I can’t go to work today. It’s a long story. See, it was a year ago and I had just lost the last person I had with whom I felt I could be completely vulnerable. The last person who was strong enough that I could trust them to be my place to let go. When I was with them, my grandparents, it was the only time I could feel like I wasn’t responsible for everything and everyone. They were there, and their strength was enough to carry me, too. And then, that was gone.

Suddenly, and without warning, that only place of release was taken from me.

What I needed most was the time and space to grieve. To get my bearings in this strange new world, one I was going to have to navigate without any place to rest and no safety net. What I got instead was acknowledgement of my biggest fear — that I was still responsible for other people. That before I could even breathe again, I was going to be forced to pick up right where I was and carry that same load without the net I had known was there when I needed it. I still needed to be me. To be Mom, to be Counselor, to be Co-Worker.

I still had to carry my own weight, but also to carry the weight of the world. To be the one to take in the hurt and the pain and the stress of others around me, and even if for a moment, take the burden off of them. To acknowledge their suffering by taking on a piece of it myself and sitting with them in it. To listen to my own kids’ stress and worries and fears, and put on a brave face and pretend like I know what I’m doing and saying, when in reality I’m just as lost and afraid as they are. To listen to my students as they wrestle with lives and situations that are more horrific than most people even imagine. To worry about their education while trying to ensure they have enough food to eat and clothes on their back, to work in the system to try and create the safest and healthiest home possible while my hands are always tied behind my back. To live in this constant state of overwhelming pain and frustration with no way of addressing it.

In one conversation, in one moment, in one simple phrase that was meant to inspire and give me reason to feel stronger and more confident, in saying, “The people here are counting on you,” my world came crashing down again. My fears were being realized before my very eyes and I felt like I was spinning out of control. I suddenly couldn’t breathe, or think, or feel connected to my body at all. I broke. For days, I barely held on. I let a crack in the armor break and did the right things.

I asked for help, I saw a doctor, I pretended it was enough. That it was working and that I was getting stronger. And I suppose I was, to a degree. My old shells were returning. I was putting up those barriers again that were meant to support everyone around me, regardless of how much pressure it puts inside. The longer I pretended it was OK, that going back was hard, but fine, and that I could still do what I needed to do, the harder it would be to ever drop that facade. I was right. It’s too late. I’ve shown that I “can” do it, that I can power through the pain and force myself to do what needs to be done. But it’s tearing down every part of me inch by inch from the inside.

The pressure is powerful and painful. It forces me to show a strength I’m not capable of, because the health and education, the connection and the care, of vulnerable children depend on it. I’m terrified of what is going to happen when I crumble completely. I just want to let go so badly, to feel like I can focus my time and energy on caring for myself and my own children without feeling guilty because there’s simply not enough of me to go around with the resources as limited as they are.

Life, however, does not care about any of us. There is no fairness in the world that grants us the right to be happy, or complete, or safe. Nothing that allows for you to be cared for by others because the world needs you. Life expects us to carry on and forget our pain, bury it deeply and go about the day to keep the world turning, the paychecks coming and the bills (kinda) being paid. There’s no escape allowed, no resting or healing more than what the world deems appropriate.

So today, I can’t go to work because I am tired. I am weary and exhausted and I can’t take another inch of pressure on my shoulders. I need a moment to breathe, to escape, to pretend that the world is there to support me and not just rely on me. I’m breaking. I need to rest. That is why I can’t go to work today.

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