Category Archives: Confusion

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

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

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

Regularly Random Routine

One thing I know helps me is a set routine. Unfortunately, I do not feel like that has happened since the previous school year ended. I have come to expect that my summers will be all over the place. Because I teach an intensive creative writing course and then we travel, summer tends to be an unending cascade of starts and stops. Since my profession allows me two and a half months of unpaid vacation, I usually handle the rudderless aspect of June, July, and August as well as I can. Usually, though, the arrival of September affords me the blessing of a fairly standard daily schedule. For some reason I have yet to find that rhythm this year.

Certainly, the crazy weekends that took place for my family in September exacerbated the situation, but it goes well beyond that. For the first time that I can remember, I had more of a pattern to my day in August than I do right now. Rather than getting easier, my days seem to be growing in complexity. I have no doubt that much of that is in my head and in my reaction to my narcolepsy. Nonetheless, my days feel much more fragmented. I am weathering them well, partly because I have come to accept the reality that I have a disability. Still, I find my anger and frustration rising to the surface far more often of late. I also know that my depression seems to be growing in strength lately. I also find it difficult to “be hopefully” while also “accepting my realities.” As always life and narcolepsy seem to be a paradoxical and oxymoronic as the title of this post!

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Filed under Confusion, Depression, Exhaustion, Fear, Frustration, Honesty, Illness, Loss, Narcolepsy, Stupidity

Tired and Troubled

Somehow, I have managed to let another month pass without posting. Writing about this crazy condition is vitally important to me, but the “basics” of my life have felt horribly overwhelming. I also think that either my narcolepsy is intensifying, or my amphetamine is diminishing in its impact. of course, there is actually no way to determine that. All I know is that I have continued to “cut back” what I do, and I still find it harder to do this lightened load – which I find horribly frustrating.

My school year is actually going well. I have been better about correcting and more prepared for my teaching. I am also doing a better job of limiting myself to my part-time hours, rather than spending excessive amounts of time at school (well outside of my contract time). That being said, the year has also been tremendously draining. Our teaching team was tremendously successful last year, but I think we are all feeling pressure to be “better.” While I think we are doing that, we are putting stress on ourselves. We have also developed a new approach to homework. It works well for many of our students, but two groups are struggling. Our students with poor time management skills are not spacing out their work and turn in poorly done materials. On the other hand, our overachieving students have been trying to do two to three hours of homework each night. Our expectation is that student would spend two to three hours maximum per week. As a result, we faced a number of questions at conferences from parents and guardians. Thankfully, most of them accepted our explanation, but a few still felt like we should change what we are doing because their daughter or son was continuing to do two to three hours per night. I am empathetic, but fail to see how we are causing the problem.

The other thing contributing to my struggles is the bizarre course of events over the last two months in my house. Our September had more activities and events that I can ever remember us having. The worst weekend involved my wife getting me at school at 2:45 PM on a Friday. We spent the next three hours and thirteen minutes traveling to Duluth (a trip that should take about two hours). We arrived for a family wedding with two minutes to spare (literally). Then, we checked into the hotel and attended the reception. I then got up early the next morning to drive my daughter back to the Saint Paul for a voice lesson. It was her first lesson, and the directions given by the organization were flawed to say the least. We managed to arrive only two minutes late for the voice lesson, but the stress of it all buried me. My wife had stayed in Duluth. When she returned on Sunday, I was still recovering, but there was a tremendous amount of work that needed to be done. I pushed myself to do it, and I exploded at my family. Then, I got to school on Monday so exhausted that my team members sent me home. It has been rocky since then, but is finally beginning to level out.

In the midst of all of that, my relationship with Narcolepsy Network turned markedly sour. They let their web master go and cut those of us who were moderators from access to the primary tool that we used to help moderate the site. When I emailed to express my disappointment in the entire situation, I received two emails. One was heartfelt and personal, explaining that I was a valued resource. The other was a generic message to all of the current moderators, saying essentially the same thing. Unfortunately for Narcolepsy Network, they thought the first version of the generic message to me did not work, and thus they forwarded the template. Because of that I learned that they had sent the same message to two moderators who had done nothing for over six months. Both of those individuals had been alienated by the inaction and the rude comments of board members. I then wrote an even more terse email questioning how they could “value” my work when they clearly had no idea what moderators were active and which were not. The sad reality is that many of the board members STILL have not gone to the forums, even after the things that took place. As a result of it all, I have done little online posting – at Narcolepsy Network or on Facebook. I am even struggling to do work for my local support group (which I essentially help to run). I just hate the idea of spending hours working on things, only to have some uninformed baord member swoop in and yank it away. Much of my frustration with the Narcolepsy Network centers on a new website that the web master was developing. He had is essentially ready to go live last November, but the board would never approve it. I personally spent well over 20 to 30 hours writing and editing content for the site, but never heard anything from the board, particularly the ones who were supposed to be overseeing the site. The even more irritating part is that while the new site was constantly being labeled as “un-ready,” the current Narcolepsy Network site was live and contained far more errors and inaccuracies than the “un-ready” site. Because the web master is my friend, I stuck with the process, hoping that we would eventually be given approval. Instead, they fired him. Certainly, there may be legitimate reasons for what they did, although I have serious doubts. Even more unbelievable is that after hearing nothing about my work for the site, or about the quality of my writing, I received praise from three board members and a couple of employees of Narcolepsy Network.

I still want to “help” others with narcolepsy, but my own struggles are making it hard. I am heading to the national convention for Narcolepsy Network at the end of this week. I do plan to touch base with one member of the board to see if I can learn more about everything that happened. At the same time I remain unimpressed by the things I continue to see from Narcolepsy Network. For instance, even though I have clearly stated that I am not “helping” them at this time, I am STILL receiving emails from the people planning the conference. Today’s series of emails was wonderfully ironic. Since all of the forum moderators “resigned” (after we were cut off), the board is hoping to find “motivated moderators” for the forums. Someone came up with the line, “We want MM for NN” – with “MM” refering to “motivated moderators.” Since my initials ARE MM, I was sorely tempted to respond to the email, “You had MM, but chose to get rid of him,” but felt like it would be sour grapes. In the end, it drives me crazy that the one national organization for people with narcolepsy seems to be clueless when it comes to growing the organization and to helping the vast number of PWNs who are searching for a lifeline while they are online.

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Filed under Anger, Confusion, Depression, Education, Exhaustion, Family, Friends, Frustration, Honesty, Loss, Narcolepsy, Narcolepsy Network

Doctor Downer (and difficult decision)

Seven weeks ago, I got a letter from my sleep doctor’s office. Bluntly, it told me I better get in to see him, or they would stop filling my prescriptions. I called immediately, and today was the earliest appointment available. Given the tone of the letter, I checked if an appointment today would suffice. The individual assured me that things would be fine, as long as I had this appointment on the books. And, she was right. I got my July prescriptions in the mail, and my Xyrem was renewed without any hassle. Now, I have been wondering what my doctor would say, since I was basically 5 months late in coming into my appointment. Also, given my current state of mind, I was not completely sure what I would hope to discuss with him. I am handling things well, but I certainly would be open to exploring a different med, or looking at how my days tend to ebb and flow.

Invariably, I was ten minutes late to my appointment. A nice physician’s assistant brought me back and did the initial intake. I told her that things were about as good as I thought they could be. I did not go into significant detail because I figured that I would have to say things twice. My BP was a tad high 130/90, and my weight still remains far too high. Their scale had me at 198, and I was 195 at home this morning (wearing fewer items of clothing). I did mention that I might want to discuss a different med, but also noted that NuVigil might not be the right direction since I had a terrible time with Provigil. I mentioned the relative success of my two medication holidays. She then left the room to let my doctor know that I was ready.

She then returned less than 5 minutes later. My sleep doctor felt that “as long as things are working, we should not switch meds.” He also told her that unless I “needed” to see him, I was free to go. Now, I debated briefly about asking to stay so I could at least see him, but quickly decided that there would be little purpose in doing that. After all, I was still unsure as to what I hoped to discuss with him, and I was late for the appointment. So, I gathered my things and took my leave of the office. In the ultimate irony, the physician’s assistant ask ME when I was supposed to return. I informed her that I had stretched my previous six month check-in by five months. I then said six months might make sense. And, as happened the LAST time I was in that office, the receptionist informed me that they do not schedule February appointments now. I need to call in November.

Of course, my PWN brain managed to put off that previous November phone call until I got the stern letter. I also was a tad flabbergasted that after the nature of that correspondence, I was not even SEEN by my doctor. I am sure that the physician’s assistant is a sharp young woman, but she is not a specialist licensed to practice sleep medicine. It also does not help my mood that I did have time when she left the room to flip through the clinic’s latest newsletter. While they “might” have cover Dr. Mignot’s ground-breaking discovery in their Spring newsletter, the Summer one that was in the room had NOTHING about narcolepsy in it. It had lots on obstructive sleep apnea and lots on restless leg syndrome, but nothing about this wacko disease of mine. Of course, the clinic only employs pulmonary doctors, so I should not expect much. Except I do! If a clinic is supposed to treat narcolepsy, shouldn’t they know something about it? Now, my doctor is a good guy, and he does know a decent amount about narcolepsy, but I think today is strong indication that I need to find a new doctor/clinic. Unfortunately, there are not other options, at least not good ones. Most other places in the Twin Cities are also pulmonary clinics. The one that is not tends to have a ridiculously narrow view of narcolepsy, meaning that they might actually tell me that I do NOT have narcolepsy. The added complication is that if I go somewhere else, they might be worse and could possible change my drugs in ways that make it impossible for me to work.

Sadly, I don’t feel like I have any good choices here. I can stay where I am, continue to figure out on my own (and with my many PWN friends) how to handle this condition, and ensure that I can at least receive drugs that seem to work for me. The downside is that I might not EVER talk to my “doctor” again. And, if I do “need” to see him, will he honestly have genuine suggestions for me? Of course, leaving presents the possibility of finding a great doctor who can help me better understand myself and my disease, but that does not feel likely. In fact, I am honestly more worried that my current options (other than my actual clinic and doctor) would likely do more harm than good. The idea of having to re-tell my story (or even to be re-tested) while possibly being disparaged because my diagnosis is narcolepsy without cataplexy (or possibly mild/abnormal cataplexy which the guidelines still call “without cataplexy”). In fact, if that happened, it might be far more disrupting than just the mental stress. I might lose the meds I have, and if I can’t work, I would also likely lose the small chance that I would have of a disability situation (if I don’t have “narcolepsy,” I have some condition of unknown etiology which would mean in legal terms that people think I am lazy).

Fortunately, I am not freaking out over this, but I do need to ponder a next step. I am not sure where to start. I know that there is an excellent neurologist in Saint Cloud, but have been remiss to try to see him because I doubt that insurance will cover it. And, I have no idea of how I would prove to my insurance company that I can’t get proper care in the Twin Cities when many other PWNs “do.” I actually know that they don’t, but we are such a small population that it is easy to make blanket statements, particularly for large companies. Perhaps I am most frustrated by the fact that this brief stop in my doctor’s office has added yet one more level of stress to my already growing anxiety of late. I truly do not have the time or the energy to commit to the process of searching for a new doctor. I also know that I hate the idea of “popping” into this office once or twice a year to simply pretend that my doctor checked on me.

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Filed under Anger, Confusion, Depression, Exhaustion, Fear, Frustration, Healthcare, Honesty, Loss, Medication, Narcolepsy, Stupidity

Deepening Depression

Today was hard. I had an okay day, but I truly felt paralyzed when it came to doing any work. There is so much on my plate, and I have no idea where to begin. Confusing the situation is the sensation that I have not done much just for me recently. Many of my actions have “helped” me and others, but I occasionally have this burgeoning sensation of selfishness. I feel like I need to take a few days and just do things for me – read books that I want to read, watch movies that I want to watch, and let everything else go. Unfortunately, such an option is as unrealistic as my desire to clean the entire house in a day. One, I cannot afford for me to take those days because I need to help my wife and I need to get ready for the school year. Two, even if I COULD take the days, my brain would not let me. I would still not be able to focus even if I was doing things just for me. Instead, I would question whether that “me time” was warranted. If that sounds crazy, I can assure you, it also feels crazy.

I know that my continued sleepiness is a major factor in my indecision. When I am this rundown, I do not do well with decision-making. Also contributing to my consternation today was the cool and rainy nature of the day. The atmospheric pressure was literally weighing on my mind. Sadly, tomorrow may be more of the same. I also MUST do a better job of putting some structure to my day. Without any, I meander all of the place. It is imperative that I make a daily schedule a habit for myself. By doing so, I will be able to manage my day and my sanity with far greater balance.

Of course, all of these thoughts must be framed within the reality of my narcolepsy. No matter how good I get at setting a schedule, or accepting the weather, or handling difficult days, in the end, I will always feel tired even with my medication, even with the best night of sleep that I can get. That is the hard truth. I also know that I will invariably encounter “off days” because of the nature of narcolepsy. It is impossible to believe that I will be able to accept the constant sleepiness that I will have every day for the rest of my life. Eventually, my frustrations will build to the point that I need to rail against my disease for a time. I do hope that I will spread out those rotten days at wider and wider intervals, but I must accept that they will never go away. I hate that, but it is my life.

To end on an upbeat note, I did have fun playing a new game on our Wii today. My daughter bought Animal Crossing: City Folk. The game is super cute, and she and I both have a character in the town. While I must be careful (because this type of adventure game could consume me), I loved playing and watching the game with her. It was a silly and light-hearted moment for the two of us. I am sure we will play a little tomorrow too, but we are also going to have an adventure. Hopefully, that excursion will provide some fun for the two of us AND some structure for me.

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Filed under Balance, Confusion, Depression, Exhaustion, Family, Frustration, Honesty, Narcolepsy, Parenting, Scheduling