Bouncing Back from Disappointment

A few days before classes were to resume I began to feel an impending dread and doom. I could not imagine how I could possibly be prepared to set foot in the school again and to face my colleagues or my students.

Living outside of one’s home country for professional reasons has its challenges, separation from family being a major one.  We were assured that we could bring children into Saudi Arabia to visit us for holidays and thus made plans for two of our children to come. However, it ended up being a futile plan. From the beginning of November we were strung along with empty promises of “2-3 days” processing time of the visas. Delay after delay occurred between the approval in KSA and the actual stamp from the embassy in Washington D.C. Night after night of late calls with Washington D.C. and the airlines accompanied with raised hopes then dashed hopes was exhausting.  As a result, holiday replenishment never occurred and returning to work seemed unbearable. Additionally, though exercise remained on my daily schedule, I fell into the endless bins of cookies I had baked for my children and munched on chips and other unhealthy snacks, easily gaining 4 kilograms (9 pounds) in a short period of time.

Furthermore, the moment of realization and acceptance that we would definitely not be visiting with our children instantly overwhelmed me with a feeling of pointlessness and senselessness. No job and no amount of money was worth being kept from family. Exhausted from the many sleepless nights and emotional drain, I slept for an entire day. New Year’s Eve left me absolutely unable to attend a previously planned party. I couldn’t face any aspect of my now meaningless employment as it now no longer held any value to me having kept me from those I love.

However, I had to figure out how to carry on without being bitter or angry with the country, the culture, or my school.

Out and about in Old Jeddah

Each day was structured with an excursion of some sort with my family and a couple of hours of work time. Thus, I was enabled to force myself to catch up on grading and prepping for the first week of classes, a painful but worthwhile endeavor. Additionally, the avoidance of social media and an increased commitment to exercise, eating better, reading novels, and setting aside writing time contributed to taking care of myself through this emotional time. I still wasn’t sure if I was recovered enough to actually return to work.

The dreaded moment arrived: the first day of post-holiday school. At 6:15 a.m. the bus was boarded. Then the walk to my classroom completed. So far so good.

The first set of students wandered in with jubilant greetings and well-wishing for a “Happy New Year.” It’s not so bad and yes, even feels O.K. We’re productive. There are positive vibes. The second and third classes of the day continue in the same manner. That night I continue to avoid all social media and make sure to complete a run, work on a writing piece, and read my novel, as well as go to bed early.

The second day of classes is equally positive with the other half of my students. During one class, however, I feel suddenly sentimental when thoughts of my children that were supposed to be here enter my mind. And despite exerting all of my will power and self-control, I get a little choked up. I continue walking my students through the “Research Plan” for their Science Fair projects. But someone spontaneously asks, “Are you O.K.?” Apparently I can’t hide it. This has never happened to me before. Another student runs to the front and embraces me in a big hug, “Are you OK?” They are genuinely concerned and it touches me. I’m so worried that uncontrolled sobbing will consume me if I give in even a little to the brimming tears.  But thankfully not a single tear spills from the rims of my eyes and I’m able to carry on. But the emotion is there, ever at the surface. The day ends without incident.  As before, the evening includes a run, some writing, reading of my novel, almost no media, and an early retirement to bed.

Things should be better soon, right?

Indeed, day three is significantly better. Only a couple of times do my eyes brim with tears when closer colleagues ask how my Christmas vacation was. With students I am 100% myself again. In fact, I’m actually feeling happy at several times during the day. Still avoiding social media, I go on a swim, do some writing, and read in my novel. We spend a couple of hours with friends.

And day four, I feel normal again. No tears. It just feels good all day. So, it seems recovery is occurring. In the evening my run is still completed, along with a bit of writing and, of course, my reading.

A full 4 weeks have transpired since returning to school after disappointment. My days begin with my morning exercise, Skype calls with family, getting to school early, leaving school on time. Each evening includes taking time to prepare healthy meals and our family dinner. The routine then includes some reading and writing and more Skype calls with family. Usually bedtime occurs between 20:00 and 20:30 so that my body will rise early without an alarm clock. And I feel great. I have no bitter feelings about what happened over Christmas and I enjoy the people I am surrounded with.

My thoughts on feeling better after disappointment? It's so simple, really: take care of yourself. Exercise, eat well, stimulate your brain, and be in touch with your emotional needs. And, with time, you will feel better.