Why I Have Back-to-School Depression as a Chronically Ill Teacher (Written by Katie Dama-Jaskolski, President & Co-Founder)


As I sit here in the infusion center, on back-to-school eve, I feel a mix of emotions. Hopeful, excited, scared and even a bit depressed to see summer go.

Yes, I love summer. Always have. But I have really fallen in love with summer since I became sick with EDS and POTS. The last few years, I have honestly become quite depressed as Labor Day weekend rolled around and I knew the slow mornings of coffee and watching the Today Show were coming to a halt for another year.

The feeling of “back-to-school depression” has always both bugged and confused me. I love my job as a kindergarten teacher. I love that with accommodations, I have still been able to teach part-time after getting sick. I love the feeling of starting the year with a fresh slate – with 25+ children new to school, wide-eyed and ready to soak up every little thing that school brings. I love starting the year with a room full of strangers and ending the year with a group of children who become one giant family over the year.

I love my job. So why the depression? Why the anxiety and, at times, the panic?

It hit me the other day when I was doing my home rehab routine on the treadmill. When you are sick, you no longer have the luxury of being carefree anymore. Every little thing takes planning and pacing. From taking a shower, to spending time with family, to scheduling doctor appointments, nothing can no longer be on a whim. Having a chronic illness means having to learn to live with the unexpected. It means having to prioritize and say, “because I went to that doctor’s appointment, I don’t have anything left in me to clean the house, cook dinner or spend time with a friend.” Having a chronic illness means walking the tricky tightrope of living how I want to live and not overdoing it and making myself sicker.

As I continued on that treadmill, I thought about it. As a teacher, the summer months are the closest to carefree I will ever be. Most of the time in the summer, I can go to a concert without having to worry about functioning the next morning. I can miss a day without a nap without the fear of having to take the next day off because I can’t get out of bed. In the summer, I can wait to shower until after I have been awake for a while, which helps me not throw up afterwards. In a way, summer is the closest I come to feeling like a “normal person,” and even though I love teaching my babies, it makes more sense now why I grieve it.

The summer ending means back to intense flu-like fatigue, fogginess, nausea and joint pain. It is back to fearing that if I overdo something just one little bit, I won’t be able to work for a day, a few days or even longer. It is the pressure to be at my best for those children who crawl into every nook and cranny of my heart during the year. It is back to a strict, regimented schedule of teaching, physical therapy, home rehab, doctor appointments, infusions and naps.

That is not meant to be a downer. It is just meant to be real.

This year, since becoming conscious of why the mix of emotions, I am trying to take a different approach. I am working hard at thanking my lucky stars for the carefree summer memories I was able to make, and focusing my energy on beginning a loving, positive school year with my 27 new babies. When I feel sicker, or sad, or that feeling of depression creeps in, I am working on giving myself grace and time to readjust to the working life again. I am trying to consciously acknowledge that it is a major adjustment, it is plain hard and it is OK to feel these things. And I am making it a point to give gratitude…lots and lots of gratitude for an incredible summer, and for the fact that I have a job I can go back to, that I love, despite my illnesses.

As I sit here and type while I finish my infusion, I look around at some of the other patients. Many of them are too sick to do much else than come in for their chemo treatments. I am sure many of them who can’t work would give an awful lot to be able to. This brings me much perspective.

Tomorrow I have the luxury to go back to work, and welcome the class of 2030 to school for the very first time. That’s pretty incredible and quite the honor if you think about it. And although I feel butterflies and excitement, it’s alright that I also feel fear and anxiety. It’s normal. I’m human. I’m doing the best I can. No more fighting it. It’s OK.

I shall show myself grace as I begin this year.

Let’s do this, 2017-2018.

This blog post was also published on The Mighty. You can read it here.