I Didn’t Get to the Gym Today

I didn’t get to the gym today.  Because I couldn’t make myself get off the couch.  Because, depression.

After years of shying away from talking about any kind of mental health, I feel like now everyone has anxiety and/or depression.  I have both.  I’ve had them for years, and I didn’t get any help when I was younger, because we didn’t talk about such things.

But every time my parents left the house I said a silent prayer that they didn’t get into a car accident and I couldn’t go to sleep until they got home. If my mom asked me to go somewhere with her and I said no, I would worry that something bad would happen to her. I took home all my framed photos every time I went home for a break in college, because what if the dorm caught on fire?  I unplug everything in my house when I leave for more than a day. When I send an email at work or at home my stomach flips as soon as I hit send….even if it’s just a reply to someone else’s email. I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep because there are so many bad things happening in the world.

Most days I can’t get out of bed right away.  I physically cannot gather the strength to move. Right now it’s still light out and I want to get in my bed so badly.  But that would mean I have to move from the couch.  If my laptop wasn’t within reach I’m not sure I’d be writing this…except that the anxiety of not slicing today after sticking with this for 19 days would eventually win out.  Because even though I have anxiety and depression, I am also a perfectionist.

I’ve been on Lexapro for years and it helps….for the most part.  I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to find a therapist that a) I feel comfortable talking to and b) takes my insurance.  So I read self-help books and try to help myself.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  It depends on the day, and sometimes it just hits without warning.

The thing that people don’t realize, or don’t understand is that no one who has anxiety or depression wants to feel like this.  I wanted to go to Zumba today….but I could not get off the couch.

I’ve been staring at this post for a while now, trying to decide whether to delete the whole thing and start over with a happier slice about the first day of spring.  But this is where I am today.  Congratulations, you’ve made it to the end of ramblings by a crazy person 🙂

 

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Monkey in my Chair

This year my class has been dealt a really difficult blow.  One of my second graders was diagnosed with cancer over the winter holidays.   It was heartbreaking to share this news with my class and we’ve been trying to figure out how to show our support and love to this student ever since.  My kids get very concerned when she’s absent for chemo treatments and were worried that she wouldn’t be able to get books from the book fair and she’d miss a field trip.

The children’s hospital where this student is receiving treatment offers this program for classrooms with similar situations- the Monkey in my Chair.  This stuffed animal comes to school, sits in the student’s chair, and records the daily events in a little notebook to keep her up to date.  Meet Chip:
img_0797Right away my students decided that Chip needed a “Love Your Melon” hat like our friend wears to cover the hair loss from chemo.  Luckily, I have a few spares.

We also decided that Chip needs an official t-shirt, because my entire class has one that we wear on chemo days  (or any day, really) to show support.

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It is bittersweet sharing these photos with our classmate, because while they bring joy and keep her informed, we would so much rather her be there every day.  My little squad of second graders is amazing at making sure that Chip is included in everything and that we document all his work to share.

 

This is uncharted territory in my teaching career- never have I experienced a student with cancer.  My heart breaks for this sweet student and her family, as they have a long road ahead of them…but it is a little comforting to know that we are bringing smiles and laughs and maybe some welcomed distractions with the antics of Chip, the Monkey in My Chair.

Missing Piece

The challenge unfolds.

Beginning,

Building a strong frame, a structure to hold everyone together.

Getting to know each piece- individual, unique.

Working hard to fit together.

Creating.

Working as a community- days, weeks, maybe months.

Beginning to form – from many to one.

Only to find that…

 

of 1000 pieces,

only 999 made it into the box.

 

Ireland on Film

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, this slice is about a family vacation to Ireland.

My father was Irish.  Very Irish.  When I was a senior in high school, my family traveled to Ireland to trace our genealogy.  We visited the County Westmeath archives, but also made time to do some touristy things.

One of those things was to see the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare.  This was in the days before digital cameras, when you took pictures with film and hoped for the best when you got them developed.  It was also before selfies, when you depended on the kindness of strangers to capture a family photograph.  At the time, we didn’t realize that we’d never get the chance to travel overseas again as a family.  We just wanted a nice photo of the four of us with the Cliffs in the background.

So we asked a nice stranger to take a picture.  She obliged. And she took one shot, because when there are limited exposures on the roll, you don’t get to look and delete, and reshoot.  You get one shot.  Literally.

When we got the film developed, here is that gorgeous, frame-worthy shot. img_0848

One little caveat-  when you’re standing on top of a cliff, it’s windy.   This quickly became our favorite photo, so much so that we had it on display at my father’s funeral.

To all celebrating today, Slainte!

Bels Palsy- the Face Breaker.

At the beginning of my senior year of college, I prepared to do my student teaching.  The first week of fall semester started with seminar classes to get us ready.

My roommates and I had been up late the night before classes started unpacking and setting up our off-campus house.  As I headed off to bed my left eye was itchy….at least I kept rubbing at it. I just assumed that it was pollen or dry air or my contact lens bothering me and I didn’t think about it too much.

The next morning, it was still bothering me. But we were told that if you missed a student teaching seminar you’d better have a coroner’s note, so off to class I went.  My roommate was walking with me.  She glanced over at me after something I said and she stopped short.  “What’s wrong with your face!?” she asked.  I had no idea what she meant.  We took a quick detour to the student union and stopped in the bathroom.  The entire left side of my face was droopy.  My left eye was not blinking.  I looked kind of twisted.

But my Type A, perfect attendance personality didn’t allow me to go to the health center.  Instead I went to class.  My professor exclaimed that my face looked “gross’ but did not advise leaving class to go have it looked at by a doctor.  So I tried to kind of keep my left eye closed with my right hand while I wrote notes with my left hand (on a right-handed desk, if you’ve read my slice from earlier in the week).

When class was over I went to the health center.  The doctor wasn’t there, but a random person who worked there told me I had Bels Palsy.  She showed me the definition in a medical book and said to just come back every day so they could monitor it…there wasn’t a cure.

My roommate, bless her so much, insisted we go to the emergency room to get a more legitimate opinion.  At the ER a real nurse confirmed the diagnosis after testing me for a stroke and drawing blood to test for Lyme disease.  Then the doctor came in.

Now, I was only 21 at the time and I look young for my age, but the doctor who came in was Doogie Houser, MD.  Seriously.  He looked about 12 and he told me I needed a prescription for Valtrex.  He then used gauze and a lot of surgical tape to keep my eyelid shut-  Bels severs a nerve in your forehead and causes partial facial paralysis.  Since I couldn’t close my eye, I wasn’t producing any tears and my lid needed to be kept closed so foreign debris could get in there.

As he left to get my discharge paperwork, my roommate – who had so far been my rock, burst into laughter.  While the Doogie thing was mildly amusing, I wasn’t finding anything particularly funny at the moment.  I glared at her.

“You know that commercial where the woman is canoeing and then she climbs a mountain,” she began, gasping for breath.  As it turns out, Valtrex is the medicine you take if you have genital herpes.

When the nurse came in with the paperwork, I began to voice my concerns.  My FACE was broken.  Everything else was in tip-top shape!  She assured me that the medication was antiviral, and that the cause of my palsy was related to the shingles virus, which apparently I had- in my EAR, which is what caused the nerve to sever and the palsy.

God help anyone who actually has to take this medication habitually.  The pills are enormous and difficult to swallow.  Especially if you have to lift up the left side of your face to make your jaw work.  I had to take 6 of them a day.

To add insult to injury, when we went to CVS to fill the prescription, a fellow student from my college was working at the pharmacy.  Horrified I tried to explain about the virus and that I was all good otherwise.  Fortunately, the giant eye patch and gauze added credibility to my story.

Eventually, after a month or so, my nerves regenerated and I was able to use the left side of my mouth and open and close my eye without using my hand.  Starting to student teach, in a middle school no less, with an eye patch wasn’t the best start to my teaching career.  [Insert pirate joke here].

Privilege and Pity

This is a hard thing to discuss, but I feel like it needs to be talked about.

About a month ago, my good friend’s stepfather passed away after a short battle with lung cancer.  I took a half day of work to attend the funeral, but because of sub shortages I needed to be back at school by noon.  Funerals are hard for me, because it put me in a bad headspace about the loss of my own father.

I made it through the service okay, but as soon as I got in my car, I started crying. A lot.  It was getting close to the time I had to be back at work, so I needed to dry my eyes and get out of there.  The church was in an unfamiliar town, and as I exited the parking lot, Google maps hadn’t quite kicked in.  I turned right out of the lot because I was reversing the route I took to get there.

When I got to the stop sign I realized that I was going the wrong way down a one-way street. My stomach flipped over, I had no idea! Thank goodness no one was coming toward me. Except that across from me in the intersection was a police car.  I pulled over into the parking lot of a different building and the police officer pulled in behind me.

I rolled down my window.  He didn’t get out of the car, but rolled his window down as well.  He asked if I knew I was going the wrong way, and I said that I didn’t.  He knew I was coming from the church, and I’m guessing my face gave away that I’d been crying and will still sniffling.

He told me to take some deep breaths and collect myself before I began driving and to be more careful next time.  Fortunately it wasn’t a heavy traffic time of day, or else I could have caused an accident.

Then he left. That was it.  No ticket, no anger, just a polite warning. He didn’t ask for my license. He didn’t ever get out of the car.  Now maybe he saw I was upset, maybe he thought no harm, no foul- I made a mistake, but no one got hurt.  But I couldn’t help but wonder if his pity was somehow connected to my white skin.  Would this scenario have been different if I was a person of color?  It makes me sick to think about that- my fear of being pulled over is about getting a ticket or points on my license.  I don’t have to fear for my life.   I don’t know what this particular officer was thinking, and maybe the scene would have played out the same way regardless of what I looked like…

But as I drove back to work, the tears streaming down my face were for all those who don’t have such kind encounters with the police.  For those who do have to fear for their lives when confronted with the same situation.  And for all who have lost because of it.

Least-Planned Plans are the Best Plans

My second graders are learning about animal classifications in science right now.  We have a science textbook, which is about as fascinating as watching paint dry.  A few years ago I put together this whole research folder idea where they rotated through groups and learned about each kind of animal (birds, reptiles, mammals, fish, amphibians, and insects).

I used to carefully moderate the rotating – one animal group per day- and put a lot more control over how students worked through these stations. They had to check with me before moving so I could make sure that they had the “correct” information about each classification. I didn’t think this year would be any different, in fact, I thought I would be more controlling because I have a much larger class than I normally do.

Maybe I’m still tired from saving all the daylight, but today I just let them go with very few directions. They worked at their own pace, they chose which group to go to, which books they wanted to read, which information they deemed important enough to record…they were completely in charge.

I braced myself for disaster- arguing over books, whining about not knowing what to write, not having a pencil or an eraser, etc.   Surprisingly none of that happened.

For a solid 40 minutes they were all 100% engaged- chatting quietly and sharing “wow” moments from their reading.  Some students even completed all 6 classifications.  They were all quite surprised when I announced that we had to stop because it was time for recess.

science project 1science project 2science project 3science project 4

As teachers we put so much time and effort into planning and orchestrating the perfect lesson- sometimes at the expense of putting the kids first and the content second.  Today was a true example of how the least planned activities that put the kids in charge of teaching themselves work out better than those overworked, super-controlled lesson plans that involve the teacher doing most of the work.