Category Archives: Wisdom

Tiresome Travel Troubling

I have known for the last 4-5 years that traveling tends to exacerbate the impact of my narcolepsy, in terms of both my sleepiness and its impact on my overall health. The situation makes tons of sense when I think about it — my schedule gets thrown off, driving and flying for long periods put additional stress on my body, I am not in my own bed, and even changing one time zone can affect my biorhythms. As a result of this reality, I do try to allow myself extra time for recovery when I take a trip. I also do my best to balance my activities while traveling so I do not exhaust myself. Even in the best scenarios, my efforts are only mildly successful, but this current summer has put me into an entirely different place.

Because of my new job, I have already spent far more of my summer working like mad to get things ready for the next school year. So, even before my extensive travel started, I was already run down. Added to that is the fact that my daughter is in between grades 11 and 12, so college visit trips have filled up the second half of our summer. My wife, my daughter, and I visited 6 schools in 4 days during our first circuit after spending a long weekend with friends. The experience was awesome in every possible way, but it also left me reeling for the entire week after our return. And, during that week, we decided that my daughter and I would head to 2 more schools this week preceding a conference my wife is attending. All three of us think this current trip is a good idea, but it also heightened the stress level in our house, particularly as my daughter and I reworked almost an entire week of work. And, I was (and am) painfully aware that the cold I got from our first trip continues to linger. Truly, my sinuses are a mess, and I am definitely worried that I will be paying for these trips with my health well into the coming school year. Underscoring that concern is the fact that our busiest trip is yet to come. My daughter and I will make our third and final trip in the first week of August when we plan to visit 8 schools in 4 states during a 5 day window.

Although I do fear what all this flying and driving will do to me physically, I am thoroughly enjoying the experience. Just today, my daughter and I toured a school in the pouring rain. We would definitely have preferred a sunny day, but we still had a great visit. The school impressed both of us, but even better was the fun we had with each other. We took a train there and back, navigated the local bus system, and even found our way to an Ethiopian restaurant (that my daughter wanted to try) near our hotel. We are both exhausted, and we are getting up early for another visit and tour tomorrow, but we are being good to each other and appreciating the experience. In fact, the trek from our hotel to the train station this morning took us across the campus of a college she had not been considering, but tonight she added it to the list because she was so impressed by it. Our final trip in early August will require me to do a lot of driving (since we will be hitting 4 different states), and that makes me nervous because I know how draining the car travel will be. Yet, knowing that the two of us survived our wacky experiences today, I firmly believe that we can make that last trip work, especially if we are conscious of being kind to one another.

These interactions with my daughter are the thing that makes me the most frustrated about how travel tires me and lowers me ability to stay healthy. She is amazing, and I love spending time with her. I just wish the toll for these trips was not so steep for me. That being said, I would not trade these opportunities for anything. More than anything, I need to step back and recognize how choosing to take these trips does have repercussions. And, I need to remember the importance of this time with my daughter when my health, sinuses, and sleepiness continue to spiral on me over the next few months. I also know that I must be more attentive to taking care of myself to minimize as much as possible the negative impact of these college visits. What I must avoid, though, is letting my compromised health steer me into short-changing my wife, my daughter, or myself in our daily lives.

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Filed under Balance, Driving, Exhaustion, Family, Frustration, Gratitude, Humility, Illness, Insights, Joy, Love, Narcolepsy, Parenting, Scheduling, Sinuses, Stress, Travel, Wisdom

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

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

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

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

Slow Startup

Today is our last day in Tennessee. We will rise early tomorrow and hit the road. While I am not looking forward to two days in a car, I am looking forward to getting back home. I feel good that I still have two weeks before I am back at school. I have oodles of things to do – at home and for school, but I will continue to approach them at the pace that I can handle. Today definitely feels similar to that. My wife went on a driving loop last night by herself. She enjoyed it immensely, but came home even sicker than she was. Thus, I am the only one up this morning. Hopefully, we will still try to visit some of the craft shops today, but I love that we can have such a relaxed start to our “final day.” Far too often, a day like this is treated frenetically, cramming in activities for each waking moment. Instead, we will take in what we can and simply appreciate the chance to spend time together.

I find myself grateful for the many opportunities to slow down my life and expectations. My brain continues to push me, but I am getting better at letting go. I am even able to appreciate the fleeting moments when I do achieve a level of balance. Those moments are not nearly as frequent as I would like, but the fact that success brings joy rather than regret is a huge improvement. For years, a moment of serenity would bring angst rather than relief. I would berate myself for my inability to “feel serene” more often – how screwed up is that? Thus, I am highly content to lounge this morning, at peace with my upbeat outlook.

That said, I do need to find a bit more structure to my days when I get back home. The start of school is still three weeks away, but I need to begin adapting my schedule and routine now, since I know that a radical shift will not sit well with my brain or physical health. I also need to find a physical routine. The hiking and rafting has been great, but my body hurts all over as a result. More than anything else, I need to strengthen my knees. They are hurting constantly these days. I must spend some time over the next three weeks to get them ready for standing frequently during the school day. If I don’t, it will be a LONG year. I find juggling exercise, my family, my sanity, and my job one of the most frustrating aspects of narcolepsy. All of them take energy from me, but all of them are vitally necessary.

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Filed under Balance, Emotions, Exercise, Family, Gratitude, Honesty, Marriage, Narcolepsy, Parenting, Wisdom