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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Lunchtime update

Well, I barely made it to blogland this weekend despite best intentions. This is really turning out to be a one day at a time thing. Sometimes I have an emotional breakthrough and for a short while I can really, literally breath with my whole lungs and the world seems right and beautiful again.

I find it hard to maintain this state. My physical health seems to be affecting my mental and vice versa so I'm really trying to focus on improving my mental state for myself and those around me. I think that every time my brain peeks out from behind its cloud for a little I feel better. Conversely, the minute I feel ill it is harder to keep my thinking positive. I am trying not to stress about work but sometimes I get really overwhelmed and/or disappointed by how the year is playing out. I am working hard now to find balance and to not get ahead of myself.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A long road

I was hoping to post something uplifting, inspiring and insightful... Alas, it's just not there. It takes a while for depression to lift. I am told the meds themselves take about 6 weeks to kick in so I have about 5 to go. Right now I just have to try to live one day at a time and not let myself sink into the shadows.

Little things seem to help some. Breathing is still very important. Yoga also seems to help whether I am teaching or doing. It is also helpful to keep a little busy. I want to sleep and forget but that is not the only way.

I like my new therapist. She's seems goal/solution oriented and I think she will help me find tools to manage my life better so that it feels less anxious and out of control.

Friends and family help too, as does blogging. Last night I chatted with Joan from "A Short in the Cord" and some other awesome ladies in the Delaware chat room. That was helpful. It gave me a sense of community and it made me realize that even when work is hard, it can be a positive place to filter my energy. I was reminded that I am lucky to have the capacity to still work full time and to contribute to my home and family.

Beyond these things, I find that I have little to say. My brother and sister both reminded me that this period of hardship shall pass. My sister also said that when you're not depressed, you don't have to think of or remember a reason to keep living life. I think she's right. Before I felt so anxious and sad there were many things that gave me pleasure. Getting going every day was not such a trial, it just sort of happened without much thought or mental anguish. I looked forward to things and enjoyed many things as well. I think I can get back there, it's just not going to happen quickly. In the short term, I am trying to find ways not to wallow and ways to be less hard on myself.

Friday, September 26, 2008

30 second update

I'm on lunch right now for five minutes. I am recovering from my relapse slowly but surely and working toward mental health. I meet with my new therapist for the first time today. I shoule be alive and well in blogland this weekend. I am almost there! Thanks for all your continued support.
Nadja :)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Fog lifting?

I think the fog that has been pulling me down is beginning to lift a little. I don't feel quite so overwhelmed anymore. Maybe this is just Klonopin-speak but I don't feel so undone. I have suspected that perhaps I was having a relapse due to the physical discomfort and uncharacteristic angst but I just wasn't sure because it has been different than last time.

Last time I was violently ill and the world was crooked. I saw double and my balance was shakey. This time around I have had motion sickness, strange nerve pulses on my skull, neck and arms and this terrible sense that I am too weak to handle that which lies before me.

I slept well last night with the help of a little Klonopin. I awoke feeling less anxious than I have in a while. I took my anti-depressant and only a quarter of my Klonopin and went to work. I felt only slightly panicked instead of the full-fledged anxiety of late. It was hard but I got going after a bit. I had a short scare in my yoga class when a student threw out her knee but I did not freak out. In the end it was ok.

When I returned from teaching yoga I had two urgent messages from my doctor. He had spoken to the neurologist and they had agreed that a round of steroids were in order again. This time I only need to take them for a week and I only have to start with 60 mg. of prednisone instead of 500. I am rather relieved to learn that I am not going nuts and I am optomistic about feeling like myself again soon. I do not know what this means for my long-term treatment or prognosis but I guess my MS is not benign after all. Surprisingly this comes as a relief. Now I don't have to wonder if the other shoe will ever drop. I guess it will sometimes and I cannot control it so I just need to make the best of today.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Where I seem to be living

I find myself swallowed into the deepest, darkest cavern that I have ever known and I cannot seem to find a light.
I crawl on bare knees, constantly seeking smoother ground.
I call out into the depths but there is no answer.
I find myself alone here, girded for battle yet terrified.

I feel dull about the edges.
A cold numb, paws at my insides but flames seem to dance along my skull.
The flames lick about on my neck and down my arms and I howl into the abyss seeking relief.

I let my tears rain for days
But there is no relief.
Now I am spent but hollow.
I seek a reason to put one foot before the other.
I seek a reason to get up every day and try again.

The world has lost is flavor.
Everything seems dulled now.
Music barely stirs me
Food is losing its taste
Sleep is marred by demons
Or worse,
By waking to find that nothing has changed.

This is not what I want
This is not the self I recognize
I am not the me I want to be
I don't know what the hell I want--

Friday, September 19, 2008

Quick Update 9/19/08

The day dawned rocky. I could not get a grip on my anxiety so I just kept trying to go back to sleep. It didn't help but finally my doctor called and I told him about all the physical discomfort, depression and anxiety I have been feeling. He prescribed two medications for me to try. I got Clonazepam (Klonopin) for my panic attacks and anxiety and Citalophram (Celexa) for depression and anxiety. The Klonopin is suppossed to provide quick relief and is for temporary use and the Celexa will take a while to kick in but will treat my depression and anxiety. In the past I never would have even considered these meds but now I think that the lesions on my brain may be affecting my emotional balance and so I'm going to give these meds a try. The doctor also told me that the Klonopin may help reduce some of the MS related symptoms I have been having like nerve tingles, nausea and dizziness. He said I have to believe this will work for me in order to experience the full benefits. I will certainly pay attention in the next few weeks to see if this stuff helps. My doctor is also going to talk to my neurologist.

Once I dealt with the doctor I spoke to a representative at the National MS Society to see about counseling. They do not offer any free counseling in my area but they are going to refer me to a case manager.

I also spoke to the Mental Health Department at Kaiser and the lady was really helpful. She is pretty certain she can refer me out to a female therapist in my area early next week. I also learned that my co-pay is only $20.00 for each visit and I can have up to 20 a year. Taking charge of my situation is helping.

I called in to work today so I could relax but at first the day was almost unbearable. It took a ton of effort to make it out the door and to the pharmacy. I was having a panic attack even in the pharmacy and I kept thinking I might puke. Fortunately, I have yoga. I taught a noon yoga class to adults and by the time I was done practicing and breathing with them my anxiety had passed. Now I am feeling quite a bit better. I took my new meds just now so I'll see how they treat me. I figure that even if they are not the ticket, I managed to get out of the house, take care of finding support and taught a yoga class so I am taking positive steps toward managing my life and my disease. Sometimes I feel like giving up but instead I am forcing myself to fight on.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Head above water but just barely

I'll keep this very brief. Thanks to everyone who took the time to comment on my last post. Here's a quick update.

1) I contacted the MS society about counseling and they emailed me back and it sounds like they can help get me started.
2) I emailed my general doctor about my symptoms and asked a) about medication and b) about if I should make an appointment
3) I talked to my husband about all my anxieties and I realize that I am not alone in this.

I am taking Friday off to relax, teach some yoga, maybe go to the doctor and to find a counselor. I am trying to live in the moment. I have made it to work for two days already and now I just have to try to hang on for two more.

I am less angry and depressed but I am having regular anxiety attacks that are manifesting physically so that sucks. My other physical symptoms go in and out. Sometimes I feel ok and other times I feel very nauseated and dizzy. I let my doctor know so we'll see what he says. If my presence on the blogosphere is sparse for a few, know that I'll be around whenever I can.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

No use pretending, I need some help

On Wednesday I put up a horrifyingly honest post that found tons of support but I myself could hardly hack its pathetic tone so on Thursday, I took my own advice and bucked up for a few.

On Friday I read Blindbeard's post partially in response to my own and some things started to become clear to me. In regards to having MS she commented, "I will never act like it is better than it is, and I WILL say what I think about it all, whether they want to hear it or not." Up to this point, such an attitude has not been in my nature. True, I goaded the same Blindbeard on to do as she pleased whenever she pleased. I also noted that I am my own best teacher. I noted that at first this illness almost killed me, but still I have never stopped being a poster child for hope. While it still horrifies me, I am going to admit it... I am not coping well these days.

Many of my fellow MSers encouraged me towards considering anti-depressants. I thought to myself, "Wednesday's post must have sounded really depressed for people to think this. I'm just having menstrual symptoms and an existential crisis." I am now forcing myself to admit that I am not coping well at all and this may be more than an existential crisis. I have been depressed many times before but never like this. Now I don't just feel sad, I feel destructive and angry. Actually, I feel like I cannot even uphold the veneer that everything is alright. My ability to control my emotions is wearing thin to the point I even yelled at my mom on the phone this morning for no reason and then proceeded to throw the phone at the wall while screaming "F-----!" loud enough to leave my dog shaking.

I think Blindbeard is right: there is no sense in pretending that living with MS is just fine. At times it is and at other times, it really is not. I also believe my fellow MSers who say the first few years are the hardest. My mom, who of course forgave and understood my outburst said, "You're grieving." She's right. I am grieving. I am grieving the loss of the woman I was. That woman was actually quite imperfect but she put on a really great show. She could do whatever task was laid out for her with seeming ease. She did not make bad social slip ups like I did today and she did a very good job of acting like everything was ok even when it was not. Now the worse I feel physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, the harder it becomes to put a good face on things. I really hate to be vulnerable. I don't even like to be touched for the most part and now I find that the shell I have protected myself with for so long has worn very thin in places and even when I want to pretend, I just can't. Sometimes my husband looks at me and asks, "Are you sure you're ok?" Just the question tells me that I'm not hiding my feelings very well anymore. Yesterday a woman I didn't even know said to me, "You look tired." Yeah, I feel that way too.

My mental state is not being helped by my physical one at all. I just plain don't feel good. Every day it's something. I vacilate between a variety of invisible symptoms. I have back and neck aches, skull pain, dizziness, vision difficulties at times and some vertigo. I suspect all the symptoms are vertigo related so that's where my plea for help comes in. Can some other MSers please sound off here on a few questions I have?
1) What antidepressants do you suggest?
2) Is it just part of MS to feel a little ill all the time or is there something I can do?
3) What do you take for skull pain, headaches, dizziness and vertigo? For instance: is there a medication for vertigo that I could ask my doctor about or do I just learn to live with this?
4) Do I consult my neurologist or my general doctor about the physical symptoms?
5) What free mental health services can I get from my local MS Society Chapter?

Thanks in advance for your help and support. The "together" me wants to apologize for all my depressed posts of late but the advice I keep getting is "don't be so hard on yourself, quit apologizing, this is normal" so I'll just be honest, I need some help now.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

It's times like these

I have been deeply touched by all the kind and loving words left on my blog over the last few days. The cloud is beginning to lift a little. I slept through the night and found no fear. When I was at my sickest in April, I used the prayers and love of people I both knew and barely knew to draw me back toward health and light. Now I find myself doing so again.

Yesterday and today I talked to a friend at work who told me she too was in dark times. She said she was crying too, for many of same reasons I am. She may not have MS, but she understood my pain and confusion.

I talked to the school couselors and they told me that many people at work are confronting similar challenges. One of them told me, "You are one of the best teachers in this building, don't be so hard on yourself." That really lit a fire under me and I had a great day yesterday nurturing the kids. I thought to myself, "I didn't get a 'strong at the broken places award' just to wallow."

I buoyed myself with all your supports. I wrapped myself in my best friend's virtual hug and I found some strength again.

Yesterday on One Life the author noted that part of meditating and mindfulness is allowing ourselves to feel what we feel and not trying to terminate it. He commented that in depression there can be a well of creativity. What a wise man. My sadness is inspiring me to dig deeper inside myself to find answers to life's challenges. He inspired me to embrace my feelings rather than feel guilt about them. In fact, many of you have inspired me to do this.

Today is a day to look beyond ourselves and remember. I was listening to the radio at 6:45 am when they commemorated the time the first plane hit the world Trade Center on 9/11. The dj played a song in honor of the vicitims and their families. The song he played was "It's times like these" by the Foo Fighters. He said the song represented for him healing and climbing from the ashes. Today it spoke to me. The chorus said,
"It's times like these you learn to live again
It's times like these you give and give again
It's times like these you learn to love again
It's times like these time and time again"

In these words I found reason and inspiration that I now take with me into a day that's much bigger than me or my issues.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Buck up

I keep telling myself to buck up. I keep reminding myself that I am strong. I keep telling myself, I can do this but here I am in despair. Every day at work gets a little harder. I cry in the car both ways. I tell myself to get over it already but I just can't seem to do it.

Why do I cry? I cry because I feel inadequate as one teacher trying to climb uphill and make a difference for my kids. I cry because every morning I feel sick until almost 10 am and question whether I can make it through the day. I cry because I keep asking myself, "How am I going to get through the day? How am I going to make it through the week? How am I going to support myself and my family for the next 30 years? How can I keep doing this day in and day out when I feel so lousy and tired?"

Even my sleep is troubled now. I am afraid to turn the wrong way in bed. I am afraid one tiny dizzy spell will become full-blown vertigo. I am afraid and panicked about a lot these days.

In some ways I really miss the old me. I used to be so confident and full of energy. I felt so certain of what I wanted and so sure in my convictions. Now I think about how I need to save my sick days. I think I have trapped myself in one school with one position that I will never be able to leave because I need health insurance and I need to pay my bills. When I got sick I thought that I could really change myself and my path. I was fearless. Now I am caught in a spiral of destructive thinking where I hate myself for being so depressed and so full of uncertainty. I thought it was all a matter of changing your thinking but now I can't seem to change it. And under it all, there is deep guilt. I really want to create a good expereince for the kids. I want them to learn but I am always wishing that I had done a better job. There are so many levels in my classes and try as I might, I just cannot come up with a way to meet all those different needs every class, every day.

Does this mean that I need to make a change? Frankly, I just keep telling myself that I will push through the challenges of everyday life because I must. I also keep telling myself to pull it together. I used to do all this with such ease. I should at least be able to somehow maintain the basics of my life, meet my responsibilities and not need to rely on others to keep my life in order.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Vision Addendum

There were some things I forgot to mention in yesterday's post. One of the things I have noticed is that there are ways to widen our vision of the world. Everyone you meet has a back story and often when you learn that story you can approach that person with a new degree of openness and compassion. I think remembering this can be the hard part.

I always try to remember, everyone is a human being. By extension, human experiences and feelings are not so different across the board. It is often in our perception that seperation and isolation exist. In reality, at one time or another almost everyone has felt "that" way. Everyone has some self-doubt. Everyone has things about them they do not like and everyone has moments of weakness and insecurity. Ultimately, we will all also come to the same end. When our vision adjusts for these truths we are better equipped to face the world and to see others more clearly.

It also helps to remember that everyone has a story. Not only does everyone have a story, but as my huband says, "Almost every family has their hardships to deal with."

I remember that the other day I stopped to talk to the school soccer coach about a player who missed his homework. I commented that the student did a good job but that he played and talked way too much in class. That's when the coach took a moment to give me the kid's story. Apparently the student had just moved from Mexico to live in the U.S. with his dad and sister. The kids are living here without their mom. They get left alone late into the evening every night. The soccer coach pointed out, "At least he has not shaved his head and started wearing dickies like the other kids from his neighborhood because that's where he comes from." What he meant is that the little guy had joined a soccer team and not a gang. That of course melted my heart so I took the kid to my room to give him the make up work. Now, when I see him and his sister I just think about their life outside school and find a well of compassion for them. I really hope that they remain unspoiled by living in this situation.

I guess that we cannot form a real vision of the world without remembering the humanity in everyone.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Altered Vision

My vision has changed since MS first attacked. It has changed several times on several levels since I first got sick.

First, there was the vertigo that came with my first exacerbation. During that time, I saw the room crooked. Everything looked like it was at an angle. Over time, it got worse and before I went to the ER for the second time there was a day I could barely see at all. I also saw double of just about everything. When they went to dismiss me from the ER the seond time the doctor had two heads. I told him this and he became the first person to suggest that I might have MS.

The first time I saw the neurologist my vision was terrible. I could not see things in my periphery and everything was blurry. My eyes never stopped fluttering. Needless to say, I didn't drive for over a month when my vision was terrible.

While my external vision was at its worst, my internal vision was at its best. I had to change the view on my computer just to type and prop my head up on pillows but the writing that flowed out filled me with clarity, even while I could not clearly see the screen in front of me.

When I went back to the neurologist after taking steroids, my vision was beginning to clear but my eyes still fluttered around the periphery. I suspect that they still do.

My vision has changed many times since my diagnoses. Sometimes all I can see is what is beautiful in others. Sometimes I can see what is beautiful in me. Other times, I can only see my flaws and those apparent in those around me or in our world.

My vision of myself has certainly altered. I can even see a difference in the mirror. At times I literally cannot see the details of my face at all. At other times if I look closely I can see new details in my face. I look older around the eyes. Sometimes I look really sick and tired. It seems it takes more work for me to look good and I find myself loathe to even exert the effort to look less worn and tired.

It seems I cannot focus the way I used to both with my eyes and my attention. I tire easily. My eyes don't want to focus on anything that is not directly in front of me. I don't see things well when I first look at them. I must force myself to focus. Things in my periphery startle me. I see shadows of activity but I am uncertain what they are. When I change my direction, I must allow time for my eyes to adjust or I get dizzy and see a blur. Driving seems ok but I worry about being cut off by someone from the side who I don't see well. There are often little blind spots in my vision.

I wonder at times if I am just imagining these shifts (the external, not the internal which is very real) but they seem to be happening more frequently. It seems that working causes the need for me to shift my vision more often than vacation did. I find myself getting dizzy and headachy. My neck hurts. This weekend I found myself dizzy for nearly two days. There seems to be little cure for this except sleep. After sleeping 12 hours, my dizziness faded and yet my eyes still feel strange and exhausted. There is now an almost continual pressure behind my eyes and in my skull. While I labor with the external changes, the internal changes continue. I look in the mirror and wonder about the woman I see.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Fumbling along my quest

There were moments when I was frozen, stuck in stagnation that knew no floor or no ceiling. I am a blind soul infatuated with the idea that true content can be found. I am in fact fixated on the idea. Perhaps this is a trap, for in this notion is also the notion that I will find what I seek if I just listen closely enough to my innate intuitions.

I have spent so long being driven that now when I come up for air and find that I have somehow changed, I am without root. I find myself on this quest to find my truest self and yet the deeper I look, the more questions are raised. In many ways it was easier to be driven as though I were chased by demons because now that many of my ambitions have been set aside, I find myself asking, "What more is there?" The self I have unearthed seems dreamless. This self struggles every day to get up and do it again and wants nothing better than to get home and snuggle with my pets and my husband. This emerging self does not care for the same validation and recognition that has spurred my actions for so long.

I read the comments on my last blog and feel almost like a fraud. Yes, I am good at what I do, I care about what I do and yet every day on the way to work I have to psyche myself up. In the darkness when my alarm sounds, I want to curl up in a tiny ball, crawl under the covers and snuggle into the darkness. I get to work and during my planning period, I dream of a day where I can curl up on my yoga mat and rest, even for fifteen minutes before I see the kids. I just am not so hungry anymore. I am exhausted by the same obstacles, the same hills to battle. I am exhausted.

The exhaustion is not just in my body, it's in my mind. My ability, no my desire to solve problems is diminished. I just want to fold up my cape and be an ordinary citizen now but I am not sure how ordinary citizens live this long life. Work, eat, sleep. Work, eat, sleep... The weekend is like an oasis in the distance. Then it arrives and I am spent. I can barely remember why I wanted it so badly.

At the back of my mind is the thought, "There must be something more." I have been reading "Yoga and the Quest for the True Self" by Stephen Cope. In the part I just read he was at a meditation retreat and he found that during the practice his mind kept drifting to the furniture that he wanted to decorate his house with. The teacher told him to "cut out that chicken shit." He later realized that we come to see ourselves as the identity we have forged. He had decorated his house with thoughts like, "This house reflects who I am etc..." Cope then went on to note that we come to see ourselves almost entirely through how we believe others perceive us. I think that this must often lead us into delusions about our worth or lack thereof. We may build an identity for ourselves that is entirely based on calculations of how others will view us. I fear now that much of who I thought I am was based on a calculation about what others expected me to be.

I am not wrapped in self-pity, I am reflecting that I do not even know myself. I wonder about what I really want, where I see myself in the future and what I value and so far I have no answers. There seems to be a part of me that would like nothing more than a large change in how I spend me time. There is a part of me that wishes I never had to work again but on the other hand, so much of what I believe is based on the idea that I am happiest creating things. Sometimes my creations are my students. I guide them from one place to another. It used to bother me that few people seemed to notice my successes but now I find that I would rather stay under the radar and dream of all the things I hope the kids will learn under my tutelage.

I long to be still but then when I am, I find that I am nagged by the notion that I should be accomplishing something. I am not sure how we can seperate ourselves from our actions or our creations. So long I have sought and yet I do not know how to find what I seek. I fumble on, sometimes in darkness, sometimes in light and still I wonder--

Monday, September 1, 2008

Why I teach

Since I was a little girl I wanted to change the world. I have never been able to tolerate the sight of human suffering when I know there is nothing I can do to ease it. That is one of the main reasons I rarely watch or read the news. The sheer pain of the many is more than I can stomach. This does not mean that I am looking away. It means that I prefer to focus on problems I can solve. This is ultimately why I teach. It is rare that the efforts of one person touch a large sphere but the efforts of the many can make real changes. The best thing one individual can do is to inspire changes in others. This can then have a sort of domino effect where ones actions can begin to effect the actions of many people toward great actions. When a leader with truly great humanitarian intentions is able to inspire millions of people to make positive changes, these changes begin to occur as in the case of Ghandi, or Martin Luther King Jr. (my heroes).

I realize that I am no Ghandi but I also realize that I have a natural gift for teaching. I am not a patient person but when I teach, I really can be. I have a great ability for meeting the learner wherever they are and helping them to achieve their potential on any given day. It is not clear how or why I have this ability but it seems that perhaps I was really meant to teach. It does not seem to matter what I teach or who I teach but it is in the role of teacher that I find what is best in me.

Lately I have found it hard to reconnect with what I love about teaching but there have been glimmers. Every day I stand and guard the east hallway of my school during hall sweeps first block where late students are sent to the cafeteria. Every day I see this little (ok, big) fat kid get swept up. He is always breathless and I keep thinking about how he tried so hard to get to class on time, unlike the kids I see sauntering by with their electronic devices and their group of friends. Every time I see him I wonder about him. Does he have friends? What is his life like? Why is he so fat and breathless at such a young age? He never sees me but I almost cry when I imagine that his life might be really hard and sad. Seeing fat kids always makes me feel sad. Strange as it may sound, that is also why I teach. I teach for the kids that are outcast and alone. I teach for the kids who may not see another person smile at them all day except for me.

On Friday my 10th graders read a story called “The Circuit” by Franciso Jimenez. The story helped me remember again why I teach. The narrator of the story was a little Mexican boy who belonged to a family of migrant workers. The family moved from farm to farm picking things. They never knew where their next job would be and the little boy never had a place to call home. He and his siblings often could not attend school for months and they had to hide from the school people so the family would not get in trouble. During the picking season, the little boy worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day. School was his beacon of hope. It was a vacation and an opportunity beyond his difficult life. When he finally got to go it was November. He was behind, had almost forgotten English and he could barely read. He had no friends but the teacher supported and helped him. Near the end of the story, he went to the music room to try playing an instrument and the teacher heard him and offered to start teaching him to play. When he got home, his family was packing up to move again.

I could hardly believe it but I found myself crying about the little boy’s story. My students looked at me in surprise as I cried and read. Finally, through my tears I told them, “This story is so sad. This little boy could be one of you or someone in your family. It is so sad that he wanted to go to school and couldn’t. This is exactly why I am a teacher.”

I was embarrassed by my tears but I also hoped that the story and my emotion would have an impact on my students. I hoped that they would recognize what they really have because this story is the story of the life of so many migrant and illegal immigrants in the United States. At the time, it was hard to gauge their reactions but I noticed that they all did their work afterward and were very well-behaved.

The next day I read their reactions to the story and what do you know, their comments ranged from, “That story was so sad” to “I know a kid like that.” I also got comments like “That is the best story we ever read.” This made me realize something. Even if their comments were designed to illicit my approval, they are actually listening to the things I say. I guess one teacher can really make a difference. Deep down I always knew that but sometimes even teachers need to remember why it is we teach.