I must have felt some relief when I saw the official job offer in my inbox. I needed the money. But my memory is of near-instant apprehension.

Even though I had sought this opportunity to tutor local elementary schoolers, I felt sick now that it was real. It was more than ordinary new-job jitters. I feared that accepting this position would damage my precarious mental health.

In the fall of 2022, I was in crisis. After years of persevering through back-to-back trauma — living alone and teaching virtually during quarantine, the deaths of a number of my students, the fatal car accident of my beloved brother, the sudden loss of my grandmother so soon after — I very nearly stopped functioning.

Before this, I had thrived. My relationships with my students, or my lovelies as I called them, nourished me, and I cherished the daily opportunity to read, discuss, write literature with Baltimore’s talented and tender teenagers. Outside the classroom, I ran several half marathons and was published in dozens of literary journals and media outlets. I edited books by local artists and earned a 4.0 in my graduate program at the Johns Hopkins University. I bought a rowhome on my own and maintained countless meaningful relationships.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

But in those early days of the 2022-23 school year, my 12th as a high school English teacher, I could feel myself rapidly unraveling. I couldn’t prepare meals or do laundry. I made it through my days only with an unsustainable amount of effort — and I saw no end to any of this. The accumulation of fear, isolation and grief became such a crushing weight that I no longer had a choice. I needed to prioritize, over everything else, my health.

I went on emergency medical leave and ultimately left the career that had brought me so much joy.

For months, I committed only to doing what made me feel better. The constellation of sound sleep, supportive family, patient friends and good books soothed my frayed nervous system. In my twice-weekly therapy appointments, I processed, cried, raged and grew.

By the time I applied for this tutoring position in early 2024, I still had more questions than answers about my life, but I also, mercifully, had hope. Between my hard-earned recovery and the encouragement I received during my interviews (“I know you’re coming from a strong background of working with teenagers, but you have such great little kid energy”), I knew it was time to try rejoining the so-called real world.

I questioned, though, if a school was the right place to take this step; it was only after I left teaching that I realized, for my entire career, I’d been constantly poised for disaster. Any day could be the one when I’d lose another lovely, or another school shooting would occur. After how hard I had worked to feel OK again, it felt reckless to return to a place that had made me so sick — even while, somehow, feeling right.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Because I promised myself I’d quit as soon as I felt I needed to, I began tutoring with no sense of how long I’d last. Though I realized early on that I probably wouldn’t need to quit, my mental health quaked until the end of the school year.

Tutoring required so much less of me than teaching, but I still felt overwhelmed — even incapable — at first. Teaching high school English did little to prepare me to tutor elementary schoolers in math – especially the kindergartners, who initially cartwheeled and squealed their way through our sessions.

The money I made alleviated financial anxiety and the little lovelies enchanted me, so I picked up assignments at two additional schools. At the same time, the rest of my life went to shambles. New writing-related opportunities felt like chores rather than achievements. I stopped doing the small yet significant things that bring me joy: reading, walking with friends, listening to podcasts. I went weeks without seeing loved ones and easily felt overwhelmed with managing even basic to-do lists. My stress skyrocketed, and my doubts returned.

As frail as tutoring sometimes made me feel, every single day of it also made me feel valued. The little lovelies argued over who would hold my hand, and my fellow tutors became some of my fastest friends. I was gifted drawings on some days and thanked by faculty for my effort on others. Week after week, faces lit up and arms widened when I walked into the room.

It’s not that these instances of affection canceled out my struggles this semester. Every time I took inventory of my life — assessing my levels of stress versus satisfaction, checking to see what was making me feel better or worse — I wondered if this would be the best I could hope for: either a stable, safe life in which I treated myself delicately or a semblance of a professional life while everything else suffered in ways large and small.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

I sometimes worry that I might never be “normal” again.

Often, in these moments of discouragement and even despair, I talk through it with someone I trust. What if I never rebuild the capacity to work full time? How am I supposed to manage my well-being while also working? Why is this still so hard after how much time and energy I’ve already devoted to healing?

Thankfully, every time, they remind me of what I know yet still struggle to believe: Healing is not linear. It’s complicated. Disorienting.

They also point out how far I’ve come. I feel and function better today than I did 18, 12, six months ago, even though my hard days make it easy to forget that.

This tutoring position was only temporary; next, I plan on coaching writers — a career that will allow me to simultaneously pursue one of my passions and follow a flexible schedule. While I wish things had gone more smoothly while I was tutoring, I’m also beginning to see that the messiness was inevitable. Transitions are tricky in the best of times, which, for me, this is not. The challenges I endured this spring aren’t an indictment of me or my progress; they’re simply part of the process of taking a step, of trying to find the next right thing.