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Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Illusion of Control

It is hard to escape the trap that we are somehow able to completely control our destiny. Time and again I catch myself slipping into the idea that I can control my disease or that I got ill because of something I did. This is just not how the world works. All we can really control is how we handle the hand we are dealt.
I spent a long time trying to figure out why I got MS. Then I spent some time deciding how I was going to stay well. I have also spent a great deal of time contemplating my future.
When I started this blog I posed several essential questions. One of them was whether diet and exercise can improve ones prognosis. I was quick to adopt the idea that a person can hold MS at bay with diet and exercise. I still believe that both these things are important to ones overall well-being. A healthier body can better deal with trauma and illness but it also has begun to dawn on me that diet and exercise alone are no guarantee of health. I realize that one cannot entirely predict or control the course of the MonSter.
Strangely, I am not disturbed by these realizations. I was unable to control my diagnosis and I am unable to control everything about my future. That’s ok with me now. There are many things I can control.
I can control how much I exercise. I can control what I choose to do and not do. I can control my diet. Most importantly, I can control my mind. I can control how I deal with bumps in the road. I can spend a lot of time worrying about the future or my next possible or probable relapse, or I can embrace my present where I am finding a way to juggle my responsibilities. I think it’s important that I do the things I want and need to do now when and while I can.
I think it is possible that I could be one of the lucky ones, one of those people who suffer little at the hands of their disease but I also realize that the statistics are against me. There are very few people with lesions who truly never have another relapse but they do exist. I always used to believe that nothing like this would ever happen to me but it did.
On the other hand, if I was unlucky enough to be one of the only people I know who got this diagnosis, I also might fit into another unlikely percentage and never really deteriorate as a result of my disease. The good news for my own mental state is that I can accept my fate either way. This does not mean that I am not going to keep doing yoga, eating right and minimizing stress. It means that I realize that even by doing these things I may not be ensuring a symptom-free future. I accept that control is indeed an illusion but that is ok.

For your brief entertainment

All I have in me today is posting a few more cute animal pics. I'm not feeling so great so I'll post something interesting as soon as I feel better.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

No Child Left Behind , I Guess

Lisa from Brass and Ivory left me a comment asking what I thought about our nation's illustrious "No Child Left Behind" act so I decided to sound off here.

Surprisingly, I think that much of the actual ideal behind NCLB is solid. It is in the implementation and interpretations of NCLB that the problems have emerged. The act requires that teachers be "highly qualified." That means they are either certified in their content area or have completed 24 hours of college study in the subject they teach. There is nothing wrong with that. Having qualified, educated teachers in every classroom is a good thing. The greatest problem is that there is a shortage of these people and many opt out of working in low-performing schools like the one where I teach. This is especially true in math and science. We can never find people certified to teach math who want to work in our school because of our undesirable location, reputation and test scores. We always seem to end up with people who have never spent a day as a classroom teacher in their lives. Still, we hire them on an "emergency license" because we have no choice. Then, theoretically they get coached and supported but you just can't throw a teacher into the kind of school where I teach. Their inexperience is quickly evident. They have little or no control of their students. Students can rarely even hear the teacher in this environment, let alone learn. These teachers are not trained in fancy extras like "sheltered instruction" (to help ESL kids)or "differentiated instruction" (to help facilitate level-appropriate work in multi-level classes). Classes are packed to the gills (30 or more to a room) and there is rarely even another adult available to help out. So while NCLB is designed to promote equity, it actually makes the inequities more glaring.

Let me explain my last statement. At the inception of NCLB, there was a grand vision that all kids, regardless of school, race or socioeconomic background would all perform at or above grade-level. Again, not a bad sentiment at all. In order to ensure this, "standards" were created nationally and at the state level to guide teachers regarding grade-level targets. Then, it was mandated that each state offer a yearly exam to measure student progress. In Colorado we got CSAP, the bain of our existence.

I am not against the idea of standards. I am also not against standardized assessment. It is the way that assessment affects low-performing schools that upsets me. Schools are given a CSAP "grade" each year based on student performance. If a school performs too low for three years in a row, it gets taken over. In an age of "school choice," the families that can afford to, send their kids to high-performing schools outside their neighborhoods if a good neighborhood school does not exist. Busing ended here several years ago and now we are watching our urban schools sink back into racial and socioeconomic segregation. High performing schools continue to attract more affluent families while low-perfoming schools serve those who have no options. Our scores are down this year and my school now is 100% free and reduced lunch.

Each year an enormous amount of money gets spent on the CSAP program. I feel that this money could be better utilized by fully funding NCLB. No one knows exactly what full funding would look like but when I am queen of the universe, there are several ways I would spend the money.

As queen, I would make classes of 30 into classes of 15. I would make sure that there were more homogenous classes with fewer different levels in one room. I would hire aides for every classroom that needed them. I would offer remediation classes to those who needed remediation in a specific area instead of worrying about how that might hurt test scores (I actually think it might help). Schools would not receive a public grade or report card. Test data would just be shared with teachers, students and administration in a district so they could see how they needed to improve. I would split property taxes at the state level instead of the district level so that those who live in poor communities would have as much money spent on their education as those in a wealthier area. All teachers would get the coaching and support they need. We would have enough texts for every kid in the room. Administrators would have more support so they could support us and no teacher would ever feel isolated or ignored.

Perhaps not all of the ideas in NCLB need to be tossed out. I would hedge that the system just needs to be funded and adjusted.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Occupational Hazards

Disclaimer- The following is a rant that may or may not reflect my feelings before or after this moment.

I was lulled by the break. Even the adjustment to learning I had MS was relatively smooth. I wonder what it would have been like without steroids. Would I have been as accepting or have adjusted just as quickly as I did? I will never know the answer to this question. What I do know is that now that I am back to work, nothing feels as easy as I expected it to be.

This is my fifth yearing of teaching. I planned well. I felt confident that the struggles I had encountered would make teaching again a breeze. I was a little worried about teaching five classes instead of four but overall, I felt confident and ready. I planned that I would never speed around like a maniac again. I also planned I would leave on time every day. Most of all I promised myself that encounters with students would leave me unruffled. I forgot about all the occupational hazards of teaching in a rough, low income public school. My top ten current issues are detailed below.

1) My student rosters change daily
2) Students are placed in the wrong classes so I end up serving multiple levels and abilities in one room
3) I am not given assistance to deal with all the levels, I need to "differentiate" for them and make it work
4) No matter how much I set the expectation and teach respect, there is always a smart alec.
5) The best laid plans get tossed every time my roster changes and I keep reteaching the same stuff over and over with little progression
6) Some kids are just whiney and ungrateful
7) Some kids challenge everything you say and do just because
8) A duty-free lunch is never really duty-free
9) There is never enough time in the contract day (everything takes longer than planned)
10) The bosses find a way to slip in additional responsibilities that don't fit into the contract day either

I could keep ranting but I realize that I am engaging in unproductive thought. Now that I have gotten this off my chest, perhaps I can focus again.

I remember that when I went to teacher school that there was a statistic about how something like 50% or more of teachers won't stay in the profession past their first five years. I think some of the complaints I listed explain why. I am a "natural" teacher and I truly love what I do but at times I ask myself, "Can I do this for the next thirty years?" I wonder if all teachers feel this way at times or if this is just the problem with serving in tough schools. I hope in my heart of hearts that I can find a way to reconnect with what I love about this profession. Before me I only see the tediousness of trying to cram an education into those with low skills and little willingness to push themselves.

In my school, we have lowered the bar but how low can we let it go? Today I had two students who have lived in the U.S. for more than 6 years complaining to me because I asked them to write a three sentence response to their writing. Three freakin' sentences and they whined and never completed the work. Is this our future? This is exactly why I keep going back, this is unacceptable and someone has to get into the trenches and make a change. I just wish it was not always like pulling teeth.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Darn Lucky

Today I was reading Blindbeard's latest post regarding the different types of MS and I was reminded just how lucky I am. Many of us are aware that there are four generally recognized types of MS, Relapsing-Remitting being by far the most common type. The least troublesome and ferocious being "Benign" MS. I am very lucky. When my neurologist diagnosed me after my first exacerbation, he decided to call my MS "monophasic" and benign.

Monophasic means a one time occurence often brought on by a virus. He told me that this is the general diagnoses when I person can only remember one real, serious bout with MS. In this case, they call you benign and monophasic until you have another relapse. Then you can be given an official diagnoses.

In a way this is humorous because while I was very sick, my MRI came back with lesions and he immediately diagnosed me with MS but in the followup, he wanted to call my MS a clinically isolated episode. I then asked him, "Does this mean I don't have MS?" He then glanced at my chart where he had already rendered his initial diagnoses and said, "No, I already diagnosed you with MS. Let's call it benign and monophasic for now." He also said that since I seemed much better that I did not have to take the interferons he had suggested during my first visit. I was relieved because I had already planned to tell him "thanks but no thanks" anyway.

I realize that even if my diagnoses changes again (my medical records just say MS), that I am lucky to feel as decent as I do. Was he right to offer the benign diagnoses? Time has yet to tell. After the last visit, I did remember that I had experienced two other episodes that I thought were migraines within the same year so maybe I am not monophasic after all. On the other hand, my other episodes were much shorter but they still involved intense nausea, vertigo and skull pain. I stayed in bed until my symptoms lessened but until I learned about the MS, I could not figure out why I felt so strange.

It has now been over four months since I first got really sick. It took me almost two months and a round of steroids to get over my first big exacerbation. I never felt "normal" again until about two and a half months after the relapse. Now I feel close to my baseline most of the time but there are subtle changes.

I always got tired before, but not like this. Now I am tired all the time. Even when I sleep twelve hours I am fatigued. It seems for every hour of rigorous excercise, I need to sleep three hours. I still often experience vertigo and nausea at some point during the night and early morning but the world is generally even when I stand. My vision has never gone completely back to normal and I still have blind spots and double vision at times. My balance is almost perfect again but when I am fatigued, I still stumble and wobble. Overall, I have good body control. Cognitively, I feel good but there are days when I can't remember things, get lost while driving and feel like a total moron. There are also times when I get numb spots or nerve pain but fortunately, these are few and far between.

A little over a week ago, I got nervous that I was going to have a relapse. I got the super MS fatigue, blind spots, some skull pain and some nausea. I felt like I didn't want to get up because my whole body ached. I got very concerned about whether I would be able to go back to work but when the first day rolled around, I felt better. I didn't want to write about my symptoms and jinx myself so I only told my mom. I am glad I didn't panic because now I feel ok again although of course, the fatigue never really goes away.

I have found that I feel the closest to how I felt before my illness when I am well-rested and I eat healthy. My worst times are after work, when I go to bed and when I first get up. After work I am just really sore and tired. At night, I still get muscle aches, nausea and vertigo regularly but they usually fade if I practice deep breathing. When I awake, I see very poorly but after about fifteen minutes, my vision usually clears. This is always a bit unnerving because if I can't see, I have to find a ride to work or call in. So far so good.

Despite these minor inconveniences, I am constantly reminded by reading other blogs about how lucky I am. I work full time,I don't have infusions or injections and I can do yoga. No matter what my next MRI shows, what the future holds for me with this disease or what symptoms come my way, I am blessed. When I was really sick I wondered if I would ever feel normal again. Now, I almost do.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Adjusting to Change

When you live in the real world, interact with other people and go to a "job" it is hard to retain a state of bliss. I have been cultivating a sea of calm and indifference to the universe outside me for several months. I have done few things I did not want to do. Hours have been spent on yogic asana and meditation, nurturing the peace and acceptance I have grown in my mind, body and spirit but now I have returned to work.

A giant torpedo of responsibilty is threatening my calm. I find myself suddenly with hard choices. Do I put my needs first or do I take care of business? I don't want it to be an either or, rather I wish to strike a balance between multiple loyalties. This is proving very hard for me because I see ESL kids in need and I want to help them all. Kids come to me wanting and needing schedule changes to meet their needs and I am constantly torn between saving my time for myself or taking care of these needs. There is a person being paid to do this work but they are often unavailable, don't know the kids or just don't know where to start. Although I groan at times, these are my kids and it is hard to tell myself that they will be ok without my interventions.

I remember now what may have made me sick in the first place. I always feel so much personal responsibility when it comes to my job and my students. It is really hard to remember all the resolves I have made about drawing boundaries when it comes to the needs of kids. I am also still driven to try to do the job better. I feel guilty about getting to work on time and leaving on time when I know there is more I could be doing. While I resist the idea of working nights and weekends, I feel guilty skipping it when I know how much needs to be done. Even if I tell myself that I need not go above and beyond, there is something inside me that insists that I do need to continue to improve the way I do things.

So how well have I done with addressing my own needs? I think I have done pretty well. Yesterday a naughty kid told me to "Calm down" when I was on their case but instead of letting this rile me, I calmly told him, "I'm calm, I think you need to calm down." He did not even respond but he did quietly go back to his seat, being deprived of the reaction he expected. It seems my inner stillness in the classroom has improved. I know I have improved my diet and caffeine intake and I have also been taking breaks during the day. This does not free me from the compulsion to improve but at least I am not working myself into a state of stress.

Even with my personal improvements I am finding that going back to work is hard. At night I am sore and exhausted. I sink into the couch and I can barely seem to get up. I feel apathetic and even here on a Saturday, the prospect of going out anywhere except to dinner seems like too much.

I think I'm a tad depressed. I am saddened by the prospect of giving so much time to my job. I am more saddened by coming home early and finding my creativity and energy sapped. On Monday I made it to yoga but after that I didn't go again until today. I also haven't refashioned anything in a week and I have not really worked on the memoir for a while either. Last night I could have done both but I found that I couldn't even motivate myself. Once I'm home, I just enter a vegitative state and do very little. It's kind of pathetic but I'm hoping it will pass. I do already realize that many of the things I spent time on during the summer may need to take a rest for a while. Now, if I could just get a little motivated...

Friday, August 22, 2008

Portuguese speaking blog fans?

So I got this crazy email today. It was titled "I like you." Here's what it said, "Helo baby,good by!!!!my gril,I love you,I need you love baby,ok!I no have friends,brothters,theaters,grils,father,mother,and also love.I need you love me my gril.
Novos endere├žos, o Yahoo! que voc├¬ conhece. Crie um email novo com a sua cara ou"

Anyone know Portuguese?

Here's the other thing... A woman named Rosa from Capri keeps posting loving comments on my Refashionista page as well. The latest is similar to the one in my email. Do I have international fashion fans? I wish I knew what they were saying because I can't decide if they think they know me, if they like my fashions or if they just think I'm really cute. I guess in this instance, the language barrier plays in my favor because I imagine they must be saying something like, "Your work is brilliant. We want to buy your designs. Not only are you a marvelous designer, you are witty and gorgeous too."

It is also fun to imagine that they are sophisticated and beautiful. They have recognized my artistic genius and want to bring my fashions to their country etc...

I have always enjoyed making up stories about people in my head but I thought I had outgrown it until now. I could go on and on spinning out the stories of Jefferson and Rosa. A case of mistaken identity? I may never know.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

MS Fatigue vs. Ordinary Fatigue

Today I was reading the latest post on Braincheese and it reminded me of something I have been thinking about a bit lately. I have noticed that there is tired and MS tired. Unfortuantely they seem to be different.

When I am just tired I feel sleepy but otherwise ok. There is no urgency to sleep and when I do get to it I rest well but not like I am tumbling off a cliff.

MS fatigue is a whole different ball game. For me, it takes two forms. The first is less troublesome than the second. I often find that when I have completed rigorous excercise that I get very sleepy shortly thereafter. If I try not to sleep I will feel like falling asleep wherever I am. If I do sleep, I fall asleep for like 3 hours in the middle of the day. It's crazy... One hour of rigorous excercise often requires 3 hours of sleep on the flip side.

The second kind of MS fatigue is much more frightening. Sleep becomes a need like food and water and it doesn't want to wait. I sometimes make driving mistakes or feel like I will sleep at the wheel in this state. More distrubingly, I sometimes get so tired it makes me headachy or nauseated and the only cure seems to be sleep. When I do sleep at these times it is like falling. I feel as though I am tumbling through the bed. I often get vertigo as I drift off. I sleep deeply but I am plagued by evil dreams. These dreams often awaken me and I can't sleep again. When I do awake from one of these sleeps, I am often still exhausted. I usually have some vertigo, skull pain and a tongue cemented to the roof of my mouth. This sleep is scary. Even scarier is the prospect of doing without the sleep when I am overtaken by this kind of fatigue.

I want to tell myself that I felt the MS kind of tired before my diagnoses but the only times I can remember now involved MS symptoms that I did not know were MS. Lately I have been exhausted but since I have started work, it seems just like tiredness and not the scary MS fatigue so I am keeping my fingers crossed, eating right and taking it slow.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Same old, same old

Time for a brief rant. I am starting my 5th year of teaching and I am noticing the same old problems in public education. Where to start...

I have no idea about my budget. I don't know what I can spend so I can't buy anything.

Then there are my student rosters. I am waiting for the year when they are actually finished on the first day of school. Right now the ESL 9th graders have yet to all be scheduled into my classes and tomorrow is already their second day of school. This is only a minor inconvenience for me but for them, this is terrible. Some of them may not know a word of English and they are out there lost. That must be so hard for them. It seems I have a new ESL coach who can help with this but it also seems that her time is divided between two schools. Apparently she won't be in until at least Friday and in the meantime there is nothing I can do to help the kids.

My greatest frustration has revolved around getting the stuff/supplies I need to kick off the year. While I was sick the computer projector I was borrowing went back to another teacher. She was gracious enough to give it to me again on temporary loan but now I must take most of my budget (if I have one) and spend it on a computer projector. I wanted to buy an overhead too but found the cost appalling. Both these obstacles seem surmountable but my last issue is causing great concern. My yoga mats are missing! I just sent an email to the old teacher in China in hopes that she can shed light on this calamity (lol).

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Crappy mood, cute pictures

Well, I'm in a funk (long story) but I thought I would post a few pics until I'm either ready to explain my mood or to move on. They are dog, cat and Matt.

Monday, August 18, 2008

It's under control now

I had a couple of days of minor illness before today. Mostly I was achy and super-fatigued. I did have a little vertigo and skull pain too but I wanted to wait and see before I pressed the panic button. I'm glad I did because today I feel like myself again. Maybe it was just pre-work jitters although I felt very calm and under control but who knows?

I officially came to work today and now I'm actually taking a lunch for myself. This is a big moment because last year I always worked through lunch. Today I put on the breaks and stopped working so I could eat a leisurely lunch and catch up on the blog. This is a huge step for me and it feels great.

Everything in my classroom seems in order to. I have everything set up for the arrival of the kids. My handouts are made and duplicated, I am preparing the board and all my paperwork and electronic files are organized. The day is not even over and I'm just about ready to rock. I won't see kids until Wednesday but I feel prepared for their arrival.

Overall, so far so good and I feel better physically too!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

I can see clearly now

Yesterday was my first "official" day back to work. In the morning I went to my school district's welcome back rally. In the afternoon we had a staff lunch but I played hookey and went to sub for a vinyasa yoga class instead. I had to leave the rally a little early but right before I left, a speaker had just started to talk. She asked how many "year four teachers" were in the room and had them raise their hands. I am year five so I kept my hand down but then she asked about the significance of year four. The audience noticed it is the year that one becomes a "permanent" teacher in a district. I am actually going into my fourth year for this district so I too am now a permanent teacher. This could not have come at a better time.

The speaker mentioned that the year she became a permanent teacher that the song "I can see clearly now" came out. She said it really resonated for her at the time. At that point I had to leave the rally but I noticed that as I stepped out into the drizzle outside that I was singing that song.
"I can see clearly now the rain is gone.
I can see all the obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me down
It's gonna be a bright, bright, bright sunshiney day."

Even in the rain, I suddenly believed it. In the last two weeks I have overcome old, destructive habits twice. First, I drew my boundaries and resigned from my school's instructional leadership team. I did this to protect my health and sanity. I barely even thought twice about giving up this position of relative prestige in favor of afternoon naps and yoga classes. This was an enormous step for me. I am not even worried about explaining myself to colleagues.

Taking yesterday off to teach yoga was also a huge step. I tried to call in for the afternoon so that I did it by the book but the phone system wouldn't let me so I decided to work the time a day early. I worked the hours Thursday afternoon instead and then without guilt, I took Friday afternoon to teach yoga and relax. It felt awesome to put my needs over a phantom obligation with little meaning. For those who know me best, these were huge steps toward doing the things that were best for me.

I got some amazingly thoughtful comments on my last post. When I wrote it, this new clarity was emerging. Yesterday Blindbeard was writing about what she would do without fear and I found myself goading her on to just do as she wished. I think I am moving in that direction myself. I find that I am beginning to accept my disease and as I do so, I find that I am also accepting myself. For months I have been beating myself up. I have kept asking what I did to cause my disease and wondering why it ever hit me. Now I am beginning to accept the cliche "It is what it is."

Off and on throughout the summer I have been reading "Anatomy of the Spirit" by Carolyn Myss. At times she does make it sound like we cause our disease but at others she is far more pragmatic. She notes, "People rarely choose consciously to create an illness. Rather, illnesses develop as a consequence of behavioral patterns that we do not realize are biologically toxic until they have become so." She also states, "It sometimes takes a concentrated effort to shift your mind to allow yourself to heal." I can accept both of these claims.

I already know what behavior patterns contribute to my illness the most without being told by someone else. It is my type A behavior that gets me in trouble. It is taking on too much and never saying "no." It is also not taking time out for the things I enjoy or the relaxation that I need. I believe that it does take a "concentrated effort to shift the mind" but in this respect I was lucky to get diagnosed with MS quickly. Once I knew I had the disease, I was truly motivated to make the necessary lifestyle changes to keep my health and sanity. I feel that I am entering a time of greater balance than I have ever previously know. Only time will tell if I can maintain this course but at the moment, "I can see all the obstacles in my way" and I am ready to confront them.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Searching for Atman

I moved through the forest greenery like a fish through water. The trees parted before me in a fragrant canopy. The ground beneath my shoes squished softly under each step. The quiet stillness was only interrupted by the sound of wood animals. I could hear the creek flowing beside the path where I walked, a quiet whisper along the valley floor. Although I walked, I found myself entering a state of relaxation and meditation. In my mind, I again heard the seductive whisper of these words: "Everything you need for a beautiful life is already inside of you."

This phrase has become almost an obsession for me. When my life becomes chaotic or stressful I repeat it to myself. At challenging times, I question why I should ever suffer since I know these words to be true. Knowing this truth and living it can be two seperate things entirely.

I had the chance to get out of town for a few days and I found myself in the beautiful place I described in the first paragraph. The longer I was there, the more stillness and clarity I cultivated until the future became a pure and shining thing, altered only by my own mind. The path I tread in the forest was akin to the one I seek to tread in my life. While I walked I was free, pure and perfect. I knew who I was. I knew what mattered most.

When I first found out that I had MS my father (a holistic healer) came to visit me. He promised to "run some tests" to see how he could help me. Over time he has sent me questions and feedback regarding the testing and I have written back faithfully until the last set of questions came in. At that point, I found myself overwhelmed and irritated by the questions so I have taken my time responding. I could not understand why he asked what he asked so I spoke to my mother about it. She explained that according to his belief system, we are usually born into our true nature but that the things that come to pass in our lives often lead to "a blowout" or a seperation from our "true nature." At that point, we may fall pray to emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual illnesses. She explained that my father's questions were probably an attempt to pinpoint when, where and why I moved away from my true nature. I realized at that point it would be difficult for me to satisfactorily answer my father's questions because I was uncertain about what my "true nature" really was.

The yogic philosophers also write about a true self. They call this self "Atman." According to Darren Main (2007, Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic), Atman means, "spark of the divine. Atman is the nature and substance of who we are. Buried beneath baggage from our past and fears about our future is Atman." He goes on to explain, "It is our true self." Main claims that the path to Samadhi (bliss) is through union with this true self. Other modern mystics and yogis concur with this belief. Most of the pain and suffering we experience is because of a disconnect with who we fundamentally are.

I believe this is also true. I find my greatest peace and happiness when I feel good about myself. I feel best about myself when I am doing the things I love the most. When others gain enjoyment with me, I am even more content. I realize I do not need the approval or enjoyment of others to find this joy but I also find that my happiness is most sullied by times when I feel good about something I am doing and someone else belittles my activities or considers them unworthy. It is this discontent that I am trying to get away from in my search for Atman.

I lose my lovely green path in a mind-maze of my own making. I do things then regret them and find myself lost in a labryinth of self-scrutiny and self-doubt. The problem is, I am always looking at myself from the perspective of an outside observer rather than through the eyes of Atman. There is this still, untouched, place inside of me where I have a deep certainty about what makes me happy and what I most desire from life but I am constantly distracted by the noise of the world outside me. When I find a few moments to focus on my own silent search, I grow quiet inside and the world is right.

I dream in vivid color and sensory sensation of places where I am Atman. My childhood paradise is a real place but it also lives within me. In my dreams I often find myself in this place again. It is a place much like the one I visited during my walk through the forest. I call this place "The Magic Land." The magic land is breathtakingly beautiful. I never want to leave there. I am content to remain outdoors in all seasons. Everything is twinged with a hint of the mystical. I expect that a fairy might pop out from a flower or from behind a tree there. I never understood until now why I always dream of this land but now it is clear. When I lived there, I was Atman. I never doubted myself or my actions. I was not trapped in the darkness of my own mind. I did not judge or beat myself up. I was free, innocent and without fear or worry. It was only time and experience that tainted me.

I want so badly to remember the woodland path where everything is clear and right. In trying times, I want to skip happily through the magic land of my dreams without a care. When the demons in my own mind threaten to obliterate me, I want to remember what it felt like to be a child, always dancing.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Gone Camping

Bye blogger buddies. I'm going camping with my hubby and the dog before I have to return to work on Thursday. While I'm gone I'll try to think of a witty or entertaining post for my return.

BTW, I just taught my first yoga class for adults today and it was a smash. Perhaps I'll post the play-by-play upon my return.
Refashionista signing off for now--

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Award Acceptance Speech

Today I am proud to accept the "Strong at the Broken Places" blogger award.
I would like to take a moment to thank the academy, my friends, family and Diane J Stafford for this special award (sob, sob, wave). I could not have done it without all your kind support, blog visits and comments during the trying times. I would also like to thank my fans, my agent, my cat Apollo and my dog Pierce. Matt, you are my love and inspiration, I couldn't have done this alone.

Saturday, August 9, 2008


I do not remember a doctor’s caution along with my steroids. I do not remember any mention that 500 mg of Prednisone a day is a horse-size dose. There was nothing about a taper. I got a call at 2:00pm from my doctor to announce that I had MS, “So sorry about that” and then I was told to come in immediately for some lab work and to pick up my steroids. I didn’t even meet with a doctor that day.
I took the four days worth of Prednisone and noticed that my balance improved and my muscles were less heavy. I could walk a little again too. Then I finished the dose but I still had some vertigo and felt like less than myself. My husband was concerned so he called the doctor to see if I could get another prescription since this seemed to be helping. It was not long before we got more Prednisone. Unfortunately my memory of the details is quite hazy since I was still very ill at the time.
I remember that we got a “tapered” dose of the steroids and that over the course of several weeks I worked my way down from 500 mg to 5 mg. I also remember some of my “symptoms” at the time.
I could not seem to get control over my bladder and bowel functions. Everything seemed to take forever to pass. I sat in the bathroom for hours, rubbing my feet and legs and waiting for something to happen. I noticed that my body began to exfoliate. One afternoon I dreamed I had leprosy and that I rubbed my nose off. It is amazing that I slept at all. Sleep became a very frightening thing. After a few days I caved and asked for sleeping pills. They did not help. Instead, I had a massive anxiety attack, heightened by vertigo. Every time I closed my eyes it was for another journey down the rabbit hole. I would notice that I could not swallow and terror would bring me awake the moment I began to drift off. I became an insomniac, haunting the 2 and 4am music countdowns on VH1 while I wrote or researched my disease.
Days were a bit brighter. As I grew better, my body cleansed itself. I munched raw food constantly and finally took laxatives to alleviate my bathroom issues. I felt like I was going through withdrawal (or how I imagine withdrawal must feel) but I embraced it, believing that with this strange cleansing I was moving toward wellness.
As my balance returned, so did my confidence. In the middle of one of my insomniac evenings in the bathroom I stood on my head. A few days later I awoke at 2am to find I could now speak Spanish. By morning my brain felt as though it had reshuffled itself. I found my mind suddenly orderly, like a giant computer. I remembered everything I had ever learned. I felt powerful. I was ready to attempt acrobatic feats. I felt I had become a mutant, capable of achieving any heights to which I aspired. I was actualized. I could multi-task. All worries for the future slipped away. I was suddenly certain that I could make my dreams and the dreams of those I loved come true. I was invincible!
There were strange times too. The insomnia took me on more than one mystical journey. I even had an out of body experience at one point. There were highs of great bliss and lows of hysterical tears cried for hours when no one could see. I knew that the steroids were responsible for my insomnia but I assumed that the rest of my physical and emotional symptoms were coming from my newly diagnosed status.
It has been three months since then. I live in a more regularized state now. The emotional roller coaster is gone but now I often just feel dull. I keep reminding myself how far I have come. I tell myself that I must not regret the actions I make and not beat myself up over mistakes but there is a hollowness I cannot ignore at times. This piece is a cathartic attempt to put all this to rest.
Many people may say “I told you so.” When I was on the steroids I never doubted myself. I was told I acted aggressive and crazy but to me it seemed I was the sanest I had ever been. So I guess this is one of those moments where I say that my critics were right (I hope you get a warm sunshiney feeling from this). Ok, so I’m a bit of a bitch but I am super-annoyed as I write this. Why didn’t the doctors warn me? Why did I get so little explanation about how the steroids would affect me in the moment and in the long term? It is no wonder I had to taper the steroids. Even now I feel at times that I am slipping into darkness. I thought I had made all kinds of personal and spiritual growth during my illness but now it seems that in many ways I am back where I started. Sometimes I question my very need to change. Why do I find the person that I am so unsatisfactory in the first place? Why did it take steroids to make me believe in myself? I felt complete confidence in myself, my decisions and my chosen path when I was healing but now that I feel better, I seem to have lost the strength of my convictions. Every time I awaken there is something troubling me at the back of my mind. At first I labeled it stress and worry but now I see it for the spectre it is. My self-doubt has returned. I don’t feel good about myself or my choices the way I did. For a moment I really believed that I was indeed, “my own best teacher,” but now I again feel that I know almost nothing and I find myself seeking guidance and advice again. Perhaps its a good thing...

Friday, August 8, 2008

Where the Sun Becomes the Moon

Took you under my wing,
Tiny thing.
Locked within my heart and mind,
I never pined.
With you tucked amongst my feathers,
we both rose,
Seldom froze--

Amongst the soft, gray, clouds,
All around
Steeped in the semi-darkness of blue surreal,
where the sun becomes the moon,
In unreal,

I shielded you deep,
Felt you sleep--
Nestled gently in the down of my wings.
Slumbering there,
Without a care,
For the danger we were in.

I swooped through the sky,
Rapid fly,
Of a miniature bird of prey.
Holding you close,
As we flew through the murky sky,
Once again the sun-moon,
Caught my eye--
And I watched it glisten on my feathers,
glowing jewels of perfect light,
I could not fight--
The excitement,
beating through my veins.

Watched the water slithering,
Out across my wings,
Resembling things,
Like tiny tadpoles,
headed out for their first wriggle,
Cross the sand.

Cross the sand,
In desert heat,
To the strange eclipse of pale,
luminescent sunlight,
Bathed within the clouds--
Where the sun becomes the moon,
a metaphor for us,
My love.
You the sun,
I the moon.
Beautiful you,
With golden hair,
Bronze skin,
Eternal soul of joy,
Sweet boy--
I sometimes envy your glowing outlook.
Seldom dreamer,

Everybody’s friend,
Seldom my lover,
I do not suffer--
You are direct,
Ruled by laws, absolutes and science,
As certain as the sun will rise,
Despite my cries--
Of longing,
At the cool, gray moon.
I will see her swell,
Tell me that I ought to cry,
or sigh--
Because the world is spinning,
so swiftly,
beneath my feet--

I can not capture,
All the sun the way you can.
You are the sun,
I the moon.
your eyes are open in daylight,
Mine at night--
where I hover in the world of dreams,
And it seems,
I am always trying desperately,
Not to drop you,
From the place I have you guarded,
Beside my heart,
Beneath my wings.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Pet Pictures for Brian

I was admiring Brian's dog and promised him I would post a picture of mine here. I decided to put a picture of the cat up too.
My kitty is named Apollo and he is ten years old. My puppy is named Pierce and he is around two years old. We adopted him from the dumb friends league.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Count your blessings

It was an emotionally rocky day at work for me (details to follow another time) so I thought I would take a moment to list my blessings rather than focusing on the negatives.
1) I feel healthy and alive
2) I am married to my true love! (even though he drives me crazy at times)
3) I have found my calling
4) I can stand on my feet, head, forearms and hands
5) I'm a yoga teacher now!
6) I already got a job teaching yoga at school
7) I just got called to sub for a yoga class and then got home to find I was emailed another sub job too
8) I live in comfort and luxury and I even own my home (sort of)
9) I have all the creature comforts a person could possibly need (computer, car, shelter, etc.)
10) I own my own businesses (even if they don't make money) lol
11) I have two awesome pets
12) I have an amazing family and extended family
13) I get along with my in-laws
14) I am somewhat attractive
15) I am still young (sort of)
16) I get as much as I need to eat
17) I have a lovely mind
18) I am creatively inclined
19) I can read something every day for inspiration
20) I have some great friends
21) I am strong (inside and out)
22) I have goals to keep me going
23) I spend more time feeling happy than feeling sad and/or stressed
24) I can write a mean compostion under the right circumstances
25) I live in a beautiful state and I love my city
26) Work is passable
27) I have health insurance
28) I have a medical savings plan now
29) I have a swamp cooler and AC
30) The heat is not a big issue for me
31) I can write when I need to work things out
32) I have a good support system
33) I "know" myself
34) I have felt pure bliss
35) I am fine just the way I am
* I could keep going here I am sure but now I feel better so maybe if any of you are down you can leave me your list here and you will feel better too :)

Sunday, August 3, 2008

A big day for the refashionista

I finished yoga teacher training today and I also posted my first dress refashion at
I made the dress and the purse in this picture. I know I have a lot to learn about being a yoga teacher and a refashionista but this is still a proud day for me.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Fishing for Phantom Stressors

I woke up feeling dazed. It was not a good night. Things are beginning to trouble me. I feel anxious about going back to work. Can I handle teaching five classes? Will it be possible to finish everything I need to do in the contract day so I can come home and rest? Can I still be respected even if I cut way back on my involvements and activities? When will the next relapse come? Will it come at all? Are we prepared for a future where I can’t work or perhaps even walk?

I wrote yesterday about how the combination of MS and my training to be a yoga teacher have really helped me with staying present. These have been an absolute blessing that have allowed me to enjoy my summer without fear for the future. The last several months have been the most worry-free of my adult life but as Monday approaches the panic is setting in.

I don’t officially start work for a few weeks but Monday I have a meeting for my school’s instructional leadership team. Here is the problem: I was part of a team that was instructed to create three brochures for our school’s new arts academy but I have done very little. I had a group leader who seemed to be on top of getting the work done. She sent me a draft to edit and I did so but now she seems to have disappeared and I don’t know if the work is complete. Now I have a long weekend in front of me with multiple obligations and I am wondering if I am going to have to do the work on Sunday night. This has literally never happened to me before. Ordinarily I would have finished the work a month ago but this time I just procrastinated and counted on my group leader. Now I am a bit concerned that I will be humiliated in front of my team because our work is not done. I am really not sure what to do.

I am trying to give up my type A lifestyle but lately I have read so many stories about MSers who got fired that I am a little concerned that someone will decide I can’t do my job. I know I will not be fired but I am concerned that I will lose the respect I worked so hard to earn.

I am also beginning to worry about the school year. I usually would have spent hours at work over the summer preparing for the upcoming year. I did not go to my classroom even once this summer and now I am questioning my preparation. I have not updated a single handout from last year and I went ahead and posted all the old ones on my web page without even looking them over. It’s all the little details that make me fear that I will have to forget my resolve to draw boundaries at work.

The idea of working like I used to scares me. There is a relapse behind every bush. Today I feel pretty awful physically. I imagine that three straight weeks of yoga is catching up with me but I still have one final class to attend (Ugh). I gave in and took some ibuprofen but my acupuncturist says this is bad for my over-worked liver. I am telling myself that this is a one-time deal to get to yoga today but I am afraid that when I start working, I will have to make many such bargains with myself.

Despite this parade of worries, I am trying to refocus myself in the present. Last night I did so with breath and I was able to go back to sleep. Now I am trying to trust that I will still find a way to do the things I did before without compromising my peace and sanity. I think the reason I got so sick in the first place is because I never drew any boundaries. Now I am trying to just meet my obligations. I do not want to slide back into my old lifestyle. I want to keep my caffeine intake down. I want to eat a little breakfast every day. I want a lunch hour (really 25 minutes) that is sacred and uninterrupted by work or by students in my room. I want to take those 25 minutes and relax every single day. It sounds simple enough…

In yoga we call final svasana one of the hardest poses. This may seem strange since it is usually three to five minutes of silent meditation lying on our backs with palms up but this is hard. Our heart is exposed, the room is free of voices and we are left with our own head. We are not supposed to fidget or think about our grocery lists. We are to remain completely present. That is the kind of lunch I want to have during the year to help me rejuvenate and keep my inner calm. I know myself. This will be very hard. I will think about work that is undone, papers to grade, the upcoming freshman class etc. I suspect that I may find it harder than svasana but I dare not skip this sacred lunch. In my gut I feel that it will be the key to staying relapse free during the year. I hope that the lessons of this summer stay with me as I jump back into the rushing stream where most people live. May I be the silent pond in the midst of the torrent.