I am not invincible, and neither are you
Here we are… mid July. This post has been sitting in my drafts for two months now and, after having just finished reading “Be Real” by Tara Martin and with my #REALedu shirt on (and an update at the bottom of the post), I am finally ready to share it with the world. Brace yourself, you’re in for a pretty vulnerable and REAL post…
I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and things happen at specific moments in time for a reason, too. Every once in a while, something happens in my life to remind me of this. It’s not always easy, but reflecting in order to find out the why of certain events definitely leads to some powerful growth. This month has been one of those instances, and although it’s been challenging, The Path to Serendipity by Allyson Apsey, along with the support from family and close friends, have been a huge part of the reason why I’m able to see things a bit more clearly now. Let me rewind…
At the tail end of April, two of my boys got sick with the flu. I called my mom for her to help out on the Monday because I knew they’d be in no shape to get to school the next day. Things took a turn for the worse overnight, and although I’ll spare you the details, know that the messes that were made were bad enough that there’s no way I could ask my mom to handle these sick kids while I went to work. So, I did what any mom would do. I took a family day and stayed home to care for my boys. By Tuesday, I was sick with something completely different, the nastiest cold I’ve ever had, and was too sick to work. By then, the flu had spread to another one of my sons, and we all sat and slept on the couch together trying to regain our strength. This continued on the rest of the week, and although I was down myself with a cold that I simply couldn’t shake, the flu continued to run through the rest of my family, but not me. The following week, as things started to look up in our house, I went to work on Monday and headed on a field trip with my students. Although my voice was still completely thrashed from my cold, I made due and we had an incredible day. I crashed hard that night because as everyone knows, field trips take a lot out of teachers, even on the best of days. I woke up the next morning feeling off, and had to sit down several times while getting ready for work, but I just shrugged it off thinking it was just from being worn down from the day before and still trying to get over that cold… only that wasn’t the case. I ended up having to leave school a little before lunch, but I thankfully had planned for a sub for that afternoon anyways because I had a medical appointment. I went home and crawled into bed, thinking that I’d sleep for an hour before heading back out to my appointment. As soon as I hit my bed though, I knew I wouldn’t be getting back up. I rescheduled my appointment, and that was the beginning of a nasty flu that knocked me down again, this time for 4 days. Talk about a bad stretch!
In 2 weeks of school, I had missed 6 days of work, and it ate me up inside. My students and their parents were so patient, kind, loving, and offered so much support. From offering to clean my house, do some laundry, and run to the store for me, to a student and her mom actually dropping off a care package for me on my front step, I truly felt the love. Although I felt guilty for being away from my students for so long, I knew they understood and simply wanted me back on my feet. That Friday, I had just enough strength to get to work for a PD day, but something wasn’t right. The previous day, while still at home sick, I noticed that part of my left leg was numb. I shrugged it off thinking that it was probably because I had been laying in bed for so many days in a row. But after moving around Friday and still feeling this weird sensation, I started to wonder about it. I was advised by my doctor’s office to get checked out a Urgent Care. I headed there after work, but a blood test didn’t show anything, so they sent me on my way and told me to follow up with my doctor if the problem persisted. Saturday, I went on with a typical busy day with two hockey games and a birthday party. By the time we got home in the evening, I was in tears and in denial. I knew something was wrong, but didn’t want to believe it, or face it, actually. The numbness continued to spread and was now in the left side of my face. I eventually built up the courage to call Health Links, who wanted to transfer me directly to 911. I refused and told them I’d get myself to an emergency room. I called my mom who came to pick me up, and we arrived at the hospital just before 10pm. A CAT Scan showed nothing abnormal, which ruled out scary urgent things such as stroke and cancer. Although that eased my mind a bit, I knew I wasn’t out of the woods yet. My sister was diagnosed with MS 10 years ago, and ever since Thursday, that thought has been in the back of my mind. I was sent on my way and was instructed to follow up with my family doctor because MS is a disease that is diagnosed by process of elimination, and isn’t “urgent”. Stroke and cancer are now out… what else could it be? I was so, so worried. I got home around 3am and went straight to sleep. The next morning, my husband left with our oldest to get to hockey, and my dad thankfully came over to care for the other 3 so I could sleep. Happy Mother’s Day to me! I managed to get through the weekend and chose to focus on the good in my life. I had a near perfect day with my boys celebrating Mother’s Day, and although I had missed a lot of work in the past 2 weeks, I decided to keep my personal day that I had planned months ago for that following Monday. Instead of going to the spa like I had originally planned, I decided to catch up on things around the house and treated myself to a pedicure. I was in no mood to sit with my own thoughts at the spa all day, so this was a nice alternative. Tuesday was back to class and I was SO happy to be with my students again. Oh, how we had missed one another! We had a great day catching up and figuring out where we were in our learning. Wednesday afternoon was my follow up appointment with my doctor, and it was a hard day. The unknown is so scary, but I was also so nervous for my appointment because I wasn’t sure I was ready to hear what she would have to say. She did a few neurological tests, and decided that it would be best to send me for an MRI. As I write this tonight, I am still in the unknown, waiting for a letter in the mail with an MRI appointment. I’d be lying if I said I kept it together, but after a bit (okay, a lot) of falling apart at Urgent Care, the ER, my doctor’s office, and many times in between, I’ve been built back up by my incredible friends and family. Although I don’t know how this story will end health-wise, I know that I can handle whatever comes my way. Once I know what is going on, I will tackle it head on, I will make the best of it, and I will crush it and continue on with life!
So, what is the point of all of this? I assure you it’s not to get pity or an outpouring of love and support – I promise you I am okay! As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, everything happens for a reason, and this weekend, I was meant to read Allyson’s book, The Path to Serendipity (which by the way I received right before heading to the ER, and had brought it with me, but I wasn’t ready to read it yet… it wasn’t the right time, yet). This weekend, while camping with my family, was THE time I was meant to read this incredibly powerful book. I cannot change what I am going through, but I can control how I react to it. Light bulb moment.
Allyson has said many times that she wrote this book as much as reminders for herself than for others, and boy does that ring true to me, too! This is something I teach my kids and students every day – your emotions are normal, it is okay to feel those emotions, we just have to be mindful of our behaviour in regards to those emotions. Sure, I could sit here and dwell on what my life could look like with MS (trust me, I’ve done that… go ahead and ask my husband about the night I cried because “we’re going to have to move again because this house isn’t wheelchair accessible” ps: this was an extreme reaction to an overwhelming feeling of worry and I know MS doesn’t automatically equal that outcome), but I’m not, I am throwing out the bitter cucumber. I love this quote from Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius found in Allyson’s book, as well as her response:
“Is your cucumber bitter? Throw it away. Are there briars in your path? Turn aside. That is enough. Do not go on and say. ‘Why were things of this sort ever brought into this world?’
“Happy people throw away the bitter cucumbers and move on. They don’t complain about the state of the cucumber to everyone they meet for the next week. Happy people turn aside from birars and terrible drivers and move on. They do not give the briars or drivers the finger and swear up a storm.”
What I want to share with you is that during the past two weeks, I’ve done a lot of thinking, soul searching, and reflecting, and I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter how strong I am, no matter how much I take on and thrive, I am not invincible, and I need to be better at taking care of myself. I distinctly remember telling a friend during these hard times that “I need more Zen in my life”. I am no good to others unless I am taking care of myself. You cannot pour from an empty cup… I think that’s what I did for too long, and my cup ended up cracking. It’s that good old “put on your own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs” analogy. Easier said that done – especially as a mom and a teacher – but I need to work on this, and chances are, if I need to work on this, you might need to, too.
When you are sick (or need a mental health day), take a day or two, or 6… and don’t sweat it. Students won’t remember this when they think of their time with you as a whole. Be transparent – my students’ families knew that things were rocky in my world, this is not a sign of weakness, on the contrary, it’s a sign of strength! In all of this, my students’ families offered nothing by support. You come first. YOU come first. Remember that, and take care of yourself.
Mid July update:
I had my MRI and got the results at the end of the school year… I am MS free! Since the summer break has started, my numbness has gotten slightly better, so with some improvement, my doctor advised me to simply monitor my symptoms for now. At this point, I truly believe that this is all due to stress and anxiety. Those who have been following my blog this year know that it has been a difficult one packed with huge stressors (moving houses, changing schools, starting a new school, on top of the every day businesses that having 4 kids brings on)! And well, stress and anxiety can do some crazy, crazy things!
On another note, just when I thought I was at my lowest, I found out that a mammogram I had gotten at the end of May (yes – it’s early for that for me to start those, but my mom was diagnosed with Breast Cancer at the age of 42, so the magic number for starting screenings for my sister and I is 32, and it was my 32nd birthday in May – Happy Birthday to me!) showed something funky. I found out I needed a biopsy and really struggled with thinking that I could potentially have MS and Breast Cancer all at the same time! Yesterday, my doctor called me with my biopsy results and I was SO relieved to hear that I am cancer free.
In all of this, I almost feel guilty. Guilty that I’ve not been putting my health first and that I somehow lucked out and avoided two scary diagnoses. But I am also incredibly thankful. I heard this wake up call loud and clear and it is now time for me to focus on managing my stress and anxiety better! Thankfully, summer break is exactly what the doctor ordered!
If only there was a book along the lines of “Balance Like A Pirate“… oh wait, that book just came out and I started reading it last night! 🙂