30 days of gratitude day 19 – Jump leads

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jump leads

Jump leads. Brilliant. I mean, I realise they have been around a while, and that they are not the most advanced technology we are blessed with in this day and age, but, God love ’em, I was grateful for their existence when my rear car door failed to close properly,  leaving the interior light gleaming all night and sucking the life out of my car’s battery. Confined to the village all day, we were unable to go shoppping and run errands, so were therefore forced – I mean absolutely against our will- to spend the day on the sofa watching rubbish films. At tea time, my husband arrived home with these magical cables in his boot. [Update- turns out they had been in my boot all along! Oops. Although I’m ashamed to admit I’d have had no inkling what to do with the things even if I’d realised they were close at hand.] So the car just booted up and sprang into action. That’s it. Fixed.

Look, I know this is not complicated stuff, and will not be an exciting revelation to many, if any. I just think it is such a beautiful analogy for life. The way these things work is so simple- one car battery says to another, “I have energy; you need energy; have some of mine. There you go, all better.”

It got me wishing, in my seemingly permanent energy-depleted state, that human bodies could be more like that. If only I could tap into the boundless vitality of my six-year-old, who cannot walk in a straight line without lurching into a cartwheel, cannot utter a sentence without breaking into a song and cannot approach a bedtime without a sudden impulse to read every book on the shelf. If I could convince my lethargic teenage son that all the spare effort that he is simply not arsed to expend right now, in his post A-level, pre-university sabbatical, could just be bagged up, transfused into my system and put to good use. Better use than endless Netflix marathons at any rate. How refreshing it could be to calm some giddy teenage girls who refuse to settle to their silent assessment task in class by offering to divest them of their nervous energy and spend it on keeping me awake through the afternoon double lesson. Maybe even long enough for me to mark said assessments before bed.

But sadly bodies don’t work that way. Our physical energy is ours and ours alone. We can expend our allocation on others if we choose, allowing them to save their stash for another day, another task, another occasion, but ultimately we either spend or waste it all ourselves. There is only so much to go around, and we have to make daily decisions as to how this is used up, increased or descreased by diet, exercise, lifestyle or just the people with whom we choose to surround ourselves. Choose wisely. There is no such thing as a human jump lead.

Positive energyAnd that is where I thought my post ended. About to click the “publish” button, I re-read the final paragraph and realised I completely disagree with myself. Because of course there is such a thing as a human equivalent of jump leads. I have written about many of them already in this blog. So many times in life when I have felt totally and entirely depleted, empty and devoid of all ability to motivate myself, the people around me have arrived, full of spare, freely-given energy, positivity and have re-energised me. “I have energy; you need energy; have some of mine. There you go, all better.” Human jump leads are everywhere, and I am thankful for every single one of them.

Putting Myself in a Box

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Swap BoxHow can you encapsulate your whole persona and ethos in one little box? This was the challenge I faced when I signed up to the Perfect Strangers Project last week. The premise is simple – you sign up and agree to create a gift box to send to a randomly partnered stranger, who has agreed to do the same. The spending guide is around £10, so creative thinking is the order of the day.

Representing Me…?

Little did I realise what a challenge this would represent. With only a short paragraph of biography about my intended recipient, I scoured the “Inspiration list” helpfully provided. It was clear that the box should represent me; should provide some insight into how I live my life and what I consider to be important. But how to condense this down to a small box full of items? The task put me in mind of the “what would you take if your house was on fire” challenge, only this time, without the pressure of an imminent inferno, there was more opportunity to arrive at a well-considered selection; therefore, more pressure to choose a truly representative sample.

Begin With Words

I began, as I so often do, with words. In the style of a lesson starter that I might give to students, I attempted the task of mind-mapping all the words that came to mind when I thought of “me”. Mother, teacher, meditator, creative (I’d like to be but it needs to be simple!), words, candles, tea, writing, environmentally aware, massages, chocolate, lists…

Once that was done, the task became a whole lot simpler. Below is the summary of the contents that I sent to my Perfect Stranger, and I am wholly satisfied that this embodies the life that I live. I just hope she likes it as much as I do!

  • Tea bags – my favourite teas, to help me relax and unwind, and to perk me up first thing in the morning. I usually wake at 5am and start the day with fruit or green tea…it’s pretty much downhill after that though and I revert to “builders’ tea” and end the day with a large glass of red – religiously! 
  • A candle – my favourite quote is “Better to light a candle than curse the darkness” (Eleanor Roosevelt I think…) and I have a candle tattoo on my left wrist to remind me of this. I find candles (especially smelly ones) are a real trigger for relaxation and often light one to meditate (see below) or before I start writing. 
  • Get Some Headspace book – I love meditation and have used it with friends and in school. I admit that I don’t always practise what I preach, but I try to stick to this advice – “You should spend 20 minutes every day meditating, unless you have don’t time, in which case you should spend an hour.” Easier said than done, mind…
  • Notebook – for quite a while now I have kept a gratitude journal (or, as my children call it, a “grateful book”, conjuring up mildly amusing images of a little book that is just happy to be alive and filled with pages!). Each day I write down three things that I am grateful for. Some days this is a chore and a bit of a struggle, so on those days I look to the most basic of luxuries – two arms, clean water… that sort of thing. There is always something, just some days I have to look a bit harder than others. 
  • A pencil (for writing in the book, I guess…) made from a Tamarind Tree branch. These trees are farmed for their fruit and the branches become waste products, so I love the idea that they can be reused and made into pens, pencils and something useful. Every little helps and all that.
  • Massage/ bath oil – my own blend. I’d love to tell you I follow some fancy instructions but in reality I just chuck in a few drops of whatever I fancy with some carrier oil. This is a grape-seed base with some geranium, frankincense and rosemary. Nut free, in case you have allergies. Just add a glug to running water for a relaxing bath, or massage into skin.
  • A Thornton’s Alpini bar – just because they are delicious. It has just occurred to me that if you are allergic to nuts, this is no good for you, but they are so yummy it was worth a gamble!
  • buntingBunting – made by my daughter and me from an old dictionary from my classroom that was headed for the recycling bin. Because bunting just makes me feel good, and I like the concept of words as decoration.
  • Some cards made by members of my Philosophy class- I gave them felt tips and 5 minutes to make  a card that showed either something they think is important or what Philosophy means to them (and I was strict on the 5 minute limit).
  • A postcard of my favourite analogy (the starfish story) which embodies my whole ethos on teaching (and life in general really), that you can always make a difference, even if only a small one. 
  • A sand timer- I carry one of these in my bag and when work, or life, gets stressful, I get it out and just breathe deeply and slowly until calm sets in. There isn’t always time for lighting a candle, and just closing your eyes and lying down is not always entirely appropriate. But sometimes I like to use this to just take a minute, literally. 
  • Sticky notes. I just love them. That is all.
  • A USB stick with my 12 favourite songs. [A playlist was provided for my partner, but that is another post for another day perhaps.]

It has been an interesting challenge, and as excited as I am about receiving my partner’s swap box, the process of creating my own has been far more thought-provoking and rewarding than I expected.

So, given a similar task – to fill a small box with items (costing no more than £10) that symbolise the essence of you –

what would you put in yours?

https://www.perfectstrangers.co via @swapasurprise

Breaking news

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breaking glass

Telling people is hard. Now I have an official diagnosis, I no longer want to hide this. People in my life have been asking if I have had any results from last month’s hospitalisation. Well, some people. Because I actually look well, and no one can see the numb foot, it is all but forgotten to many. I can more or less divide the people in my life currently into two camps – those that keep asking and those that don’t. The trouble is, those in the fomer camp are, by definition, the hardest to lie to and the hardest to be truthful to. The very closest people to me know already – parents, best friends (the Inner Circle – those that were the kind of friends that I could text from my hospital bed with a “please bring me…” list). But the Outer Circle – the people who I care about enough to not want to sadden them, to want to think carefully about what to say and how to say it – they are still many.

The teacher in me wants to …needs to… make sure the information is pitched just right, differentiated appropriately, conveys the right message, does not strike fear but doesn’t make light of it. Actually, if I cannot achieve this perfect balance along the continuum of gravitas then I would rather err on the side of light-heartedness. The hardest part of telling people this news is the looks on their faces; watching them upset and knowing that I am causing this. I want to make it easier for people. I want to say (and in some cases I have said this exactly), “Ï have Multiple Sclerosis, but it’s fine. I’m fine. I have a numb foot and that’s not so bad is it? In the grand scheme of things….”

I have researched  – or tried to – what to tell people, how to explain this condition in simple terms. But it isn’t really a simple condition, so I find myself falling into the trap of over-informing, drawing diagrams of nerves, scribbling out the myelin coating and doodling arrows from brain and spinal cord, only to cause more confusion, if the looks on the faces of my audience are to be interpreted…

My favourite explanation, after much juggling of component parts, has settled down to something like this:

 “My immune system gets confused and attacks my Central Nervous System (that’s the brain and spinal cord), eating away at the insulation. This makes my body not get the messages it needs, which makes bits not work. I am…” [this is my killer line – my “seeing the funny side and tackling this diagnosis with humour” punchline ] “I am literally getting on my own nerves!”  Cue nervous giggle, awkward moment, fumbling for what to say next…

My approach at this point, as I see the myriad un-askable questions flash through people’s minds, pausing just before reaching the mouth in a show of social convention, is to pre-emptively answer their un-asked questions. No, I am not certain to end up in a wheelchair. No, it is not terminal (average life expectancy for someone with MS is about 5-10 years less than the general population – hardly worth mentioning). No, I am not in any pain  – lucky me! Break into smile and wax lyrical about how it could be much worse and I am lucky really, relatively speaking… end on a positive. Always important to end on a positive. Then ask about them. The relief on their faces is palpable. The burden of what to say next can be seen to visibly lift from their shoulders.

It is hard to tell people. But I am starting to think it is actually harder to be one of the people being told. And that makes me feel bad.

MS Diagnosis Day 3

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candle

“It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

Today has been more about lighting candles than cursing the darkness. I have driven myself to town (and performed a feat of parallel parking worthy of a photograph!) and purchased kitten heels, Vitamin D supplements, antioxidant tea and a skipping rope. I also skipped on the school run.

I can do this.

MS Diagnosis Day 2 – coming home

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ugly days

I have arrived home having left the house as someone who is in perfect health, barring a numb foot or two, now an MS -what? Patient? Sufferer? Survivor (the urge to sing becomes overwhelming!)?

I have MS. It does not have me, but I have it. I can choose what to do with it, although I know that sometimes what I choose will simply have to be to allow “it” to choose, rather than me. I can – and must – choose to let go to at least some extent. I am not yet ready for that.