know what I should be doing, but sometimes I just can’t get out of my own way.

It’s time to read The Zen Teacher again and get myself back on track.

Can anyone relate? If you have a hard time taking care of yourself as a parent and/or teacher, what do you do to ensure you don’t end up in bed for a week? I’d love to hear the strategies, please share.

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