Thursday, April 23, 2020

Quarantine Stress Is Exhausting

I missed Microblog Mondays. I am having a really difficult time concentrating lately, and when the day is over for school, I am just a pile of goo on the floor.

Okay, that's a little dramatic.

But it is difficult to take a day of screens and then end it with more screens, even if this use is restorative and not stressful. I think one of the problems is that my office at home, which has been this glorious book-filled, light-filled cozy space for blogging and occasional school work, has become an OFFICE. And so when I'm in there, I'm in school mode. I'm in work mode. I'm trying to get shit done.

Which kind of sucks, because now it's less of a respite than it was in the Before.

The teaching is going okay, wayyy better than the last time where I was like "EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE AND I CAN'T GET TO EVERYONE AND I DON'T KNOW HOW TO DO THIS." Now it's better, because I have days like the caps statement maybe once a week, not every day. Ha.

I have successfully reached all 9 of my caseload students and have time with all them every week. Last week I set up times to meet with my primary class group (my Reading/English/Work Lab/Cotaught Social Studies/Cotaught Science group) one-to-one in addition to the twice per week full group Google Meets. That has been a game-changer, because sometimes those Meets are the full 45 minutes, and sometimes they are 20 minutes or so, but I can get SO MUCH DONE during that time. And then the full group check ins are more for organizational needs, questions for the good of the order, and discussion of the book we're reading. For my small group Social Studies, which is a different group of students and another teacher has them the rest of the day, I see them for a 10 minute check-in on Tuesday or Wednesday, and then we get a full 45 minute class period on Thursdays. Which so far is the highlight of my week. For some reason, my students with the highest degree of support are adapting to this new online learning thing really, REALLY well.

Does that sound like a lot of time? It is, but now I feel like at least I am providing a service and DOING something. The kids are appreciative. The parents are appreciative. I love having that time, because sometimes it's 15 minutes of telling me about a cat or a video game, and sometimes it's 15 minutes of reteaching Math and seeing that AHA moment happen (albeit through a screen).

But then, there's the Meets for Social Studies (cotaught) and for Science (also cotaught). And creating the support materials for those classes. And then the meetings. Holy moses, the meetings. Every week I have a team meeting, an 8th grade meeting with guidance, a faculty meeting, and a special ed meeting (although this week that one didn't happen). And somewhere in there I have to a) create all the things so that they can be uploaded in a weekly format by Monday morning, b) grade (give feedback) all the things, c) contact parents, d) put together all the organizational tools for my students who are being expected to be tiny adults who are used to running a calendar of meetings.


It is a huge weight off of me that I know where all my kids are and that I have figured out something that seems to work for them, and although it looks totally different for each, that's sort of why they all have Individual Education Plans. In some ways, this is actually allowing for far more individualized support. But there are only so many hours in a day. And for some students, it's more about the contact than the work. Because they are stressed, their families are stressed, and some of them are in situations that are less than ideal for learning, or dealing with the stress and trauma of foster care at the same time. So  I'm learning that sometimes, just having a student show up or text me or chat me or send in a random assignment is a win.

The Monday morning thing is a district thing -- they want families to be able to receive all work for the week on Monday and then plan out how they can do stuff so that everything is due by Friday. I just haven't figured out how not to have to do a boatload of work on Sunday to get it ready for that, because I'm still assessing all the stuff that came in by Friday and how my lessons went on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. The good news is that I'm learning all kinds of cool things you can do with Google Forms to make quizzes that automatically provide feedback for correct and incorrect answers (you have to type it all up ahead of time, but then you don't have to grade all the quizzes separately). You can make a Google Slides presentation for a Social Studies lesson and then record it on an iPad with screen recording, so it's like a "lecture" but with all the pictures and text, and then you can upload the actual slides so students have text to refer back to. You can pose a question for everyone to answer. You can do a Google Meet with students, have them all mute themselves, and then watch a video clip on your screen that they can see and hear and you can even over-narrate it if you want.

The technology part of this is very, very cool.


I am fortunate. I am fortunate to have a job, to have meaningful work right now. But it is just so much more exhausting than regular teaching, and as my grandmother said, "Teaching is a jealous mistress." She takes all your time.

I have found myself uttering the words, "It feels wrong, but I'm so glad we don't have kids right now." Please note, this does not in any way take out any grief or loss or feelings of inadequacy from all the fucking "Mommy Photo Challenges" and the ominous looming specter of Mother's Day. But it does make it so that I can do all the things for school all day without interruption (except for the cat, who likes to march across my keyboard during meets and gently claw my backside), and I can collapse in a puddle at the end of the day without small humans needing me. I don't have to worry about my children. It does make this quarantine thing simpler, but it does NOT mean that I'm lounging on the couch watching marathons of Schitt's Creek drinking vats of wine. My busy is just different than children-busy. I am grateful for the downtime I do have, which I know those with young children don't. My best friend has three kids, 12, 11, and 9, and she is basically hiding in the bathroom to have 5 minutes where no one is touching or needing her. It's relentless, and they're older.

Another piece of stress is Bryce's PhD. He is now almost 5 years in, and he is on deadline for his Candidacy Exam, which is next Friday. So his proposal is in for review and he has to do a presentation and answer any questions and then he's off to dissertation and wrapping up. But, he's also working full time and has zero downtime and is super stressed. And while it's really awesome that he was asked to present at a major conference that is now going virtual on a paper he published with his adviser recently, his presentation is ALSO due...May 1st. Next Friday. So he is a big old ball of stress. It's really pressing our "only one person can be crazy at a time" policy. (Which we had before I listened to the 5th episode of Brene Brown's Unlocking Us podcast, which talked about the 50/50 myth, which is basically the same concept.) I am taking up slack on housework, and dishes, and keeping the house sane, guessed it...I AM FUCKING EXHAUSTED.

But it's good. I'm grateful for our home and our relationship and our food and our cat and our laundry. Maybe not the laundry, but the clothes and the fact that I have to do laundry so often because I am getting good and sweaty during the Pilates/Barre classes I fit in a few times per week on zoom. I missed a class this week, but that is so key to my sanity. Moving and stretching and taking the time to do something for my body is super important. It also makes me feel less bad about the wine or margaritas or Manhattans that we have in the evening. Not all at once of course!

The stress, my stress, from all these factors, not including family worries, is exhausting. It leaves me feeling all brain fogged. It has me spending Saturday as a No Talking Day, where I do not make phone calls if I can avoid it and I sit somewhere and read or do a puzzle, because I just cannot stand to look at one more screen. I cannot WAIT for it to get warm out. This cold, snowy, rainy, windy weather is just insult to injury. I can't garden on the weekends, because Spring just plain stalled out. Everything seems to be in a pause. It's creepy, honestly. I want warm weather, I want to sit on the deck, I want to prep soil and plant things. And right now the ground is just so cold. The air is cold. The snow that refuses to stop falling is cold. It's depressing. It sort of matches everything else.

Another thing that I am letting go of (also in Brene Brown's podcast in the link above) is Comparative Suffering. I thought that was going to be like a Pain Olympics, but it's not quite. It's basically feeling like empathy is a pie and I can't feel exhausted for myself while there are healthcare workers out there who are working endless 12 hour shifts, so my frustration and exhaustion isn't as bad as theirs. She said you have to have empathy for yourself and realize that everyone has the right to their suffering without comparing to others, and you can feel for others and feel for yourself without taking anything away from anyone else. This part really stuck with me: that when you do the "well, but these other people are dealing with ____" you could actually be worried about what others think about you complaining about your life, and you worry about the perception people have of you, so you're really just making it about you. Just accept the suffering. Accept that everyone is suffering differently, and you can feel for them but not have it take from your reality, either. That was strangely empowering and a good thing to attempt to let go of. It's a process, a habit to break.

The upshot of all this is that I AM FUCKING EXHAUSTED, and this quarantine situation has all new stresses that compound together and make things feel super overwhelming. That make me feel like a puddle at the end of the day. That have me fairly silent and sequestered on Saturdays to heal for the week before I take some of Sunday to prep for the next one. It feels like a marathon. But now that we're 6 weeks in, I guess it's what I have to work with. After May 1st it will be better, when Bryce is back among the land of the living. We will survive this. One person on the ledge at a time, letting go of things that don't fit the new reality, and giving ourselves permission to be puddles when it's called for.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Having a Moment

I had a moment yesterday.

As in, all day I was cranky, and sad, and teary. It didn't help that we didn't do our normal hide-the-Easter-Basket thing that became our silly "so what we don't have kids we have fun!" tradition, because of all the pandemic nonsense and because Bryce is in the thick of prepping for his Candidacy Exam/Proposal Presentation part of his PhD. We had some Easter candy, but it was a little hollow without the tradition (ha, ha, hollow like a chocolate bunny I did not have). And then I felt all hollowed because MY DAMN EASTER CANDY GLUTENED ME.  I mean, seriously? I did a frantic internet search because I had all the symptoms of a glutening, but I swear I've eaten Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs before without issue. Well, apparently Reese's Peanut Butter Cups are fine, but any seasonal shapes are no longer gluten free even though the ingredients do not tell that story at all. Flabbergasted. And sooooo disappointed.

But that wasn't everything.

I've been so freaking busy figuring out the whole online school thing and trying to do right by my students and provide the support they need, remotely, and also trying to set up boundary times (and failing depending on the day), that I sort of bottled up all my April feelings and let them build up until they leaked out my face yesterday.

You see, April 7th is the three-year anniversary of the prednisone-fueled mental breakdown that signaled the end of our family building story and put me in a place with my anxiety I hope never to be in again (although honestly this pandemic is not helping). It's not the anniversary of when we made the decision, but it's the anniversary of that rock-bottom point that, once I was no longer in a days-long fight-or-flight response, led to the decision and that feeling of ENOUGH. I cannot do this anymore. UNCLE. (Also, April 7th was the date of my uncle's funeral that I did not attend because of Bryce's weird throat virus and my autoimmune nastiness.)

Oh, and then April 9th is the one-year anniversary of my hysterectomy, of the ultimate come-back to "you could still have kids! You're not that old!," ha ha. Which isn't necessarily a sad date, but is also the culmination of so many years of striving for that organ to do its damn job that actually ultimately helped lead to its demise (and maybe gave me the answer to our repeated failure in my postmortem uterine diagnosis of adenomyosis).

Both those April things are heavy in their own way. But both of them are also reminders of freedom -- of the freedom from the organ that caused me such pain and disappointment and loss, and freedom from the constant striving and putting my health at risk by stretching myself to the limits of stress, grief, and anxiety for the shot at parenthood. I said goodbye to both the vessel that I'd hoped would deliver me my child at one point and the dream that I could become a parent at all through the adoption process, and those are heavy. But the lightness of moving forward and letting go of what just wasn't coming to pass for us created space for our new reality, our new life, a new freedom to accept what isn't and embrace what is.

So while I was teary and sad and yesterday, it was also a sort of catharsis to feel those feels, so I can more fully appreciate what April looks like now (even though it includes a pandemic and weird earthquakes and windstorms and a whole lot of Armageddon-feelings). Because although all that weirdness is happening, I am still holed up with Bryce and taking ping-pong breaks and walks around the loop to visit the goose couple in the pond and the turtles in a different pond and all the many herds of deer in our neighborhood (not a lot of people, which is why we're okay taking the walks).

Sometimes you just have to sit in the woe-is-me for what was lost in order to find a newfound appreciation for what is gained.

Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy!

Monday, April 6, 2020

Pandemic Odds and Ends

I still can't get over the fact that I'm writing "pandemic" unironically.

  • Yesterday my neighborhood (which is usually pretty recluse-friendly) had a "social distancing event," which was hard to wrap my head around, where they wanted everyone to come out between 1-2 in the afternoon and walk clockwise, so you could stop and chat with neighbors across the width of the street and connect. I went back and forth and Bryce basically said NO, all it takes is one person not paying attention to distance and BAM, you're exposed, and so I sat on the deck with my book so I could wave and say hi to people as they passed. Which I thought was a good cheat but only 2 people went down the dead end, 1 who didn't live on it, and people seemed to think I was a little odd for not joining in. Not me though, when I saw people totally congregating and some people walking way closer than they should have. Then I was more than happy to be the weirdo on the deck.
  • It's really hard having my dad living alone in California, across the country, with minimal support available in the semi-lockdown. I'm using the power of the internet to try to help him not have to go out for food as he is in the high risk category. It's amazing how quickly this situation amped up worry for my parents that typically would come a little later in life. We worry about them all, but my dad's the only one who's alone. Which is scary.  
  • I had a positive day for school where I ACTUALLY GOT A HOLD OF the one student who has been eluding everyone for three weeks, and I've been calling both parents with no results, and the social worker got the student's dad's accurate phone number and so I connected there first, but then the school social worker actually got the student's number from the dad, which resulted in success! I had an HOUR conversation with him and am getting him set up with a laptop and convinced him that maybe doing some of the work wouldn't be so terrible and it will be good to get on board sooner than later. It was so good to hear his voice and I probably scared him when he called me back and I yelled "______, you're ALIVE! I'm so HAPPY!" So that's good. That's a student who definitely knows his teacher cares about him and meant it when she said she'd track him down if he "disappeared." Thank goodness for social workers!
  • I decided to make the weekend separate from the workweek and preserving that for self-care, by not doing any planning (which is normally a foreign idea, Sundays are for planning), but then a couple of students who hadn't been in touch texted or emailed me work or request for access and I was happy to have the opportunity to engage. I don't want to be "on" 24/7, but I also can't pass up an opportunity to snag a student who is finally initiating some work. I also spent a couple of hours recording and editing my read-aloud of Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelson (I did the proper channels thing to get temporary permissions from the publisher to put the files up on a closed system for educational use only), which is technically work but is also wicked fun and I am learning how to use Audacity as an audio recording program. Pretty cool. 
Want to read some #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy!

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Inspirational Book Recommendation

Untamed by Glennon Doyle · OverDrive (Rakuten OverDrive): eBooks ...

I was listening to Brene Brown's  Unlocking Us podcast at a friend's recommendation while doing a puzzle last weekend when she teased her next episode (I'm behind of course) and said her next guest would be Glennon Doyle, author of Untamed, and wouldn't it be awesome if everyone read her book and it was like a virtual book club of sorts. 

The same friend who recommended the podcast also is reading Untamed for her book club (it's a Feminist Book Club, which I am trying to figure out how to surreptitiously invite myself to because it sounds fantastic), and so when I heard it twice I was like, "Okay, message received...I will go read this book (before I listen to that episode)." 

I knew absolutely NOTHING about Glennon Doyle before getting the book (on my Kindle, so I could get it and read it right away, and so I could save all my highlights which was good because for this book I had a zillion). I had no idea that she was made famous by her inspirational writing as a traditional Christian woman. I had no idea that she had a crisis when her marriage was strained by infidelity, but she didn't re-examine her life and what she wanted it to be until she met and fell in love with Abby Wambach. Like, the soccer phenom from my very own Rochester, NY. And so this book is NOT so much about her traditional Christian life that she had before, it is about dismantling the life she had that did not serve her, keeping the parts that made sense, and starting a new one that is true and beautiful. 

The book is gorgeous. 

She is so very good at weaving vignettes of memoir and self-improvement thoughts together without at all being preachy. Her writing is poetic. She has threads that wend their way throughout all the pieces, right to the very end. The book is brutally honest about examining your life and your priorities, listening to your Knowing, doing right by children (sound advice not just applicable to parents but anyone who loves children and has influence), dealing with grief, and managing anxiety and depression. 

I went from "Glennon who? What's a Glennon?" to "Glennon Doyle is my spirit animal." I love her, and I found so many ideas that I just want to remember and internalize. She is a window in some respects (I am not married to a woman, I am not a person of religious faith, I am not a parent) and a mirror in others (living a different life than the one imagined, finding yourself in your 40s, dealing with grief and anxiety and depression). Often I stopped and thought, "ARE YOU IN MY FREAKING HEAD, GLENNON? How do you KNOW these things?" I'm telling you, in a time when everything in the world looks so dire and terrifying, it was so soothing to read something that felt like a best friend giving you great advice peppered with swear words, and telling you about their life, warts and all. I loved it. 

Here are some of my favorite nuggets that apply to the infertility experience, particularly resolving differently than you'd hoped: 

"The truest, most beautiful life never promises to be an easy one. We need to let go of the lie that it’s supposed to be."

"Our next life will always cost us this one. If we are truly alive, we are constantly losing who we just were, what we just built, what we just believed, what we just knew to be true." 

"Grief is a cocoon from which we emerge new."

"If you let yourself shatter and then you put yourself back together, piece by piece, you wake up one day and realize that you have been completely reassembled. You are whole again, and strong, but you are suddenly a new shape, a new size. The change that happens to people who really sit in their pain—whether it’s a sliver of envy lasting an hour or a canyon of grief lasting decades—it’s revolutionary. When that kind of transformation happens, it becomes impossible to fit into your old conversations or relationships or patterns or thoughts or life anymore. You are like a snake trying to fit back into old, dead skin or a butterfly trying to crawl back into its
cocoon. You look around and see everything freshly, with the new eyes you have earned for yourself. There is no going back."

"I will not stay, not ever again—in a room or conversation or relationship or institution that requires me to abandon myself. When my body tells me the truth, I’ll believe it. I trust myself now, so I will no longer suffer voluntarily or silently or for long."

And passages about living with anxiety and depression (I actually read some of this to Bryce because I was like, "She can put this perfectly -- this is how I feel..."):

"Being both depressed and anxious is a bit like being Eeyore and Tigger at the same time. It’s like always living a little too low and a little too high. It’s always struggling to be at the level where life happens, which is here and now. ... Depression and anxiety are body snatchers that suck me out of myself so that I appear to be there but I'm really gone." 

"Depression, for me, is a forgetting, an erasing, a slow fade into nothingness. It is like I run out of Glennon, and there is nothing left but panic that I am gone forever this time. Depression takes all my vibrant colors and bashes them together until I am gray, gray, gray."

"Anxiety is feeling terrified about my lack of control over anything, and obsessing is my antidote."

"It’s just that living with anxiety—living alarmed—makes it impossible to enter the moment, to land inside my body and be there. I cannot be in the moment because I am too afraid of what the next moment will bring. I have to be ready. ...When one lives in a state of constant vigilance, if something actually goes wrong: Forget about it. Full panic." (This section was particularly true because she was like, "Abby is late, clearly she's dead. I didn't get a call from someone right when they said, they're dead. Everything goes straight to DEAD DEAD DEAD." Paraphrased, but that is EXACTLY how I operate. Bryce is late? He's clearly in his car, upside down in a ditch, squished and bloody, definitely dead or almost dead and he can't reach the cell phone to call me and tell me goodbye. Screwed up? Yes. Constant thought process? Absolutely.)

"I do not believe that when we die, one of us will be presented with the She Who Suffered Most trophy. If this trophy does exist, I don’t want it. If there are people in your life—parents, siblings, friends, writers, spiritual “gurus”—who judge you for taking prescribed medicine, please ask to see their medical license. If they can show it to you and they happen to be your doctor, consider listening. If not, tell them sweetly to fuck all the way off. They are two-legged people who are calling prosthetics a crutch. They cannot go with you into the dark. Go about your business, which is to suffer less so you can live more." 

Honestly, I could keep going, but I want you to read the book if this speaks to you. Because it was empowering, and hopeful, and honest. And because it is the story of a beautiful life, but also all the pain and grief and difficulty that had to be hurdled in order to get there, which makes that beautiful unexpected life all the more amazing and appreciated. Which is something I can wholly relate to, although our experiences were different.