Category Archives: Education

Finally Finding Freetime

I find it fascinating that this blog is constantly on my mind, that I regularly have the desire to post to it, that I know spending time writing it often brings me piece, and that I still manage (knowing fully well all of the above) to go months without adding anything to it. I must confess, though, that I am also pleased to be at a point where realizations like that do not cause me to beat myself up. The truth is that, with narcolepsy, my time and energy are limited. I am proud that I have spent much of the last year and a half working to prioritize my wife and daughter and my own well-being over anything else in my life. Of course, numerous rough spots have happened in that same period of time, but I am even better at working my way through those moments.

I am also finding it easier to be at peace with my narcolepsy and to make time for myself because I have made good choices in terms of my work environment. In January 2013, our little family hit a major crisis point, largely because I was bringing so much frustration and anger home from my job. I still loved being in the classroom, but the politics and lack of leadership was eating away at me on a daily basis. Fortunately, my wife realized that the time had come for me to leave that job (even though it meant we would now have to pay a significantly larger sum of money for our daughter’s education since she was getting reduced tuition because I was a teacher at the school). I finished out the school year, and I found a new job serving in non-classroom position at a grade school. Although I knew I would miss the daily interaction with the same set of students, the new job afforded me the chance to have a broader impact because I was supporting teachers as they worked to integrate technology into their classes. Plus, I still got the opportunity to work with students on a frequent basis. Unfortunately, Catholic grade schools function at the whim of the Pastor, and the Pastor at my new school was (and is) not a pleasant man or a good leader. To put it simply, he describes himself as a zealot with a great deal of pride. He managed to drive out the school’s principal by the end of December, and I had taken my new job specifically to work with her. I did try to work with other teachers to get the Archdiocese involved, and they did do a fact-finding investigation, but nothing came of it. I also started looking for another job, as soon as my friend resigned. Ironically, as bad as things got at the new job, they never seemed to feel worse than what I had been experiencing at my previous job. I have no doubt that they would have if I had stayed at that Catholic grade school, but my job search led me to an opening at a different Catholic grade school. I interviewed there and accepted a position which required me to start immediately. The idea of me resigning from something mid-year would have been unthinkable to me even 2 years ago, but I did not hesitate in this instance. Clearly, making the change to the new grade school would absolutely be the best thing for me and for my family. By the end of March, I was the technology coordinator at my new grade school, and I was a significantly happier man, even though I had an astronomical amount of work to do. Finding a healthier and more supportive work environment in both of my job changes in the past year definitely made it easier for me to function and to cope with my narcolepsy. In fact, both positions required me to work full time, even though I had only been working 70% time since my narcolepsy diagnosis, and the reality is that both of the Catholic grade schools needed far more than full-time work from me to get their technology up to speed. I not only managed to work full-time and to do all of the extra work, but I also have been able to be more present for both my wife and my daughter. Again, I know that is a direct result of pushing myself to make the right choices for me.

I certainly feel like I have a long way to go to take better care of myself, but I also feel confident that for the first time in years, I am on the correct path to living a more grounded, balanced life as a person with narcolepsy. My two goals for the remainder of this summer are to start posting to this blog and my “new” (started in the fall of 2013 yet without any additional posts) technology blog at least once per week — specifically because they are good outlets for me, and I want to re-establish finally some level of regular fitness routine because I know that I need to improve my physical health to make my mental and emotional health even stronger. I am also hoping that making those 2 goals public here will push me to follow through. And, anyone reading this blog will certainly get the opportunity to see how success I am.

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Filed under Balance, Blogging, Education, Emotions, Exercise, Family, Gratitude, Healing, Honesty, Hope, Illness, My story, Narcolepsy, Technology, Wisdom

Ready to Return

While I have no idea if anyone has visited my blog at all recently, I feel like the fog and haze of the past three years is finally lifting. I decide in February (with much consultation with my amazing and wonderful wife) that I needed to leave my teaching job that I have had for the past 20 years. While my health certainly played a role in the my struggles of the past three years, the reality is that my job had become a deeply toxic environment for me. While I still love my colleagues, my students, and the essential nature of teaching, the leadership and decision-making of my former school continued to drag me lower and lower into depression and frustration.

After I turned in my resignation, I felt a tremendous weight lift, but I still needed to finish the school year. Things went well, but the experience remained overwhelming. In the midst of all of that chaos, more and more signs clarified for me that I made the correct decision. While the school leadership seemed completely nonplussed by my resignation, the much clearer (and far more positive) message came in the form of potential new positions. From my classroom experiences of the last five years, I knew that my next job would involve technology integration, rather than direct student instruction. I had not planned to do any job searching until the school year ended, but potential positions kept finding me. I was interviewed for two positions in public school settings, and although I did not get those jobs, I was not only flattered, but also realized that I was definitely qualified to be a technology integration specialist. Then, as a result of submitting some of those other applications, a friend and former colleague offered me a position at a Catholic grade school. I took the job and started there on August 1 of this year. Even though the school year has not officially begun (and there is a great deal of work to do), I know (without any doubt) that I have made the right choice. I am significantly more at peace and in a far more supportive and well run environment. The added bonus is that my new colleagues are also more open as a group in pursuing technology integration.

Underscoring these positive professional changes, my personal life has also improved markedly. I made the decision to engage in professional therapy again at the end of the school year, in large part because of the impact my previous job was having on my family. The experience has been and continues to be tremendously rewarding. I have found myself, particularly in the past three weeks, looking at the world in a far healthier and more balanced way than I ever have in the past. My therapist is wonderful — in his ability to support me, to draw out my emotions, and to challenge my previously established views of myself and the world. What is most remarkable is that my therapist  has helped me to confront some of the darkest message that I send myself and to integrate them into who I am, allowing me to feel far better about myself. After many years of experiencing joy infrequently, at best, I fins myself overwhelmed by joy on a daily basis.  It has been glorious, to say the least. Even more importantly, all of this has made my relationships with my wife and daughter stronger than ever.

I am thrilled that I my life and world are in such transition and upheaval. And, I am proud to be posting to this blog once again. My goal is to post at least once a week. It will be good for me on many levels, and I still believe that it is important for me to explore and process how narcolepsy impacts my life. As was the case when I began this blog long ago, if no one else reads this, that is just fine. Nonetheless, I do hope that I can help a few other PWNs (and other folks with sleep issues) in some small way. On that note, I am already signed up for this year’s Narcolepsy Network Annual Patient Conference in Atlanta from October 18-20. Hope to see others there!

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Filed under Balance, Blessings, Education, Emotions, Excitement, Healing, Honesty, Hope, Humility, Joy, Love, My story, Narcolepsy, Narcolepsy Network, Non-narcolepsy stress, Relationships, Support, Therapy, Wisdom

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

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

Jetting to Jacksonville

I awoke this morning in a huge hotel room. The national Narcolepsy Network patient conference begins today in Jacksonville, Florida; I arrived late last night (technically, early this morning). While I remain uneasy about being here, I must confess that my beautiful view of the Saint John’s River certainly makes me glad for the break from my daily grind. I also know that I will enjoy many aspects of the conference. Hopefully, I deepen some of the friendships with other PWNs that I began at last year’s conference. And, many new PWNs await me as well.

At the same time I could not help feeling loss and regret as I ate during my layover in Atlanta. More than anything, I want to help and connect with other PWNs. While this blog does that, my primary outlet for the past year has been the Narcolepsy Network forums. At least it was until mid-September. I deeply believe that the work of some dear friends in those forums is a huge reason for Narcolepsy Network’s recent upswing in membership. Certainly, the number of people using the forums exploded during the last year, but I also know that Narcolepsy Network saw tremendous growth in paid memberships during that time as well. Unfortunately, the people most responsible for making the forums a welcoming and safe place for PWNs will not be with at this conference, nor do they oversee the forums any longer. I remain utterly bewildered as to how the people running Narcolepsy Network could be so obtuse as to not understand the vital role that those forums and individuals have played in the organizations sudden expansion.

The crux of it all for me is that I see the internet as a PWN’s most vital tool. Few of us are able to find doctors who truly understand our condition. Although many larger areas do have local support groups, most PWNs need far more connection than a few meetings a year can give. Those factors, added to the reality that many PWNs literally know no one who has their condition until they find a support group (if they can find one), mean that the internet is the one location that a PWN can interact with other PWNs on a consistent basis. Up until mid-September, I would have believe that such a reality was obvious to everyone associated with Narcolepsy Network. Now, though, I have serious doubts.

My experience at last year’s national conference was incredible. Certainly, being some place where I knew that 300 other people truly “understood” narcolepsy was a primary component of my joy, but far more significant was meeting face-to-face with many of the people that I had meet online. I am guessing that I will have a similar reaction this year. But, what vexes me to no end is that I doubt that other PWNs will get to have that opportunity in years to come. Since things changed on the Narcolepsy Network forums, I do not see the same level of interaction and vitality there. In fact, it is strange to see that in August the forums were adding 20 new members within 2 to 3 days, but now it might take a week or more to add 20 people. My observation is not researched or vetted, but it definitely seems like the energy in the forums is diminishing.

Clearly, I would love to see my friends back running the Narcolepsy Network forums, but deeper than that I honestly saw those forums as a way to improve significantly life for other PWNs. So many of us struggle to interact with the world because our enery is so limited. But, going online takes far less effort, and one need not drive somewhere to do it. I left my position as a moderator on the forums because of the way my friends had been treated, but I also did it because I did not (and still do not) trust the decision-making of the current board when it comes to Narcolepsy Network’s online presence. If they honestly had no idea how active and energetic their forums were, it is a sad reality. Certainly, many other online support groups for narcolepsy exist, but Narcolepsy Network’s advantage was (and still is if someone can right the ship) that they are a federally recognized non-profit with a national convention. Adding a strong and lively online community to that would make them the best resource anywhere for people with narcolepsy. Now, I wonder what will happen.

Of course, I could be crazy. Narcolepsy Network might have thrived in the past year due to some other reason. Only time will tell. Also, the other support groups, particularly the Facebook Narcolepsy Support Group and a new site Bite Size Life, might adequately fill any void created by the changes at Narcolepsy Network’s forums. Another definite possibility is a group in Second Life called Slumber Society. In the end, though, I need something for me. Selfishly (which I need to make a priority more often for myself), I need to find something that will give me the same fulfillment that my moderating on the Narcolepsy Network forums. Yes, I could “ask” to become a moderator for Narcolepsy Network again, but I will not work for the people currently “in charge” of the forums. As far as I am concerned, they haven’t a clue about running a forum effectively. I also know that I can’t afford to put in the energy that I did over the past year only to have it ripped away again. Thus, I find myself in limbo. I need to help other PWNs; it is something I do well. But, I also am struggling with my own energy so much that I do not have the time to figure out where to put my (currently non-existent) “narcolepsy support” energy. Time will eventually guide me in the correct direction, and I have learned enough to allow myself to trust the process. Unfortunately, that does not lighten my current mood, nor does it mitigate the hurt that I still feel from the events in September. Still, I know this chapter is just one more lesson that narcolepsy has for me to learn.

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Filed under Depression, Education, Emotions, Exhaustion, Faith, Frustration, Honesty, Loss, Narcolepsy, Narcolepsy Network, Relationships, Sharing, Support