Tag Archives: disability

This one’s for the teachers who can no longer teach . . .

Back to school time is one of my favorite times of year. I love buying crayons and pencils far more cheaply than any other time. I enjoy the enthusiasm of a second-grade girl picking out the perfect backpack. (In my day, kid, we had Lisa Frank Trapper Keepers, and they were the bomb.com.) I appreciate a clean classroom that shows the tireless efforts of the janitorial staff to prepare the building for young learners. And, I’m borderline obsessed with classroom decorations. (Seriously, parents. If your child has a teacher that has decorated every inch of his/her room, please comment to the teacher on how amazing your child’s learning environment looks. Those decorations are time consuming and EXPENSIVE- and more than likely came out of the teacher’s personal funds.) I have loved this time of year since I was old enough to join my older brother for back to school shopping when we were kids.
Now, though, it’s different. I still love the energy and hopefulness of both teachers and students at the beginning of the year. I still enjoy hearing about first days of school. I’m thrilled that my social media is filled with teacher friends’ pictures of their classroom for this year or parents’ pictures of their little ones headed off for the first day. I even look forward to taking a super obnoxious “First Day of School” picture of my own absent-minded professor (and husband) when he heads back to the classroom. There are aspects of this time of year that make me smile, but the fact remains that this time of year hurts.
I am a teacher- or I was, at least. Mentally, my calendar still runs August to May rather than January to December. I still have nightmares where I’ve missed the first day of school or I have a class of 40 students who won’t listen to anything I say. But, if I’m being honest, I’m also haunted by a dream where I go back to work, and I’m a teacher again. In the dream I keep saying, “I never thought I’d be well enough to do this again.” Then, I wake up, and my shoulder is dislocated and my heart is racing, and I realize I’m still in the same body that disabled me more than four years ago when I taught my last class.
I’m not complaining, really. I’m certainly not trying to put a damper on anyone’s back to school enthusiasm. I’m simply saying to all those who feel especially vulnerable at back to school time, I feel you. I feel your tears. I feel your mourning of unrealized future plans and dreams. Most of all, I get it. I understand how it feels to simultaneously be grateful that you’re able to stay home and focus on your health- all while being enraged that your body has demanded that of you. I understand how it feels to want to hide from your former colleagues because of the shame of “not being able to hack it”- all while hoping they’ll tell you about their classroom experiences so you can live vicariously for a moment. I understand what it means to hurt this time of year- even though it’s one of your favorite times of year.
I don’t have advice on how to handle this hurt, because I’m in the middle of it. I know that it gets better with time- I haven’t openly wept in the back-to-school section of Wal-Mart this year, so that’s progress. I don’t know when or how broken hearts heal. I imagine this will always hurt a little- especially at this time of year. So, while I continue to try ‘to bloom where I’m planted,’ I’ll be the first to admit that where I’m currently planted hurts, but I’m not the only person living that reality. So, former teachers, school employees, and students who can’t return to class for whatever reason this year, I feel your pain, and I’m here. Maybe if we keep our heads down and watch a lot of movies on Lifetime, August will pass quickly and painlessly.
By the way, my absent-minded professor has requested to wear a Spiderman costume for his first day of classes, because he saw it in a Wal-Mart back-to-school commercial. (Goodness, this guy . . .)
Peace, love, and health.

Advertisements

Blooming Where I’m Planted

tiffatvandyDo you see that girl? That’s me- four years ago. (Do you see my awesome collection of stuffed animals? Yeah, my husband specializes in fluffy gift giving.) Four years ago, I participated in an inpatient research study at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (Clinical Research Center) during the 4th of July. I knew that I would never be well enough to participate in cook outs or fireworks, so I spent 11 days in the hospital doing experimental treatment for autonomic disorders. I was new to my POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) diagnosis and not yet diagnosed with EDS (Ehlers Danlos Syndrome). I was confused and angry. I had left my career as a middle/ high school Spanish teacher nine months prior to this picture. I had no clue who I was or where I was going. In my mind, I had lost my worth as a professional, wife, and friend. But, during the same hospital stay when this picture was taken, there was a faint bit of inspiration that flickered amidst my desperation. I have no idea where I got this phrase- but I’m not especially creative, so I probably read it or heard it on television. But, the phrase that echoed in my mind and heart was, “You have to bloom where you are planted.”

I, like so many others, did not choose to be planted in current circumstances. I did not study to become a sick person. I didn’t marry my husband with hopes of being his disabled wife. However, if we’re all being honest, there are few of us who have written our own way. Life has planted us in some less than ideal places, and we have to decide what to do with the situation. Don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. I’m not going to tell you that all you need to do is smile or have a good attitude. Not at all. There are days when life isn’t a greeting card. There are days when I cry and complain and whine and eat all the junk food. However, in spite of a difficult situation, I choose to bloom.

Yesterday marked four years since the first picture was taken. I can still remember the emotions and pain of that day. I can remember trying to force a smile for a picture- but feeling like the gifts I was posing with were little more than a sympathy offering- little more than flowers at a funeral. Yesterday, I took a new picture- at my first ever book signing. My symptoms hadn’t changed (Has anyone else blacked out when they heard a fire truck’s siren? That was new for me.), but my perspective had.

I’m not handling all this perfectly. I won’t ever be the great inspirational story of the person who overcomes adversity. However, I live my adversity; I accept it, but I also choose to laugh and smile and advocate in spite of it. I’m blooming exactly where I’m planted- even when I wish I could uproot and move to higher ground.

So, how did I get here? I didn’t wake up one day and decide I like chronic illness. I didn’t adopt my “Bloom where I’m planted” mantra and immediately become a blogger. Heck, I didn’t even start giving unforced smiles at that point. But, I started laughing. I started looking for the hilarity of my newfound life circumstances. I slowly changed my thinking from, “I can’t believe this is happening to me” to “You won’t believe what’s happening now!” Regaining my sense of humor and finding my voice, allowed me to bloom.

The past four years have been the most transformational of any I’ve experienced. I have hurt and endured more than I would have believed. However, I’ve become more understanding. I have increased my capacity to love. Ultimately, I’ve become a person I wanted to be- but that girl four years ago could have never believed possible.

I will never be grateful for illness. If I had the ability, I would heal us all in a heartbeat. However, I am grateful that my broken heartedness has healed. I am blooming. It’s not always pretty. (Heck, I’m probably more of a weed or a wildflower than a beautiful, manicured rose.) I am proud of the growth of the past four years, and I look forward to continuing to bloom with all of you.

Peace, love, and health, friends.

Birthday, Anniversary, and U2- Oh my!

Who am I? Where am I? Does anyone know what day of the week it is?

Seriously, y’all, we’ve had way too many holidays in the Early household. First, there was Joe’s birthday. He doesn’t ask for much- just a small party with his parents, a day in Louisville for the two of us, and a small party with close friends. Dude wanted 3 celebrations. Now, I can’t judge. I declare the entire month of September as the “Festival of a Tiffany,” so I can’t really begrudge his three celebrations. But . . . by the final celebration, I was sticking potato chips in the dishwasher. Because, when I’m tired that seems like a totally logical place to store chips.

Now, if you’d told me six years ago when Joe and I chose a wedding date that my body would eventually require a couple weeks to recuperate from Joe’s birthday, then I wouldn’t have had the wedding eight days after. But, it’s not legally possible to change my marriage date, so the next weekend was devoted to our anniversary- which happened to involve a U2 concert.

Yikes. Here’s the thing- I love music but, sort of, hate concerts. But, you guys! It was U2! That’s basically a check on everyone’s bucket list, so I had to go. The problem? I was still in recovery mode from Joe’s birthday palooza. Literally, the day before the U2 concert, I was in the recliner all day with insane chest pain. (Note- I’m not being an idiot and refusing to get a medical emergency checked. My chest pain comes from EDS/ POTS, and I have a decent understanding of its source. Over the last six years, I’ve learned this weird body better than I ever thought possible.) There were several points that day when Joe offered to sell our concert tickets on Facebook. But, it was our anniversary trip. I could have cancelled. Perhaps it would have been wise to cancel.

But, to be entirely honest, I’ve lost enough to illness. My marriage has lost enough to illness. If there is a possible way for Joe and I to do something (within reason, of course), then we’re going to do it. Friends, here’s the truth. I didn’t feel great. The concert was outside. U2 came on a couple hours later than expected. It was hot. Joe and I were both tired (him from pushing my wheelchair in 95 degree weather and me from this new phase of never ending chest pain), but we did it. We saw U2! I’ll be honest; if you watch Bono, and don’t get a little emotional at some point- you’re made of steel. I was already a U2 fan (albeit not a superfan), but I have so much more respect for that group and all they stand for. Fan girl shout out- One Republic opened for U2, and they were the bomb.com!

But . . . you know what? The weekend wasn’t over. After the concert there was still the matter of our anniversary. Fortunately, Joe and I decided to forgo the whole gift giving/ fancy dinner thing and instead spend a couple nights in Louisville. That meant I got two nights of 10+ hours sleep (Why do I always sleep better in a hotel? I refuse to admit that it might be the lack of the four-legged bed hog named Zoey that sleeps between Joe and I.) Obviously, when we made our plan, we didn’t know that I was going to be very much on the struggle bus. But, I was so grateful for those two nights of rest.

Here’s my point. Being chronically ill complicates every aspect of life. My marriage is permanently marked by the stain of illness. Joe asks how I’m feeling/ doing every single day- because my health is unfortunately a constant theme. However, Joe and I have made a commitment to having all the fun we can in our time together. Sometimes, that means taking a chance on a concert when I feel like dirt. Other times that means going honky tonking in Nashville the night before a serious doctor’s appointment at Vanderbilt. Friends, I’m far from a relationship/ general life expert, but I still have advice. Take every chance for fun. Put yourself in situations that might be hard but will also be fabulous. Obviously, make sure you’re with someone who will understand if you have to bail, but take the chance that the entire experience could be wonderful.

While I’m giving advice- here’s a little more. I used Snookie (the wheelchair) in order to enjoy the concert. That wasn’t in the original plan, but she became necessary. Once we realized that I was feeling rough on Thursday, we called the venue to see if disabled seating was available. This required us to drive to Louisville a little early in order to swap our tickets. Switching to accessible seating also meant we were on Club Level, so I could go inside and cool off under air conditioning as needed. Also, by taking Snookie to the concert on Friday, I saved what little energy I had available in order to enjoy Saturday/ Sunday in Louisville.

My memories from the U2 concert? Priceless. I wheelchair danced like an idiot. I sang along loudly and off-key with Joe. (We sort of specialize in both loud and off-key singing.) My weekend memories with my husband are just as special. This life is rarely simple, but I am so glad that Joe and I have made enjoying each other a priority. My challenge for each of you is that you take a risk in order to enjoy time with someone special to you. Maybe that’s going on a vacation to a whole new place (if so, I want to hear all about it!) or maybe that’s staying up late to watch a movie that will make you both laugh until your sides hurt. Do what works for you, but take a chance on something fun with someone who matters (family, friends, significant other).

By the way, we’ve already bought tickets for a Bruno Mars concert in Louisville this September. (Thank goodness, the Yum! Center is indoors.) The fun and insanity continue. Live it up, friends.

Peace, love, and health.