Monthly Archives: March 2011

Whirlwind Week

It is Thursday evening, and my week feels like it has flown by. Monday, we had no students at school, but needed to be there for an in-service and department meetings. The in-service was amazing. Uncommon Seminars came to lead us in activities designed to help us in our communications with each other. Eventually, our school is hoping to develop a system of teacher, staff, and student support that would resemble the house systems at other schools. To do that, though, our faculty and staff need to learn how to dialogue far more honestly with each other. The folks from Uncommon Seminars helped us take the first steps on that path (and we had a blast doing it). Then, we all got to go to three hours of intense department meetings. Needless to say, I was exhausted by the end of the day, but I still needed to get my daughter home from her school, and I need to get my MacBook Pro into the Genius Bar. Tuesday and Wednesday were crazy because we are beginning research essays on human rights topics. So, between bombarding our students with information and trying to help fourteen and fifteen year old students sort through horrific global issues, I found myself leaving school both days with little to no energy. But, neither day ended with the close of school. On Tuesday, my parents, my wife, and I attended our daughter’s band performance with the combined advanced band and jazz band. Students from various grade schools come together each year to rehearse for weeks to perform this concert. It was great, and I love that my parents got to see her perform, but my brain was turning to mush before we ever got to the concert. Then, on Wednesday evening, all of us had dinner together. The food was fantastic (we ate at The Happy Gnome in Saint Paul), but again, after repeated full days, a three hour dinner with my family does not leave me much room for recovery. Today, I had to get to school far earlier than normal because I was assisting with the young men’s retreat for our eleventh graders. The event was outstanding, but it was another full day. Plus, I had to grade students making up presentations when I got back to school after the retreat. At one level, I am thrilled that tomorrow is Friday, but I also find myself shocked that I still have one more day to go before the week ends. I will get through tomorrow; I just do not know where I will find the energy to do it.

Making things even tougher are a number of sad (and infuriating) pieces of news in my life. Topping the list, my father-in-law is in the hospital again. He has been battling a number of medical issues for years, with the worst three being sleep apnea, type II diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease. But recently, things have gotten worse,  and he is having problems with strange infections that are requiring hospitalization. Beyond that, three different colleagues at work have gotten serious medical things happening. One woman is being placed on extreme bed rest for her pregnancy. Everything should be fine, but still, for a woman to be on bed rest at 31 weeks is a tough situation. Then, another female colleague is having a hysterectomy. And, a third colleague is facing a spinal tumor that is most likely not cancerous, but may eventual confine her to a wheelchair. Far down the scale of serious (yet still frustrating), a friend at work who I am hoping to teach with again is having ridiculous pressure put on her to rush some significant life choices. And, I just learned through the REM Runner blog that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case on “ministerial exception” involving a Lutheran school that fired a teacher with narcolepsy in 2005. The school is asking the Supreme Court to rule on whether the “ministerial exception” applies to a teacher who the school has designated a “minister.” The ruling is important because if the “ministerial exception” does apply that teacher cannot sue the school under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Although I feel quite safe in my current situation, the case hits far too close to home. Anyone interested should definitely head over to REM Runner (because she provides far better clarity to the case than I could ever hope to do).

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Filed under Confusion, Education, Emotions, Empathy, Exhaustion, Family, Friends, Frustration, Gratitude, Honesty, Illness, Narcolepsy

Driving and Droiding

We are now on the road home (Interstate-35 South). Even though I have had this WordPress app on my Droid X since last summer, I am using it for only the second time. Some of that is the result of Bite Size Life disappearing from cyberspace, but it also a result of how easy it is to fall into old patterns in my life. I become heavily focused on daily survival during the school year, and that tendency has only increased during this current school year. I expend soooooo much every day at school, not only to make sure that my classes are functioning, but also to mitigate the negative impact of my one negative colleague. I have no doubt that the experience would drain anyone, but adding narcolepsy to the mix makes for a ridiculously stressful existence. And, it gets harder and harder to think outside of the box, in terms of finding healthier ways to balance my life. Even as I am typing this post, I am realizing that I could easily post an entry after a stressful day, or even during my 45 minute break between classes. On most days, I am helping students during those times, or I am trying to get something done for our class, but remembering that an outlet and escape sits on my hip. While I am a huge advocate of utilizing technology, I know that I remain a digital immigrant because it takes me months to integrate fully technical solutions into my life. And, my narcolepsy often benefits from using technology to make my life more efficient.
Again, this post is a perfect example of my point. Usually, I would be drifting in and out of the music and conversations in the car. Instead, I feel good that I am using a few minutes to process life with narcolepsy. The more I can allow myself the chance to step back from my day, the better I am able to cope with this disease. I remember how important it is to breathe. I remember that my fatigue and sleepiness is normal and okay. I remember that I am far more than this disease, my job, my frustrations. If nothing else, taking the long view helps me to embrace the moments of joy that do come into everyday. I think that is a pretty good result from recognizing that I can blog from my smartphone.

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Filed under Balance, Blessings, Blogging, Driving, Family, Frustration, Gratitude, Hope, Insights, Joy, Narcolepsy, Travel

Family Fun

My parents are in town, so my wife, my daughter, my parents, my sister, my daughter’s friend, and I all made a trip up to Duluth to see other family members. Technically, we made two trips because everyone except my parents and me headed north on Friday. My parents drove me up Saturday. The weekend has been fun, but as always travel is exhausting for me. I am more than a little worried about the impact of driving up on Saturday, seeing lots of relatives, and then driving home on Sunday at midday. Given my stress level from the past week at my job, my time this weekend might have been “best” spent collapsed on a couch in Saint Paul. Because the intensity level in my classroom will only increase in the coming week, I will no doubt pay for pushing my body on the weekend too. I certainly am feeling far more tired today than I have on many other recent Sundays. And, we still need to get in the car for the trip beck home. I will do my best to stay low key today, but there is much to be done in the house too. It has been great to get away, but I hate that life with narcolepsy makes even a weekend trip overwhelming. The other piece that makes a weekend like this tough is that no one in my family fully “gets it.” My wife does have the best level of understanding, but even she had a list of chores I needed to do before leaving for Duluth on Saturday morning. My complete lack of energy on Friday meant that I needed to work like mad on Saturday before my parents arrived. I did a good job of cleaning, but was sweating profusely by the time I finished. For my parents and my Duluth relatives there are always a lot of questions, which I appreciate because it shows that they all care, but narcolepsy rarely makes “sense” to anyone other than other people who live with the condition. I need to get ready to head home now, and tension levels are rising in the hotel room, so ending this post is definitely in my best interest regardless of how tired I am.

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Filed under Blogging, Cleaning, Driving, Exhaustion, Family, Frustration, Gratitude, Honesty, Narcolepsy, Support

Confounding Conundrum

I often think that I work in a mad house, but sometimes things are even more infuriating than normal. Over the past three days, I have been aghast at the flippancy with which other educators handle large scale issues, particularly ones that could have major repercussions. Some of my dismay is fueled by the struggles that I have personally had for the past 12-14 months, but another part of it is the unclear nature of the pseudo-collaborative hierarchy (how’s that for an oxymoron) that runs my school. Couple all of that with a chronic illness like narcolepsy, and no wonder I am drained every day.

Although the posts are not here (yet, I hope), I wrote nearly a year ago about how the school had turned my life upside down by pulling the two other teachers on my team to teach a different course with another team. My new team is surviving, and one of my new co-teachers is outstanding. The other, unfortunately, is not, but that might change for next year. Nonetheless, my two former colleagues went to this other team and have had a rougher year than me. Because of various other issues, their course actually increased in enrollment and now needs a second team to teach it. But, no other faculty want to become a part of the course. So, in ways quite similar to my experiences last year, someone from that course approached a teacher on one of the other teams that teaches the same course that I do. That alone was not supposed to happen again. From that initial conversation that teacher’s entire team suddenly thought that they might be moving to the other course, meaning that within a two year period, a grade 12 course might have pulled 5 teachers from a grade 9 course.

Apparently, everything shifted again today, and now none of the teachers on that other team appear to be moving to the other course, but my concern has far more to do with the guidance (or lack thereof) that any of us are receiving when it comes to curriculum decisions. Even for a healthy teacher, the daily grind of this job is tough to endure. For me, though, my narcolepsy often makes it a struggle to even get to work. When insane decisions suddenly rear their heads, I find myself completely derailed. In one way, whatever happens this year has no impact on me – other than ripping the scabs off of my psychological wounds from last year. At the same time, however, I am deeply affected if major changes happen in one of the other teaching teams of the course I teach. If an entirely new team came on board, the nature of our curriculum would necessitate that teachers from other teams spend large chunks of time with the new team to get them on track. The problem is that I cannot afford to expend that energy. I need to save my strength for my own classroom, for my family, and for myself.

Perhaps, that last item is the part that is most troubling to me. I continue to struggle to save anything for me even now, so I cannot imagine how torn I will feel if there is a brand new teaching team that might need my help. The emotions are compounded by the hurt that I still harbor from last year, though. My school never should have allowed both of my co-teachers to leave at the same time. I would argue that it should never happen, regardless of who the remaining teacher is, but having the “anchor” person on a three person team be someone with a chronic illness is downright criminal. I admit that even I minimize the realities of my condition, but the bottom line is that I am a person with a disability. For my school to place me in a situation where I need to bring two other people up to speed on what we are doing each day is grossly unfair to me and to my students. While we have weathered the storm of this year decently in our classroom, my home life, and particularly my family, have paid a huge price for the extra energy that I have expended trying to make things work in my classroom. The worst part is that I raised these issues when I finally learned what was going to happen, and I went in to discuss them during the current school year when it was obvious that things were not working well. I would even be okay with the complete lack of follow-up that has been the reality of my personal situation IF the school seemed to be working to prevent anything like my experience from last year from happening again. Instead, though, I have spent the last 72 hours learning that the lessons of last year were apparently unlearned in less than 365 days. Yippee.

In the end, everything will work out, but each time something like this happens, another question mark is raised in my mind. I know that I am a good teacher and that most students are well-served by my school, but I feel like we continue to move closer and closer to making some catastrophic decisions. Plus, whether it is the stress or my narcolepsy worsening, making it to work gets tougher and tougher every day. I do hope that I can maintain my current part-time level for four more years. After that, who knows. I love teaching and will miss it terribly when I retire, but I also need to consider what are the core priorities in my life. Those things must come first which I fear means that my teaching career will likely not see the dawning of 2020.

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Filed under Confusion, Depression, Education, Emotions, Exhaustion, Family, Frustration, Honesty, Humility, Loss, Narcolepsy, Relationships

Magic Moment

First and foremost, I finally made it back to work today – way to go, me. Thankfully, the day was relatively low key. I still am struggling mentally and physically, but I know that getting back into some level of routine will help me in many ways. We also were introduced to an interesting program today – the Green Dot initiative (www.livethegreendot.com). The program targets power-based personal violence with strategies to encourage bystanders to become allies. While the presentations left something to be desired, I love the core concept and the message of one small action at a time is a tangible and powerful one. Hopefully, it can be one more tool in the constant struggle U.S. society, in general, and schools, in particular, use to combat bullying and verbal, emotional, and physical violence.

While the day was tiring, the highlight came at the end of my work day. A dear friend (and former co-teacher) shared an exciting event from break week. This teacher has been accepted into a doctoral writing program. Like me, this person has also had a difficult year; in fact, I would argue one that is much worse than mine. Thus, I am thrilled that this colleague will have options moving forward. The individual still needs to hear from some MFA programs too. Another piece of our discussion made my heart race even faster, though. One possibility is that this friend could join my teaching team again. If that were to happen, I would be elated. In fact, this person even proposed an option that would involve me arriving each day at 7:30 AM, and I am actually considering it. One, I would do just about anything to work with this person, but two, I have an incoming ninth grader in my home who needs to get to school around that time any way. For grade school my wife has been the primary morning driver, but I was already worried how our family would handle the change to high school. Clearly, many other things could happen, but I am feeling more hopeful today than I have in a long time about what the future might hold. It is amazing how a single five to ten minute period can make such a profound impact on me. I also love that narcolepsy has made it more likely that I am able to appreciate those moments. Rather than dwelling on a multitude of negatives from the rest of the day, I can cherish a shining instant of joy.

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Filed under Blessings, Education, Emotions, Excitement, Family, Friends, Gratitude, Hope, Insights, Joy, Narcolepsy, Parenting, Wisdom

Correcting and Convalescing

I awoke today and felt horrid , so I stretched my spring break by a day by using a sick day. I am still not sure how I will be feeling tomorrow, but I do hope that I can get to school. While I did spend the day resting, I was also able to get the grading done that I needed to finish. My focus was mediocre at best, but that likely worked to my students’ advantage. Nonetheless, it is a welcome relief to have the grading done. It drives me crazy that even working part-time is a massive strain on me and that I needed a “day off” even though I had the entire preceding week as vacation. Narcolepsy has many twists and turns, but the constant fatigue can truly drive one nuts at times. One upbeat item from the day is that I do not feel guilty that I stayed home from work. While I know that I would have completed the grading even without the staying home, I certainly did a better job because I was not trying to juggle events at school while I was working my way through things. Plus, I definitely have something crazy happening in my body these days. It could still be recovery from pushing myself to complete the previous trimester, but it could also be a sinus infection or some part of my body going haywire from my various ailments. I simply like that I have reached a point that using a sick day does not cause me overwhelming remorse. The reality is that I have a chronic illness (or two), and thus I need to use my sick days periodically because my body pays a price for me constantly engaging with my students, my family, and my life. The next step will be for me to come to terms with the resentment that I still harbor because I cannot “do” everything that I want to do. Even with my day today, I found myself getting upset that I did not get more done. Even though I did more correcting than I have done in weeks, I was frustrated with myself for not accomplishing more. Somehow, I think I will be walking on this particular path for quite some time, but I do hope that I will eventually find some peace around things that I have “lost” due to my medical condition. I also love that I written two posts in two days. That too is a small victory for me.

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Filed under Blogging, Education, Emotions, Exhaustion, Frustration, Illness, Insights, Loss, Narcolepsy, Sinuses, Wisdom

Wasted Week

I need to get to bed, but I wanted to write at least one post before life completely sweeps me away again. So, I was on “spring break” for the entire past week. Sadly, I have done little to nothing in just about every area of my life. I still have a ton of things to grade before 3 PM tomorrow, our taxes need to get done, our home office needs organizing, and a thousand other things are rushing through my brain. Somehow, I am less stressed than I have been in the past about all of this, but I also find it frightening that I have tried to rest for a week and have little to show for it. I feel worse today than I did 9 days ago when our trimester ended. My back has been a disaster for the past four days, and I need to manage to go to work tomorrow on top of “finishing” my correcting. Oh well, I will make it all “work,” but I find it insane how much my health (physical and mental) can grossly impact my life. I know that daily stress from my job is causing me to be even more drained, but I hope I can find a counter balance soon. Every day, things seem to fall apart a little more. On one hand, I am surviving it, which means that I am doing alright. But, I also know that all of this is slowly chipping away at my ability to remain calm and stable. Sadly, I have had two major eruptions of anger and rage over the past few months. They have all been at home, but in many ways that is even worse because my wife and daughter are the last people I want to upset. Eventually, this school year will end, and I will find some ways to create more balance. I just hope that I can hold it together and start to find positive ways to cope with my stress, anxiety, and poor health. Clearly, starting to blog again will help, but I also want to start some level of exercise and yoga. Those three things will do more for me and my narcolepsy than any medication could ever hope to do.

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Filed under Anger, Balance, Confusion, Depression, Emotions, Exercise, Exhaustion, Family, Fear, Frustration, Honesty, Marriage, Narcolepsy, Rage