Lost before Lent

Lent seems to have caught me by surprise this year. I remember the years where Lent seemed to be such a big deal, that I would make sure that everyone knew what I was giving up for Lent, and each year I would try to make sure I was giving up more than I had done the previous year. Often I wouldn’t make it all the way through the 40 days, and I recognise now that I may well have completely missed the point.

Last week I suddenly realised that we were approaching Lent, and even once I realised I kept forgetting and hadn’t really made a plan. But is this a problem?

Lent is a season, a season of preparing for Easter. Although that preparation has often been associated with giving up something, that isn’t necessarily the case. Some choose to read a book; some start to do something; there is also an organisation called 40acts, which encourages people to do a different act each day.

As I was starting to think about what I was going to do as part of my preparation for Easter this year, I felt it was important to decipher what I was preparing for. For me Easter represents life, it represents the fact that I am able to have a relationship with God, it represents the love that God has for me.

Therefore this should be the focus throughout Lent. If I’m honest because of my health recently I have lost track and lost step with God. I’ve felt a bit lost, confused and befuddled. Therefore Lent for me in 2018 is going to be about rebuilding that relationship, finding that path, and walking back in step, so that when we get to Easter, I am going to be prepared to worship the God who was willing to sacrifice it all for me.

At this present moment in time, 20 minutes before Ash Wednesday, I have no idea of how this is going to happen, but I’m going to consciously make the effort to try.

I’ll keep you posted

Amazing army – not alone

I’ve been very quiet on the blog front for the last month and there is a very simple reason… it’s been a pig of a month. My focus has been on survival…. and I’ve been struggling with that at times. After having gone for very long periods with excellent seizure control I have had 3 seizures in a month, and pretty much every day having periods of uncontrollable twitching, a lot of confusion, and the sofa has become a very good friend. I wasn’t exaggerating when I said it’s been a pig of a month.

I’m still none the wiser as to why my brain has started to seriously play up again, which is frustrating beyond explanation. I have seen a specialist who has sent me for blood tests, referred for an MRI to see if there is a practical/physical reason, and is talking about having to put me on a new medication – after I’d spent a very long time getting down to just the one drug in the first place.

I think frustration is the biggest emotion playing it’s part at the moment, for a number of reasons.

  • As I’ve already said, I don’t understand why it’s happening
  • I don’t feel like myself. I’ve become anxious about doing anything on my own, going anywhere, I’m confused a lot, I don’t feel I’m able to do anything properly.
  • There is nothing that anyone can do to help me… even though so many have asked
  • I know it’s not like a virus…. rest isn’t going to make it better. I am needing to rest because I am constantly wiped out, but that’s not going to stop the twitching and confusion. The only thing that is going to make it any better is new medication, and that is a process, and I have no idea when that is going to get started, and then no idea if it will work, what the side effects will be, how long it will take to build up the dose

So what has this got to do with an army? It’s simple… I realised yesterday that I am surrounded by an army of amazing support. They are doing various things, there are those who I know are simply praying for me (although it is so much more than simple); those doing the practical things like giving me lifts; the messages to check how I am or to tell me something to cheer me up; those at work being strict with me when there may be times when I’m pushing myself too much; then there are the truly amazing ones who have taken it upon themselves to search for the small victories for me when I seem unable to do it for myself; those who are crying alongside me so that I know I’m not the only one who is frustrated by the situation; and those who hold me either through a hug or actually feels like they are carrying me or protecting me through a storm.

I truly am blessed. In one of my excessively long SMS conversations with E yesterday I said ‘I’m surrounded by an army of amazing women aren’t I?’ To which she responded ‘it takes one to know one’! This then played on my mind – in a good way – obviously at the moment I do not feel like I am very strong at all, in fact I feel ridiculously weak useless and helpless, but I guess when I am more ‘me’ I do try to encourage others and help out when I can. I guess it truly is in those tough times, when you see the result of the impact that you have.

All I know is that I may not feel like me at the moment, but as friends keep reminding me, this is only part of the journey and I am well and truly not alone.

Clearing without control

I received an email from a friend today making comment about getting lost in the grey gloom of the weather today. If I’m honest I wasn’t really sure what she was referring to, it was dark when I left for work and dark by the time I received the email, and I hadn’t really been out all day.

However, the grey gloom is reminiscent of the state of my brain over the last week. I’m not sure if it’s related to my various other illnesses but the electrics in my brain have been playing up rather significantly. This, along with additional medication has left me in a grey, gloom, foggy kind of state. Often confused, struggling to hold conversations, drowsy and physically twitchy. Not great!

Saturday was the first day that I felt the most ‘Helen’ that I have felt for some time, and colleagues noticed that I was more ‘myself’ today than last week when we returned to work. So things seem to be clearing, but there is definitely still a sense of grey gloom, and foggy confusion that starts to take over at some point most days.

As many regular readers will know I like to be in control, and that, more than the state of my brain has been the thing causing me most anxiety. I’ve got no idea what is causing it, I have no clue whether it is temporary or whether we are going to have consider medication changes again, I’ve got no idea when the fog is going to come in, or if it is going to clear. I know to avoid flashing lights because I know that is a trigger. I now to take my medication. I know to get plenty of sleep as lack of sleep is a trigger. I also know to try to keep stress levels down (she laughs as she thinks of the workload). But when I don’t now what the cause is I don’t now how to control it – again not great for the stress levels.

However, my friend talking abut the grey gloom, and my Bible reading from this morning about not worrying has helped me to vaguely put it all in some form of perspective.

We have no control over the weather. We can prepare for what is forecast, and some may prepare for what isn’t forecast just in case, and then we just respond to what is happening. When it is foggy we walk carefully, slowly, looking just ahead until we reach our destination or until it clears.

At this point in time I need to be living in the present. Making sure I have my additional medication available should it be required. Making sure others know of the state of my brain at the moment. Focussing on what needs to be done at this time, and taking advantage of the clearances to be able to get ahead.

I know it all in theory… I’m hoping by writing it down I might be able to put it in to practice tomorrow!

Here’s hoping!

Back on Track

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New Year’s Eve the time when you think about the year that has past and the hopes of the year to come. It would be very easy to focus on the not so good of the past year but instead I’m going to choose to focus on the good that the year has brought and what I have learnt to take in to 2018.

So what has 2017 brought?

A renewed sense of vocation for teaching

The academic year of 2016-2017 was not my greatest, and although there was a lot of stuff outside of my control I most definitely did not help the situation by any stretch of the imagination. I started this academic year with the mindset of it being a great year, and it’s been great. It’s been a killer at times, but having a different mindset has meant those killer times have been easier to get over and move on from. I have realised the joy that I get from being in the classroom, and there has been a definite sense that I am where I am meant to be, doing what I am meant to be doing. Which, has got me through on many a day.

New work environment

It is amazing how a new base can make such a difference, but moving classroom over the summer really helped again with the feeling of a new start. Yes… I miss my view of the Cathedral… but I enjoy being part of a department as opposed to being on my own, and have developed new friendships which have given me strength and laughter when required. The classroom… the faculty… all in all has made life a lot more enjoyable and easier to get through the tougher times.

Reconnection with God

After a virus earlier in the year I took a sabbatical time.  Stepping back from things at Church, only doing my job at work, taking more time to focus on my relationship with God. Including two retreats. This was a phenomenal time, where I learnt more about myself and how I connect with God, as well as what God wanted to say to me. This included that I needed to be able to find more time to worship and read for myself. A realisation that for now my times of piano and sung worship are more personal than congregational. The energy I get from writing and delivering talks both for Church and School, but also the feedback that I get after as well. There have also been an awesome group of women who have been praying for me since April, and I cannot tell you how much I have felt the power of prayer and protection during this time.

So… those are just 3 personal highlights… but highlights all the same and I’m able to see some of the many blessings there have been.

And what are the plans for 2018? The essential plan (as you may have guessed from blog title) is to get back on track in terms of health but in 3 different ways.

Food

There has been a lot of comfort food eaten this year. Bad habits have been returned to. Clothes have got tighter. So 2018 is a year of going back to strict calorie counting. I always feel better when I’m eating better, and hey wouldn’t mind having to go and buy more clothes because mine are too big again!

Exercise

I have continued with walking to school, but may have been getting more lifts home! The running really hasn’t been happening, for a variety of reasons. Again, a habit I need to get back in to. I know how much better I feel when I’m running, and what it does to my mindset. December has not been a great month health wise with seizures, stomach bugs, and some weird chest/throat thing that has completely knocked me out! I am not sure how much that has to do with the fact that I have not been living a particularly healthy lifestyle. So… in case it has got anything to do with it… and because I know how much better I feel when exercising that has got to get back in to my routine. Let’s set a challenge… I want to be able to run 10km regularly by the summer holidays!

Spiritually

I have often written about how the changes I have made in my life over the last couple of years have been holistic, all areas of my life are affected by all of the other areas. AND YET I somehow forget that my faith is the cornerstone of my life. I teach about it, I speak about it, I write about it, and yet somehow I don’t always live it. The eating and exercising are both things that I know how to tackle and how to change, but my spiritual well-being is going to be more of a journey, and possibly the one that I need to focus on the most. This morning at church we looked at the different people in the advent/nativity story and were challenged about which of the “double-dog-dare’s” challenged us the most. For me…. It was Mary. I am in a position where my faith can easily be the centre of all that I do, and yet I don’t always make it so. I need to be like Mary and I need to see the opportunities I’ve been given and I need to take that double-dog-dare and say YES! I’m excited to see where it leads.

So 2017 has been interesting, ending with a month of lying on the sofa feeling very sorry for myself, and my brain not being very happy at all… but I am ready for 2018 and all that it will bring. I am also looking forward to sharing that journey with you all!

Please feel free to challenge me on any of the my goals!

Fighting Bugs; Feeling Blue; Finding Blessing

I think we can safely say Christmas 2017 has not been the greatest of Christmas periods for me. It is not what I expected, and definitely not what I am used to.

We knew it was going to be a quiet day, after all, the husband was working. He always does do a few hours, it’s the nature of his job. That was never really the issue with the mother in law coming round for Boxing Day brunch today and us heading up to my folks tomorrow.

But it was a very quiet end to a very quiet season. I only managed one of the Christmas meals before I caught a horrid stomach bug which laid me up on the sofa for about 5 days. I managed the last two days of the week aided with my hot water bottle in the classroom! A weekend of buying presents, wrapping presents, marking mocks, and trying to catch up, then the start of a sore throat on the monday. By Tuesday I had razor blades in my throat, gunk on my chest and an exploding head. It was the end of term Eucharist so of course I went in, to be regularly greeted by ‘what are you doing here?’ And ‘you look awful’! A week on and today is the first day since then that I have managed to stay awake all day.

I’ve had a week of moving from the bedroom to the sofa, and back to the bedroom again. I did have a shower and get dressed for Christmas Day, but that pretty much took out all of my energy.

I do seem to be coming round the corner now, it’s almost as if I needed a Christmas Day seizure to knock it out my system (unfortunately not a joke). But as I said not really the Christmas I had envisaged.

However, as always I have been week and truly blessed. Including friends dropping things in from school as I missed the last day, others getting paracetamol for me to avoid me leaving the house. So many who have been sending lovely messages each day to check how I am, and to make me laugh. All I wanted was a chat but they knew better than I did that actually I could barely talk, and trying to would probably only make it worse.

The one thing I really wanted this Christmas break was a rest…. I didn’t really rest at half term and feel like I’ve been playing catch up ever since – and I think we can safely say that I have rested, more than I have done in a very longtime.

So it’s not been epic, it hasn’t been surrounded by friends and family, but my Christmas really has been filled with blessing. This is what Christmas is all about, love, care and compassion… which the husband has given by the bucketload in spite of him working hard, and not feeling fantastic himself.

So now… an early night so we can get a couple of days up in the homeland with some family time!

Christmas blessings and God Bless x x x

Go compare or No compare?

I went for a walk with the husband this evening and I asked him a question I’d been pondering for a while “is it healthy to compare?”. His automatic response was no… but then as I started to explain my thinking he became as confused as I was, and I’m not sure we ever reached a conclusion.

So… to compare or not to compare… that is the question.

There have been a few occasions recently where pupils have asked me about other pupils at the school, as they had been compared to them. I always refuse to comment and will only speak to pupils about themselves, because in that context it is unfair to compare… after all the circumstances, and situations for each person are going to differ.

However there have been other times where pupils have been declaring how good their behaviour has been, and when questioned on this they will say… “in comparison to what it was”!

I think I am starting to answer my own question

Maybe comparison is acceptable or healthy if we are comparing with ourselves.

Comparison of ourselves with others is never going to be healthy, or helpful. After all it’s not possible to really compare as we are all unique. Even if we have similarities with others, there are going to be more tings that separate us and give us our own identity. Similarly comparing other people with other people is probably not going to be healthy or helpful at all, as I imagine most people will only remember all the things that are not the same.

Should we compare ourselves with ourselves though? Today I met with my spiritual director, it’s been a pretty tough month, ending with a week where I have had seizures. However, as I was talking to her I was reminded of the mess I was in this time last year. Although this month and week have been pretty horrific, in comparison to this time last year I am doing pretty darn great!

Sometimes we have to compare to recognise the good that is going on, to be able to see the positive.

But this begs the question should we have to, or should we just be able to see the positive for what it is?

Does comparing with ourselves help us to excuse what we are doing now?

I am aware that I have put on weight over the last year, I am not happy with this, but I am also aware that as soon as I start thinking, ‘crikey you’ve put on weight?’ I also start thinking ‘well…in comparison to the size you were you’re still doing well’. I use the comparison to the life I lived, the attitude I had, the size I was as an excuse to not do what I know makes me feel better.

So go compare or no compare? I think I would agree with the husband that it is a no compare.

Comparing with others is never healthy it either makes us look down our noses at others or at ourselves. But comparing with ourselves is not much better. Rather than focussing on what is happening at the moment, we are focussing in a part of the journey that has already happened, which will end up suggesting that either that part of the journey wasn’t any good, or the current part of the journey isn’t any good. Whereas we should be focussing on the journey, learning from what has been, enjoying the part we are in, and considering where it will go in the future.

The advent I’m going to be looking around me, where I am, and what I’m doing, making the best of this journey to Christmas.

What can happen in a Year?

Earlier in the week fb reminded me that a year ago I had taken a picture of my sixth form parents evening sheet…


I remember the evening well, and I remember why I wrote the status… it had been difficult but the evening talking to pupils and parents gave me the boost I needed… the reminder of why I do what I do. 

I had a similar experience this week… but this picture evoked another memory for me…

A year ago today my colleague found me, once again, in the office in tears. She made me call the doctors for an emergency appointment. The start of a pretty horrible journey… where I was questioning who I was, what I was doing, whether I could do any of it, or anything anymore. Tears…exhaustion…tears…questions…tears…scars…tears… a time of damage and yet a time of considerable change and growth.

This morning I stood up in front of the staff room sharing what has gone well in the department, it was genuine, and it was a joy. (At this point I would like to point out this a weekly occurrence for different departments)!

This time last year I was searching for the positives, and when I found one I made a big point of it, it became a status. The ledge that I could cling to, to avoid the drowning. Parents evening this year was great, but it didn’t feel like it stood out, because there’s a lot of good going on.

What has changed?

A lot.

The situation: new room, new courses, new groups, new department, new faculty, new friends

My mindset: I have written about this before but this really has changed this year, it’s hard to explain how, but rather than focussing on the problem, I’m trying to work out the solution. I’m finding the joy, and remembering why I’m doing what I do.

There is also a lot that hasn’t changed…

My love for the classroom, through the all of all the stuff, I always come alive in the classroom. Creating a safe space, developing relationships, attempting to educate in all areas of life, trying to make a difference. So often, for me, the classroom has become my sanctuary, my refuge!

My faith… it’s been rocky and stormy at times but it has always been there. Through that faith not only did I have the hope that I would make it through to the other side but also I had a support network lifting me up when I couldn’t do it myself.

One of the things I mentioned when sharing about the department was how I had seen Problems and had drawn ideas from other people. It is so easy to try to do things in our own strength but teams are so much better.

What have I learned in a year?

I am not superwoman… I cannot do anything in my own strength…I am surrounded by amazing people…teaching is my vocation…there will be times when we are swamped by good and times when we are searching for it, it will aways be there. BUT we mustn’t get complacent when it is there in abundance, it can easily fade.

Most importantly… the importance of support. People who have your back, who will love, care, and be strict when needed.

We really aren’t meant to be an island. Who is your support team?