Progress!

I’m feeling positive about the progress I am making.

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Now that I am making more progress in my recovery from my spinal surgery and I am moving a little more freely, I’ve decided to be more deliberate and purposeful about starting to retrain my muscles and building up some stamina for both my body and my mind.

Today I got out some pencils and a book, and started colouring, which is always something that makes me happy and peaceful. It’s also something I can do standing at the kitchen bench. I don’t have to do it all at once – it’s something I can do, and leave, and go back to through the day.

Like me, it’s neither perfect nor finished, but it’s on the way.

It may not seem like much, but getting this much done is a big achievement for me. I have been largely horizontal and only walking fairly short distances -although frequently – since the surgery on my spine on October 19.

Since my last update on my recovery, the first lot of bruising has faded to a dull shadow and the deeper bruising has begun to come to the surface now, so I am still all the colours of the rainbow, but the pain is less intense and more manageable now. I’ve ventured out of the house and walked around the yard, and begun to do light things around the house like folding laundry and doing dishes. Things that exhausted me at first are easier now, which is really encouraging. I have, however, learned the hard way that I am not ready for cutting pumpkin (it was just a little bit of butternut) or bending to get things out of low places. You don’t know until you try, right? Suffice to say that dinner on Monday was delicious, but I paid for it on Monday night and yesterday. The aggravation has settled now, though, much to my relief.

Sitting for any length of time is still an issue: I’m currently managing about ten minutes at a time before I have had enough. That means I will have to be ready to stand up most of the day when I go back to work in a couple of weeks. I will have exams to mark and papers to grade, so this seems like a good way to begin to prepare for that sort of thing. I can gradually build up to standing for longer periods of time without feeling any pressure to “perform”.

I also plan to start walking a bit further than I have been, especially now that I am a bit more confident and steady on my feet.

I fully understand that healing and recovery can’t be rushed, but I think that small progress in these ways will only help me to get stronger. And when I have had enough each time, my bed or my recliner will still be here waiting for me.

Today I am feeling positive and encouraged, which is also helpful to my healing and easier to live with all round.

Current Status: Not Ready For Adulting

Today, I ventured beyond home for the first time since coming home after surgery.

I had to go out today. There was sunshine. There were people. It was traumatic.

My driver’s license expires on Thursday, so my husband agreed to take me to the next town where I could get the photo taken, sign the form, and give a chunk of my cash to the government for a new one.

I did my hair, put on real clothes instead of pyjamas, and put on some makeup.
I thought I was doing okay for someone recovering from surgery, so I sent a snap to my best friend.

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Naturally, she was both encouraging and completely understanding of why I made the extra effort. She is consistently awesome like that.

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Let’s face it, you don’t want to be thinking “Oh yeah, that was that month where I spent two weeks nearly dying from a mystery chest infection and then ended up having spinal surgery after screaming non-stop for four days!” every time you look at your license photo for the next ten years, do you?

The drive to Camperdown wasn’t too bad. I had the seat reclined a fair way because I still can’t sit comfortably for more than about eight minutes, and my husband was pretty good at missing the worst of the bumps.

I walked from the car to the shire offices without too much trouble. I didn’t have to wait long, thankfully, and everything went smoothly so that the license renewal was taken care of in just a few minutes.

Then my husband suggested we call at the supermarket to pick up something for dinner. My approach to grocery shopping is quite pragmatic: get in, get what you need, and get out. I thought I could handle that, even at this stage of my recovery.

Of course, it’s never that simple when you really need it to be. I wasn’t two meters through the door of the store when an acquaintance stopped me for a chat. I had the cart to hold onto – what a clever disguise for an disability support walker that was! – and it was a very good thing, because just standing there, I could feel myself fading and the sweat breaking out on my skin as I tried to pretend there was nothing wrong. In the end, I told her I had to go and staggered off to find my husband, who had been gathering the things we needed and had his arms full of stuff. We went to find the last couple of things, and that was when he pointed out the Harry Potter Quidditch Match LEGO set.

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That may not seem significant to you, but Harry Potter and LEGO are both big-ticket items in my world. I didn’t have to rationalise anything. It was coming home with me. I left the set with Aragog behind, though, because while Hagrid may love giant spiders, I do not.

We got through the checkout and back to the car, and my lower back where I had the surgery last week was really starting to hurt.

The road seemed longer and much bumpier on the way home than it had on the way there. I was really thankful that I wasn’t sitting upright, and tried not to complain but couldn’t help making those awkward little little grunty noise that you make when something hurts and you try to just grit your teeth but the sound gets out anyway.

When we got home I had to take some ibuprofen and lie down. I didn’t even take a moment first to look at my new LEGO set. And once again, I am writing a blog post on my iPad while lying flat on my back.

The good thing is that my driver’s license is good for another ten years.
The not-so-good thing is that I know I am nowhere near ready to use it.

Late night confession: I’m broken.

Pain is a lonely place to live in.
It’s an insular, remote little world all your own.

It’s isolating because it makes you feel like nobody really understands except someone who experiences the same kind of pain you do… and even then, you don’t want to burden them with your pain because theirs is enough to bear.
It’s not about martyrdom.
It’s about realising how fragile even the strongest, funniest, most courageous person can be.

I usually don’t write about my pain because that enables it to take power over my thoughts to a greater extent than I am comfortable with.
Besides, I don’t want to be the whiny person that nobody likes.
Even when I am alone, there’s something within me that wants to say that I am okay, that I will get through it, that I can handle it.

Yet I know that isn’t always true.
Sometimes I am just broken and, quite honestly, I don’t know how to not be broken anymore.

I so wish things were different.
I wish I could move the way I used to.
I wish I could fall asleep as easily as my husband does.
I wish I could wake up refreshed each morning.
I wish my spine was not so fragile. I would love to go boxing and punch my frustrations out on a leather bag, or run until I was exhausted in a good way, or smash a ball around the squash court.
I wish I could hold a baby for longer than a few minutes without aching.

I wish I didn’t feel so sorry for myself.
I wish I could sleep.

Sad pants off… Happy pants on.

It was a really rough week at school for a number of reasons. I had been feeling very low and quite emotional for a couple of days after receiving some quite negative feedback from some of my students who preferred I didn’t know who they were, via my boss.
I was struggling to get past that until some lovely things happened to remind me that my professional life is not defined by negative comments from one group of students.

Thursday morning was complicated by things way beyond my control. I was supervising an exam and nobody came to take my place, so I couldn’t leave to take my Year 12 class. Given that the day before I found it really hard to go in there, I was thankful for the reprieve despite the obvious inconvenience that went hand-in-hand with it.  I was worried that the Year 12 students would think I just didn’t bother; in that sense, my missing their class couldn’t have happened at a worse time.  While still in the exam room, I sent them a note to apologise and explain what had happened.  The good thing was that it gave me time and distance to decide how I was going to deal with the issues I was facing in there.  I wanted to talk with them about it, but not while I was still upset enough to cry or sound whiny. I didn’t want it to be a knee-jerk or emotional reaction.

Later in the morning I ran some auditions for the school musical. This year we’re doing “The Pirates of Penzance”.  Two of the senior students who have both had leading roles in previous years auditioned together – she played Frederick and he played Ruth. It was absolutely delightful. That was the first time I had smiled, let alone laughed, in almost three days. They had no idea of how I was feeling, nor did they realise just what amazing therapy they were for me.

That afternoon I had my drama class. The students were performing plays that they had written themselves.
Those kids were amazing. They wrote clever scripts and performed them beautifully. There were some fabulous moments of humour, some well-developed drama, and very clever characterisation.  I saw one young lady who started with little confidence perform with confidence and style. I saw three young actors with a lot more experience perform a highly comedic play with at least eight roles, achieved cleverly with the change of a hat, glasses, jacket or prop to denote a different character.
After their performances, we had a little time so we talked about the plays and what they thought of their performances. I was so encouraged to hear them praising each other and saying really positive and constructive things without any encouragement to do so from me. We shared some fun moments and we laughed together. It was one of those moments where we all bonded as a group and everyone left feeling great.

On that same afternoon, we had our ‘Professional Learning Community’ staff meeting. This is where we divide into groups and discuss things like assessment, teaching and learning strategies, motivation, and all that type of stuff.  I was so tempted to just go home and avoid the whole thing, but I went along like the good girl I am.
The “icebreaker” was to tell everyone the high point and the low point of our teaching in the past few weeks.
I shared about my drama class and their great performances, but also about the positive bonding time afterward. I shared my frustration about not having been relieved from exam supervision that morning as the “low point” because I was still hurting over the year 12s and didn’t want to tell anyone about it.
In the course of the discussion, I was reminded that everyone has low points, nobody gets things right all the time, and that those issues don’t mean we’re not good at what we do. They just mean we’re human. Another colleague remarked that half the time when we think things are failing miserably, the kids don’t even realise. I responded with the observation that it’s like a play on stage – we know the script, but the kids don’t, so half the time when we think we’ve failed miserably, they are none the wiser.

As I drove home, I thought about my year 12s. As I wrote the other day, I didn’t know if it was one, two or seventeen of them that had complained. What if it really was only one or two? I thought about each of the students and decided that it definitely wouldn’t have been some of them. I decided to talk with them the next morning at the end of my class – rationally, reasonably, and humbly.

On Friday morning, ten minutes before the recess bell, I asked them to stop working and listen as I had something I wanted all of them to hear.
When I told them that I had been informed that there were students in there who thought I didn’t like them and weren’t being treated fairly, a number of the students looked indignant and quite angry. They were as horrified as I had been. That was reassuring.
I told them that I’m aware I don’t always get things right. I told them that if I had caused offence or hurt anyone that I was genuinely sorry and had been unaware of it until this week. I said that I didn’t want any barriers between them and me. I want to do everything I can to help them finish school well.
I told them that if I seemed reserved or miserable, it was far more likely that I was in physical pain than that I didn’t want to be with them.  I told them that I don’t like to let on when I’m in pain because that’s my problem, not theirs.
I asked them to please come and talk with me, or write me a note, or send me an email, if they wanted to talk about anything one-to-one or if there was any aspect of their work they wanted help with.
I reassured them that I really do like them. I think they’re great – and that’s the truth. I love being in class with them.
I left the room at the end of the lesson feeling like a weight had been lifted off me. I had met the conflict head on and dealt with it as honestly and sincerely as I could.

The only kids who came to see me after class were ones who wanted to tell me that they knew I loved them and they had no idea where any of that came from. They told me it certainly wasn’t the majority view, and it hadn’t been discussed in the common room.  Nobody has sent me any anonymous hate mail, nor has anyone asked me to work on something specific with them.

I really hope that I modelled some good behaviour in terms of resolving conflict and apologising. I really hope that the reassurance I gave was all that was needed to set their minds at ease.  I trust that things will improve from here on.
All I can do now is wait and see.

The reasons I love my job.

I really love some of the people I work with.  I need both hands to count the awesome people that I consider to be my friends as well as my workmates.  I don’t need to name them. They know who they are.

There is a lot to be said for knowing that there is always someone who you can always turn to for advice, a shoulder, or a laugh.
It’s refreshing to know that when someone smiles at you, they mean it.
When they ask if you are doing OK, you can be honest because they actually want to know.
I can tell them when I’m struggling, and I can share my joys and victories with them.
They see humour in the things that make me laugh, and they will cry with me, or for me, on those days when that is really my only option.
They know, too, that I will do the same for them. It’s really great to know that I can make the difference in their day that they make in mine.

Some of the greatest joys in my working life come from knowing who those people are and sharing part of my life with them. I am thankful for each one of them every day. To be honest, those people are often the difference between me actually being happy to go to work or not.

Don’t get me wrong: I love my job. I love working with my students and seeing them grow in confidence and knowledge. I thrive on classroom interaction and banter.  I have positive  student-teacher relationships with most, although not all, of my students. They know I do my absolute best for them.
When I am teaching, I know I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing.

There are times, though, when being at work and functioning properly is a really tough challenge.  Some days are just plain, hard work both emotionally and physically.
I hate it that I’m so weak and vulnerable. I hate it that my body lets me down. I hate it when my students see a glimpse of my pain or my inability to cope with it.
I hate the guilt that goes with all of that.

One of my greatest fears is that someone will decide I’m not up to it anymore, or I’m not good enough, or that I’m too broken to keep on teaching.
So I suck it up, put my sassy pants on, and keep going. I choose to invest my time and energy into my students and my friends. The days are much more rewarding and enjoyable that way.
A long walk up to the staff room doesn’t happen any more often than absolutely necessary, and that’s OK.
I’m not isolated because I am blessed to share an office with some of my friends. Others make a point of catching up with me through the day or by email or instant message.
It’s hard to feel sorry for yourself with friends like mine.

I really do love some of the people I work with.
Others… not so much.