Category Archives: Serendipity

Stress Saps, Stinks, and Slows — for Sure!

The past two weeks at my new job have been insane. As the “technology integration specialist” at my new school, my primary responsibility is to get technology into classes and curriculum, but to do that there needs to be devices for students and teachers to use. Thus, much of the past couple weeks has involved updating, preparing, and evaluating equipment at the school. And, while I do enjoy being helpful when it comes to setting up a computer or moving a piece of equipment, the needs at my new school have been extreme (to say the least). The most amazing part, though, is that I have both been able to put in some extreme hours and been able to stay reasonably calm and upbeat during the process.

My work yesterday, with extremely dated Microsoft Windows PCs, did stretch my patience to its limits, but I wrapped up much early than I did on my other two excessively late nights the previous week — 10:30 PM this time (rather than 1:30 AM and 12:30 AM for the other nights). All of it, though, underscores for me how toxic my previous job had become for me. Had I attempted even one night where I worked close to midnight (doing anything), I would have been recovering for days. Now, at my new job, I have have had three ridiculously late nights within a 10-day period, yet I still have energy and enthusiasm (which is truly remarkable given that overwhelming tedious nature of the work each of those nights). I fully realize that I cannot afford any more nights that stretch far into the evening, but the fact that I have done so multiple times and still have something in the tank is mind-blowing to me.

I share all of this to underscore how deeply stress can impact a person with narcolepsy. The amount of physical, mental, and emotional energy that I expended in my previous job is staggering. Certainly, narcolepsy makes my life difficult, but battling those internal elements (brought on by external realities and my perceptions of them) exacerbated every aspect of my narcolepsy. And, the cycle of facing those stressors, wasting more energy on them, getting more run down, and then finding those same stressors even more insurmountable became its own form of torture. I find it staggering that so much of my limited energy went into simply surviving each day.

The exciting insight for me is that embracing something for which I have enthusiasm (rather than battling aggravations) gives me energy rather than sapping it. The lesson is made even more clear to me in my current situation because the reason for the late nights is mind-numbing boring work — updating software, setting up student PCs, and setting up digital services. Although those activities could prove to be stressors for me in other circumstances, I can (and do) find purpose in them at this time because they will benefit my new colleagues and our students. It also gives me hope as I begin looking for areas of “passion” within my non-work life. And that prospect is truly thrilling. For much of the last 6 years (when I was diagnosed) and even farther back than that, I have only given up activities I have loved and enjoyed in an attempt to survive. Suddenly, I feel like I could start looking for ways to spend free time that would bring me even more strength and energy.

After so many years of facing what narcolepsy “has cost me,” my world has turned on its head. Losing the enormous deadweight of overwhelming stress has unyoked my head and my heart. I am doing my best to stay calm in the midst of this new development, so I do not lose perspective. Balance is most definitely the watchword for me these days, but it is wonderful that hope, joy, and enthusiasm are now things I need to keep in check (rather than items completely missing from my daily life).

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Filed under Balance, Blessings, Emotions, Excitement, Exhaustion, Gratitude, Honesty, Hope, Insights, Joy, My story, Narcolepsy, Serendipity, Stress, Technology, Wisdom

>Summer Surviving and Blog Blessings

>Somehow, my summer has managed to feel as frenetic as the school year did. I spent the first three days of my “vacation” meeting with the other folks who teach the same course that I do. While the work was exhausting, it was also extremely productive. We are making huge strides by mapping our joint curriculum. I thoroughly enjoyed the time that we all spent together, and I have high hopes for the coming year.

I have also been preparing for the creative writing course that I have taught for the past eight summers. As I was mapping my regular academic course, I was also puttering with the syllabus, web site, and lesson plans for this summer course. My co-teacher and I got to spend some time together today. I also got to spend time with one of our former students (and chatted with another) who is now interning with the aspect of the program that enrolls my daughter. I love that this young man is still a part of the Minnesota Institute for Talented Youth, but I also am overjoyed that I will get to see him more frequently over the next two weeks. This year will be the first time in five years when this fellow is NOT in our classroom.

While I thought that I would never experience anything in my “regular” teaching career like MITY, I realized over the past two weeks that my current situation at school IS like MITY. The rigor and creativity are present in both places, and I get to team with marvelous co-worker in both situations. Thus, my excitement for MITY feels different this year. I am still elated that it is here again, but it is not my “salvation” as it has been in the past. I think that is a good sign.

Finally, I need to give a shout out to a fabulous new blog that also discusses narcolepsy. It is actually called Narcolepsy and is written by a person with narcolepsy in Florida. He is close to my age and has a markedly similar approach. He too simply wants to process (for himself and others) what it is like to live with this unnerving, facinating, awkward, and bizarre disease. I do hope that others will check out what he has to say. Best of all, he posts on a fairly regular basis – something I am hoping starts to happen here again (soon).

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Filed under Blessings, Education, Emotions, Excitement, Exhaustion, Friends, Gratitude, Honesty, Narcolepsy, Serendipity, Support, Wisdom

>February Funk Follows January Junk

>It is WAY past my bedtime. Somehow, though, I am still awake. For the third night in a row, I am up past midnight. Not good. I am out of sorts and definitely “off.” I am heading to bed in a moment, but I wanted to post. Stunningly, January was my worst month ever, in terms of blogging. Fortunately, the rest of my life progressed far better than my pressence here would indicate. I continue to work to reclaim my pre-break balance. I doubt I will ever fully understand how two weeks of vacation can disrupt my routine so thoroughly. That said, I remain grateful for the vacation.

I believe that I am reacquitring some semblence of order and focus. At my acupuncture appointment today, I commented that I have often felt in the past two weeks that the world seems to move at Mach 2 or 3. But, I seem to be confinded to slow motion. While the world rushes past, I find myself marvelling at the insanity of life. Alright, I must sleep NOW. I shall return (far sooner than the month that lapsed between my last post and this one).

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Filed under Balance, Blogging, Confusion, Exhaustion, Faith, Fear, Gratitude, Narcolepsy, Serendipity

>Ebbing Energy

>New year, old issue. I spent the entire week reminding myself that “re-starting” is terribly hard for me. I don’t regret anything from my break, but having two weeks “off” from my normal schedule was devastating to my ability to function at school and at home. My daughter was sick on Monday, so I missed the first day back. I still got up and tried to work, but I did not exert the energy that I would have at school. The rest of the week, I limped through school and crawled through my evenings. I got the bare minimum done each night, and I still have a ton to correct that I had hoped to finish over the break. Finally, I spent the entire day yesterday attempting to find some enthusiasm and verve. Didn’t work. I made a small amount of progress today, but the correcting remains untouched.

My frustration in all of this is that I continue to experience the same things over and over, AND I let them get to me each time. My angst around the current fatigue is not nearly as bad as it has been in the past, but I am still upset. I am also struggling to get work done, work that must be finished soon (hopefully some of it tonight). Even as I type these words, I have more “unresolved” tasks flooding my head. I am realizing that I will be lucky to get comments on even a handful of papers. But, that will be better than nothing.

I must continue to accept what I am given and let go of what escapes me. One paper corrected is one less that I will need to do tomorrow. Plus, I made a difference for at least two students last week with the extra help that I provided them at school. Ironically, I participated in a Gallup survey today. The phone call was humorous because I felt like I was all over the place with my responses. I am definitely in a healthy income bracket and know that I live a good life, but I am also unhealthy and depressed – both because of my chronic condition and because of my anxiety. At the same time, I had to remember when I got off of the phone that I am incredibly lucky to live the life that I have. We have a beautiful house and savings. Both my wife and I are blessed to have jobs that we love, and our daughter receives an excellent education at her school. So, even though narcolepsy makes my life far from simple, I am blessed to have so much. It does not change the agitation that I often feel from my low energy, but it does help to ground me in my daily living.

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Filed under Balance, Blessings, Depression, Exhaustion, Frustration, Gratitude, Insights, Narcolepsy, Serendipity, Wisdom

>December Drifting

>First and foremost, I must say that day five is definitely better than day four. I still don’t know if it is the natural course of my med holiday, or the acupuncture, but I definitely had more energy today. The morning was still awful (I finally got out of bed at 9:30 AM because I HAD to leave the house at 10 AM), but once I got going, I felt okay. I was definitely still sleepy, and I kept my exertion to a minimum, but I did not dose as I had done during the first four days. I even managed to be decently helpful to my wife – which is good since I set her off while we were shopping (not so cool on Christmas Eve).

Beyond the med holiday, though, today is Christmas Eve. I often work to keep religion out of my blog, partly because I see narcolepsy as something that transcends religious affiliation, but also because I know that people of many faiths read this blog. While I know that my Roman Catholic faith is deeply a part of who I am, I would never want to proselytize here and offend someone of a different religious background, or someone who holds a more agnostic, or atheistic, or scientific view of the universe. Having said all of that, though, I must say Merry Christmas to those who are Christian (and Happy Hanukkah to those who are Jewish – though I know that it is a minor holiday I do think the efforts and actions of the Maccabees are way cool – and joyous Kwanzaa to those who celebrate and Happy New Year to those on a western calendar and remember that the whole month is Universal Human Rights Month, as well as World AIDS month).

I had a powerful experience at Mass tonight. First of all, my daughter sang in the youth choir. Not only was it amazing to watch her perform, but it was also wild to have other people see her who had not for some time. She is definitely a young woman in her appearance and her demeanor. It is both amazing and frightening. Beyond that, though, our priest gave his homily about Apollo 13 and “drifting in to nothingness” in space. His primary point was that the entire universe is the creation of Divine force. Whether it is God, or some other spiritual force, the reality is that the energy behind the universe is the same here and billions of light years away. All life and energy in the universe is good and blessed because it was all part of the plan. Earth is not the epicenter of it all. Rather, we are one small piece of the puzzle. It gave me a who new perspective on these past few days. As much as I felt like I was drifting along doing “nothing” in my stupor, the reality is that everything I do is part of something far greater than myself. I can no more drift away than I can disappear or levitate because God loves me always. It is a powerful message to consider.

I hope no one was offended by my theological turn here. While I hold strongly to my own faith, I truly believe that “truth” is in the midst of all beliefs and faiths. How could I, or any human, ever hope to know the mind of something or someone divine? All I know is that I am blessed to have such a good life, a job I enjoy, and a fantastic family. I hope that everyone else in this world has a chance to experience the joy that has been given to me. Narcolepsy is rotten, but I would not trade my life for anything, because the whole package is mine – the good and the bad. Peace be unto all of you!

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Filed under Balance, Blessings, Empathy, Faith, Family, Honesty, Narcolepsy, Serendipity, Support, Wisdom

>Happy Halloween

>Ready for the scariest aspect of my Halloween post? I “started” it on October 31. Basically, I typed a title and went to bed because I was exhausted that night. The NEXT time that I even looked at the post, or this blog, was today – November 18! The added irony is that my previous post (which I also finished today, but had written most of on October 30) commented extensively on the strange sensation of days lasting for weeks in October. Needless to say, November has been another story.

I can’t believe how long it has been since I have written here. I know that I have been feeling that loss within my stress levels and my physical well being. I know I need to set better patterns, but it gets hard when my energy keeps dropping while my workload never ceases to build – yuck! My depression/anxiety have definitely been heightened, but I am still managing to stay balanced, most of the time. I do beat myself up in some capacity daily. What has grown in strength, though, is my ability to stop my inner tirades and to own the reality that I am doing the best that I can.

We had a weird Halloween this year. My daughter spent the whole weekend with a friend. My wife was horribly sick. I announced a football game. I think it was the first time that at least two of us were not together for the evening. I find that scary too. It is the direction that I should expect things to move. My daughter is definitely growing into a young woman. Still, it is hard to realize that soon my middle schooler will be on her way to college. That being said, I know that I have many days ahead with which I can challenge both of these amazing women in my life. I also must add that my daughter went trick-or-treating as a sandwich. She made “bread” out of foam. She also had lettuce, tomato and swiss cheese in the sandwich. It was brilliant. How lucky am I to have a daughter who WANTED to be a sandwich, and a year ago she was a crate of oranges. I love it!

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Filed under Blessings, Depression, Education, Emotions, Exhaustion, Gratitude, Humility, Marriage, Narcolepsy, Parenting, Serendipity

>Alchemical Allusions

>My students for this next year are reading Paulo Coelho‘s The Alchemist as their summer reading. I just finished re-reading it myself and am deeply struck by how appropriate it is to my own journey. Santiago faces inordinate challenges as he pursues his Personal Legend. At the same time, he is constantly reminded that “all the universe conspires in helping…to achieve it” (Coehlo 22). It is a beautiful paradox and underscores for me the mystery of my condition. I know that narcolepsy is one of the largest burdens I have ever faced, yet without it I doubt that I would have even achieved the mental stability I have of late. It is that balance that is allowing me to be an even better teacher and father and friend.

I also love the idea that there is a Language of the World – one that speaks to us all through omens and the natural world. Santiago sees things everywhere simply by being patient and watching. I know that much of my life has been serendipitous. Often, I am making decisions based on intuition and insight rather than logic and facts. I also know that when I trust those deep emotions, I am rewarded with great joy. Far too often, my logical and analytical mind either gets me into trouble or wraps me in so many knots that the tention is unbearable. Perhaps the best example of all is my narcolepsy. When I am teaching (or passionately engaged in conversation) I am rarely aware of my fatigue, but when I am alone with my thoughts (letting my brain process and re-process everything), my exhaustion can be extreme. Coelho does a remarkable job of vividly capturing the realities of how so many of us lose sight of our Personal Legend. How many times have I worried and wondered about my ability to “teach” because the narcolepsy makes me so tired? Yet, I know (in my heart and soul) that NOTHING fills me up like teaching. It IS my Personal Legend.

Of course, I also feel like I am still on the journey to achieve my Personal Legend. I am a good teacher, but I also know that I can be better. I can’t be perfect, but I can be more aware of my students’ needs. I can also be more focused on how I teach, making tangible progress for each student an achievable goal. One of the keys is to realize my strengths and my weaknesses. Another is to know that I am finite and limited. I can’t do everything (let alone do it well), but I can work toward mastering specific skills with a limited group of students. Returning to our Grade 9 curriculum and working part-time are definitely steps in the proper direction.

Perhaps my favorite thing about The Alchemist, though, is that Santiago – who is so adept at understanding omens – still manages to fail on a regular basis. The idea that we (as individuals, groups, societies) can constantly succeed, or win, or whatever, is such a Western fallacy! The reality is that life is a struggle, and we do fall down, and thankfully we can get up again. In fact we rise even faster when we open ourselves to the love of those around us and particularly to the love of our God. It amazes me that The Alchemist manages to be a deeply spiritual (and religious – in my opinion) book without overtly promoting any faith or offending any faith – please realize that I say that as a Catholic Christian and have no idea if the book offends Jews or Muslims or some other faith. As far as I can tell, it is a book about deeply held beliefs that honors a multitude of traditions and gives a true sense of tolerance.

Like Santiago, I have always been drawn to the idea of omens and signs. I do try to watch the world around me to see what it says. I also feel the power of the desert and the ocean. I have spent more time near the ocean than I have in any desert, but both resonate within my core. My favorite novel, Moby Dick (yes, I am actually that dorky), has an amazing line in Chapter 23 – “It is in landlessness alone resides the highest truth.” I think Melville felt what Coelho felt. We are most alive when we are cast out into the world. What is safe is wonderful, but risk allows us the chance to become truly alive, to find our Personal Legend. Narcolepsy is my desert/ocean in many ways. Talk about being “unshored,” I feel like I am drifting alone much of the time. Yet, within that emptiness, there is power and strength. I can’t be who my logical brain tells me I should be, but I can become who I am supposed to be by trusting my heart and my Personal Legend.

And, I did yoga for a second day in a row – yea, me!

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Filed under Eastern Ideas, Fear, Gratitude, Hope, Insights, Literature, Narcolepsy, Serendipity, Wisdom