Tag Archives: friendship

Thankful

Having just celebrated Thanksgiving, I am feeling a need to talk about gratitude. Most people don’t think enough about how many blessings they have in their lives because they focus too much on the daily humdrum of life. It is much easier to focus on negativity when it sometimes does take more effort to open your eyes to all the beautiful things that are right in front of you. I live my life, acknowledging my gratitude twice daily: morning and night (through journaling), making a conscious decision to do so. In honor of this month of gratitude, here are 30 (thirty!) things for which I am grateful, and believe me, I could list about a gazillion more than what’s here:

(Aside from the first one, listed in no particular order!)

1. Bruce: my other half, my partner in crime, my best friend, my husband, my fiancée. He never wavers, and he has taught me how to love purely, and with all that I have. No matter what obstacles life throws our way, we conquer them together.

2. A roof over my head, food in my fridge, and love in my heart. These all go together because we had to live in a hotel for 5 months while our home was being built, and I can never take for granted how it feels to be home. We spent plenty of our younger “hungry years” food shopping at my mother-in-law’s pantry, and now we have a well-stocked fridge and pantry, and even when we neglect the food shopping, there is still always enough to make a simple meal. And love because no matter where Bruce and I live, there is always love in my heart.

3. Autumn in NJ. There is nothing more beautiful than the palette of oranges, reds, and golds that naturally decorate our environment, even on years when they say it’s a bad season for foliage. Sometimes I wish I could pull my car over even in the worst of places because the view is that beautiful. The fall also reminds me that I survived another summer and that the coziness of winter is imminent.

4. Every single day when I can put my two feet on the floor and walk unassisted. I work hard to stay strong, and after 14 (+) years with MS, this is something that I am truly grateful for. (Don’t ask me about going up and down steps though!)

5. Yoga. It has taught me to connect my mind, body, and spirit. As much as my lack of balance can make things difficult, I like the challenge, and I never give up. Walk into my house almost any day of the week and you’ll see my mat, evidence that I am constantly practicing.

6. My family (steps and all!). They are spread all over the east coast, but their support is felt from all corners.

7. I feel a special sense of gratitude for my sister, Lorri, and my brother-in-law, Ken. They have been by my side (literally) through all the ups and downs. My sister was there with me the day I found out I had cancer, and both of them were there the day I celebrated the end of my cancer treatment and they witnessed me ringing the gong.

8. My Rankin family. For almost 23 years they have loved and supported me without question. And because I am a Rankin I have been blessed with a little sister and a nephew, both of whom I absolutely adore.

9. My MS family. This motley crew of crazies is essential to my mental health. Although support from family and friends is great, nothing replaces this group who can truly understand the challenges that I face every single day.

10. Living in this day and age where there are treatment options for MS patients to help slow down illness progression, giving us all a better quality of life. While I don’t think I’ll see a cure in my lifetime, as long as they continue to find more treatments for us, my gratitude is infinite.

11. My fur babies, past and present. Rescuing these poor pups that never would have been adopted otherwise has added so much joy to my life, and although it’s heart-breaking to lose them, the happiness they bring on a daily basis is worth it.

12. Diane, my trainer. In addition to working me out, she has become a trusted friend, who I consider family. She plays many roles for me: cheerleader, therapist, trainer, sister, and friend. She has helped me change both my body and my mind, and for that alone I am eternally grateful. She knows what I need when I need it, and words can’t describe how important she is to me.

13. My volunteer job at Marty’s Place Senior Dog Sanctuary. The “residents” are so loving, and I have met so many other like-minded individuals in both the many other volunteers I have met there as well as in the very skeleton crew of paid employees. They never waste an opportunity to thank the volunteers and to let us know how important we are in the daily upkeep of this extremely special place.

14. Having taken my cancer diagnosis and used it to build more inner strength.  Today I can look back at the beginning of my journey (starting just about one year ago), knowing that I faced it head on, with a smile on my face…and kicked ass.

15. Being proactive in my medical care, knowing how to use the tools at my disposal and sift out the fluff to understand the meat. I’m not afraid to advocate for myself, and I can do it without getting angry.

16. Having learned to listen to my body, and to understand what it needs and when it needs it. I know when I am over-tired and need rest, and I know when I can push through. I know when I have a gut feeling, I need to listen to it, and I’m grateful that I have learned this lesson.

17. My former students, near and far, who continue to play such an important role in my life. They help me to see the good in others as I watch them blossom as adults, doing amazing things. They make me happy just thinking about how far they have come, and they fill my heart up with endless amounts of pride.

18. Meditation, specifically Transcendental Meditation (TM). Through the process of learning TM, I am generally a more self-aware, calmer version of the person I used to be. TM allows me to settle my mind and give myself those 20 precious minutes of clarity.

19. Air conditioning. It sounds trivial, but when you suffer from heat intolerance due to MS (and you lose your vision when overheated), it takes on new meaning… especially when you live in NJ where the summer months bring what feels like never-ending heat and oppressive humidity. Also, the curly girl in me appreciates the AC as well, but for completely different reasons!

20. On-line shopping. Being that crowds make me anxious (mostly because I can’t feel my feet which throws my balance off), being able to still do my holiday shopping on my own, without fear of walking into people (or things) and embarrassing myself, helps me maintain my independence.

21. Social media. How else could I have reconnected and stayed in contact with so many amazing people from so many different aspects of my life? (Pssst: if you don’t see me on Facebook, it simply means that things got too political for me and I took a little break, but you will always see me on Instagram!)

22. Photography. This little hobby of mine has given me friendships with some pretty spectacular people. I never knew I could feel such a strong connection with friends simply because of a shared passion!

23. My forever friend, MHP, for always ALWAYS loving me. We don’t live ten minutes from each other like when we were younger, but it doesn’t matter. She is forever in my heart and no matter how long we go in between visits, it’s always like no time has passed at all.

24. My “brother from another mother”, BH, for coming back into my life at a time when we both needed a specific kind of friend to suit a specific purpose. He has seen me through so much and I am so thankful for his kindness and support. Not a day goes by without a text or a phone call, which in itself is hugely comforting to know that he has my back always.

25. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and On-Demand. Being able to watch anything we want so quickly, without having to go out to the movies is the best. Aside from the germaphobe in me who gets grossed out by sitting in chairs that who knows what kind of person sat in last, the MS patient in me appreciates not having to choose the right moment to go to the bathroom without fear of tripping in the dark. At home I can press “pause” as many times as I need to!

26. Having chosen a profession and worked long enough to earn disability retirement so that I could collect my pension early, allowing me to take care of myself and my illness, and still contribute to the household bills.

27. The families of former students who have brought me into the loving fold of their own families because of the relationships we established so many years ago. It’s hugely validating to me, not just as a former teacher, but also as a human being. All I did was love their kids and help them to succeed, but that’s all I had to do, apparently. I’m so thankful to feel so loved.

28. Coffee. And certain medications. When chronic fatigue rules your life, you must give thanks for anything that helps you push through the day, whether prescribed by a doctor or otherwise.

29. Texting. Sometimes I just don’t have it in me to have a full conversation over the phone, and texting allows me to check in with (or be checked in on by) friends and family, with less effort expended. It’s not that I don’t want to talk to loved ones, but sometimes, I simply do not have enough energy.

30. I am grateful for this life I’m living. It’s not perfect, nor is it what I envisioned for me and Bru, but it’s the only life I have been given. Despite the obvious, our life is perfectly imperfect, and overcoming so much together only makes it that much sweeter.

So there you have it. With very little thought, I have listed a whole month’s worth of people and/or things for which I am eternally grateful. I’m not saying that you need to physically acknowledge your gratitude twice daily like I do, but I am saying that if you start and end your day with gratitude, there’s no way that you will be able to fixate on any negativity that arises during the day. We all deal with stress in our lives, and I have found the best way to counteract stress and negativity is by focusing on gratitude. I dare you to try it. You’ll be amazed at how differently you view your world. So tell me… What are you thankful for?

PS. I took a little tumble and dislocated my finger the night before posting this blog, so I am adding the fact that I’m grateful that my finger isn’t broken, and should heal up much more quickly than if it were broken. I’m also grateful that I didn’t dislocate a body part more important than a pointer finger.

Enough

Recently I was introduced to a book that changed my life. First I listened to the audio version, which is generally what I do. But I found the book so powerful on so many levels that I actually bought it. Now it’s full of notes and highlights because I have read it over and over, and no matter where I open it to, I find something useful. It’s called “I Heart Me (The Science of Self-Love)” by David Hamilton, PhD.

I am enough!

(Disclaimer: I have nothing to do with the publishing or creation of this book, nor do I receive anything for endorsing it!)

Basically, the book explains that self worth is about biology and is in our genes, yet somehow we lose sight of it as we navigate our way through life. We seek validation from others, but our worth is within us when we reprogram our brains to acknowledge it.  In essence, the book helps us understand ourselves, learning to be truly authentic and happy, with the goal being the ability to say “I am enough” and truly mean it.

The phrase “I am enough” has become part of my daily intentions (or mantra). Every single day when I write my intentions in my journal, I start off with that phrase, even if I didn’t mean it when I first started doing it. But part of reprogramming our brains, according to Dr. Hamilton, includes repetition of this phrase because eventually we become fully aware of it and we believe it.

Thinking about what my blog would be this week, my MS sister (who actually introduced me to this book) suggested talking about all the reasons that make me feel that “I am enough” even though people with chronic illnesses often can’t recognize these things in themselves for a multitude of reasons.

For example, many of us don’t work because we are on permanent disability. For someone who identified herself first and foremost as a teacher, when I stopped working it was hard to see that “I am enough” when the thing that most defined me was no longer a part of my life. But my legacy remains and because I am still surrounded by so many young adults who have been a part of my life since they were just teenagers, they remind me that I am enough.

This guy right here is just one of the many former students who remain constants in my life. #blessed

This book also taught me that I don’t need people to like me in order to be enough. I spent so many years putting other people before myself and I thought that doing more for them meant they would like me more, and therefore I would be validated. The truth is that validation comes from within and while I love doing for others, I don’t need to in order to be enough. Narrowing my circle of friends to those who truly love and appreciate me is so much more empowering, and no matter how much or how little I give them, I know that I am enough.

These friends never make me feel like I am not enough. #mssisters

As a perfectionist, I was never happy unless I achieved perfection.  This happened in all aspects of my life. Reading this book made me see that I need not be perfect in order to be enough. I learned that only I could see what I perceived as inadequacies and faults because I was the only one holding the microscope up to myself. As promised in this book, moving forward with self-love made the perfectionism fade. I’m not saying I have overcome it entirely but I’m a whole lot better than I used to be.

Perhaps one of the most important lessons that Dr. Hamilton taught me in this book is that I don’t have to look a certain way or be a certain size in order to be enough. Body image has long been an issue for me, and learning to love my body no matter what size or shape, without shame, comes slowly. I had to learn to think outside the stereotype I felt I needed to live up to, and instead focus on the many things I do to keep myself strong. Opinions are subjective and I might not fit anyone else’s ideal, but I am 100% me. Comparing to anyone but myself resulted in an unhealthy feeling that lead to never feeling I was enough, and I am.

It doesn’t matter what i look like. Whether heavier or thinner, I am loved. Sure, I like being thinner like I am now, but I face a lot of obstacles, and regardless of my size I am enough.

Allowing my vulnerability to show has also given me great strength. There is something very liberating about baring one’s soul, and other people appreciate it even if they can’t quite identify it. Vulnerability includes being honest and authentic with ourselves and others, and only then can a true connection be made. Even though we could get hurt in the process, it’s worth it because we learn that even though we are raw and sometimes flawed, we are still enough.

But by far the most valuable lesson this book taught me is that I need to be as compassionate, forgiving, and understanding with myself as I am with others in my life. We are always quick to comfort others when they feel they have made a mistake, but we don’t offer ourselves the same courtesy. I deserve compassion. I deserve forgiveness. I deserve understanding. I am human, too. And I am enough.

Bru always always assures me that I am enough.

This book was no ordinary book for me. What I learned is that it’s very liberating to go through the process of accepting that I am enough. In every way. If you are ready to learn how to accept yourself as enough, the minutia of daily life that normally makes you feel inferior, no longer weighs you down. The progress I have made has not been easy nor has it come quickly. But every day I am making steps to be the truly happy and authentic me that is just waiting to make her appearance. I am not sure the version of me that first listened to this book would even recognize me now, and I’m not even done yet. In the meantime, I can rest comfortably knowing that I am, indeed, enough.

Depression

Sometimes in life, we find ourselves in a place we are not accustomed to. I’m not talking about a physical space, but rather the space which occupies our minds. For this glass-half-full girl, it is very difficult when my mind wanders off the usual sunny path I follow.

Sometimes the inside just doesn’t match the outside.

People with chronic illnesses are definitely more subject to suffering from depression than your average, healthy person, and many of us do take antidepressants to help us manage the weight of it all. But even with medications, there are times when depression can overtake us, and that’s ok. One of my MS sisters told me she “doesn’t live there but she visits on occasion.”  I love this analogy because it makes me feel like it’s ok, especially because I so strongly believe that as human beings, we need to experience the whole range of emotions in order to appreciate everything in our world.

For me, my frustration has been building since I broke my toes. I never thought that two little toes could affect my entire body the way they have. But it’s true. Those two toes have affected my balance and stability, as well as the alignment of my entire body. I am beyond grateful for my trainer and her patience that tempers my disappointment even though she can’t make me heal any more quickly than I am. I am desperate to get back to working out like an athlete, not an MS patient. Anyone who has ever been an athlete can surely relate to this, the feeling of losing despite the hard work being put forth.

My ankle is wrapped in kinesiology tape in hopes that my stability will improve.

This little setback came right on the heels of breast cancer. It seems like I didn’t deal with the emotions of a cancer diagnosis because I just put myself on autopilot to do what I needed to do, the way I always do… with a smile on my face. Now I have completed treatment,  but opted out of the prescribed protocol of endocrine therapy in favor of handling the continued treatment with a naturopathic oncologist. But I feel like I’m hanging in limbo, waiting for someone to either tell me that I am cancer free or that I have a recurrence of cancer. Plus, while I felt loved and supported through my entire cancer journey, now that it’s “over” (for the others in my life, but will never be for me), life goes on for everyone else while I feel like I am waiting for the other shoe to drop. And meanwhile, breast cancer precluded me from going on a new Disease Modifying Therapy for MS which I have had my eye on for years as it progressed through clinical trials all the way to approval. This was a huge blow and as I see more patients that are lucky enough to take it, I get more bummed out.

Then there are the relationships that have changed, for reasons I don’t understand but I am working hard to accept. I generally find comfort in my MS sisters but it seems we are all in a bit of a funk and dealing with our own issues so it has been way too long since we have been able to spend any quality time together. All of these things together have been adding to the weight I’m carrying that is diametrically opposed to who I am. I mean I cried for six hours the other day, which is so NOT me, especially considering that I often can’t cry even when I want to, thanks to the antidepressants that usually help maintain my emotional stability!

This little girl knew I was upset and she sat on top of me as I cried.

I recognize this place, as I (like my MS sister) do visit occasionally. While I am here, I take note of all of my feelings: the good, the bad, and the ugly, so that I can further appreciate all of the amazing things that I am blessed with when I leave. And I always leave, knowing full well that it’s ok to come back to visit, but it just isn’t where I live.

Gratitude

This week, my MS sisters and I were honored to participate in a video project intended to be shown at a very prestigious annual fundraiser for the MS Center where we are patients. Then to add to my excitement, I was asked to give a speech to the crowd, right after Daniel Rodriguez, the singing police officer who performed the national anthem on almost every major event here in the tri-state area in the wake of 9/11. The whole campus of the hospital is transformed into an elegant venue, as it becomes “an evening in the vineyard”, the biggest fundraiser of the year for our MS Center. Tickets are not cheap, so just being there is an honor in itself.

His voice blew me away!

For me, I am in my element when I am in front of an audience, using my skills honed through years of teaching, educating others. I love being able to share my personal struggles with others so that they can see that everyone struggles in so many different ways. I like seeing light bulbs go on in people’s minds as they make connections that they wouldn’t have made without having me standing in front of them as a visual. I like being able to speak on behalf of so many, especially when the audience is receptive (something I didn’t experience very often as a teacher!).

I’m very comfortable at the podium.

Remembering how despondent I was when I tearfully resigned my teaching position, makes me extra happy to be able to speak at events like this one. I have often been told that I’ll always be a teacher, except now the world is my classroom and my students are not held to the confines of a high school setting.

On the video screen at the entrance to the event.

Throughout the night, I had perfect strangers coming up to me and thanking me for talking to them, and telling me how inspired they were. They were the ones opening up their wallets to support the cause, yet they were quick to tell me how much they enjoyed listening to what I had to say. And all I could do was thank them right back, not only for their compliments but also for their generosity. I witnessed the kindness of strangers in the form of more handshakes and hugs than I could even begin to count. It’s nights like that when I am reminded of how positivity is contagious, and I love that. There was no pity or sadness, but rather celebration of good people doing good things for a community that desperately needs it. My heart literally could have burst out of my chest with gratitude.

My sisters.

As for me, I enjoyed a beautiful night filled with good food, good wine (and beer), and amazingly generous people. Plus I spent it with my MS sisters and my partner in crime, who rearranged his work schedule to be my date. At one point during the evening, I looked around just to take it all in so that I could lock it away in my memory for safe-keeping. At the end of the night I should have been exhausted but instead I found myself invigorated. I’m pretty sure that’s what people mean when they talk about being “high on life”.

All four one. Taken from our video.

With all that I have been through in 2017 with my breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment, this night was exactly what I needed to kick-start a happier, healthier ending to what might have been the most difficult year I have ever had. No medication or treatment plan could have left me feeling better than I did when I left this event. I am so glad that I stopped to really feel the love because the memory will sustain me for longer than you could even imagine.

Just a sampling of the goodies. (photo credit: Carla)

(Also, sending a big shout out to my former student who served me some awesome craft beers. Thanks, John!)

As Is

Some things are so hard to explain to others when you have a chronic condition. It seems like no matter how many ways I try to describe what it’s like, it just doesn’t matter, and because others don’t understand it’s all the more frustrating for me, and thus I feel pressure when I shouldn’t.

I couldn’t ask for a better big sister and bro-in-law.

I have simplified my life because I have had to, not because I wanted to. Things I used to do with no problem have become exponentially harder as the years pass and my condition throws more challenges my way. Gone are the days when I could plan to do anything I wanted: travel to Florida to visit family, zip in and out of the city on the train, spend hours shopping, or even just have firm plans for both days on any given weekend. But alas, those are all parts of my past because I am no longer as capable.

My beautiful MS sisters showing their support by wearing my warrior shirt.

People look at me and think I look fine.  But they don’t know how hard everything is for me. When we have firm plans (such as this week when we are attending a concert), I know that I need take time to prepare, both mentally and physically. I will limit my activities so that I am well-rested and in the right mindset to completely enjoy what is planned to the best of my ability. It’s not that I don’t want to be social and do things, but everything is so hard. Even things like taking a shower and getting myself to look presentable are difficult for me for so many reasons, not least of which is what I call “painsomnia”, a condition that affects me every single night. I challenge even the healthiest of individuals to live a “normal” life with serious sleep deprivation.

This girl gets me on a level that most of my friends can even begin to understand. Notice she is wearing my warrior shirt? Love her.

Often times when we have plans, I say that I am a “game day decision” because I never know how I’m going to feel. And if I should happen to miss an event, I am accused of being purposely “absent” because I do attend other events. Unfortunately, MS does not care what things happen on which days, and frankly, MS simply does not play nice! I don’t use it to “get out” of things, but I do realize how it limits me. I know which scenarios are doable for me, and which are not.

This guy showed up when others ran away.He is my brother from another mother and I am so grateful for his friendship.

This has not been an easy lesson to learn and I have often struggled with it through the years. I walk a fine line between happily doing the things I can and want to do, and being sad and frustrated because I know that I can’t do certain things that I used to love. Being who I am, I have learned to look at everything in my life through the glass half full lens.

Sisters from other misters.

Simply put, that means that I am grateful to have had so many wonderful experiences even if I can’t still enjoy them. Instead of dwelling on what I can no longer do, I focus on what I can do. I no longer care what anyone else thinks or says about me because I have so many awesome people who accept me exactly as I am now, not least of whom is my partner in crime, Bruce, who has never wavered. Skinny or fat, makeup or none, blonde or pink, mobile or immobile, it just doesn’t matter.

The. Best. Ever.

Now I only surround myself with people like Bruce who never make me feel anything but whole… a human being not defined by my diagnoses but rather by my character. Never do I have to explain “why” because the people that matter already know the answer, and they love me anyway. I am beyond justifying it or defending myself, and with my peeps I never have to. Even though my inner circle may have gotten smaller through the trials and tribulations of life, it offers me more strength, support, and love than I ever thought possible.

Never any shortage of laughter (or love) with my guy…

Thank you to my inner circle for keeping me whole, grounded, and genuinely happy. I don’t know how I got so lucky, but it doesn’t really matter I guess. I’ll just continue to thank the universe every damn day, not for giving me MS, but for giving me all the gifts (in the form of lessons learned and an extra special MS family) that I have been given as a result.

Forever Friend

I have always been of the mindset that I don’t need oodles and oodles of friends. I just need a few loyal friends with whom I have a deep connection. Some have come and gone through the years, as life happens. And it isn’t the quantity of friends that I hold dear, but the quality. Through all the ups and downs of life, I am blessed to have a very special “forever friend”, a name she coined for us back in the 1990’s.

Us… circa 1993

Meg and I went to high school together, but that was just the beginning of our friendship. We also worked together and we spent most of our waking hours together. We spent many hours driving around in her car (usually), car dancing, smoking cigarettes, or just hanging out. Beverly Hills 90210 was a given that we would watch together, and some of my most vivid memories center around those times. Of course, we got into our fair share of trouble together, but we were young and we were not tethered to much more than each other.

With my beautiful “niece”, Peyton.

We connected on so many levels, not the least of which was our shared socioeconomic background and the roles that our parents played at various times through the years. It seemed that no matter what I was going through, she could relate due to her experiences, and vice versa. Sometimes there were little gaps of time when we were both too busy adulting that we didn’t see each other as often, but when we did, we always fell right back into sync like no time had passed at all.

We survived our hormonal teens together, our crazy college years, and even the brutal years of trying to start our lives as adults. We have been there for each other through multiple divorces (in our respective families) and the inevitable drama that ensued, our family homes being sold, moves out on our own, medical issues, and about a gazillion other things. No matter where I am in my life I know that I have my forever friend who has loved me longer and supported me harder than just about anyone else in my life.

Even though life happens and we live farther away from each other than I would like, we still try to get together as often as possible. I absolutely love the way we have grown together even while not living 10 minutes from each other like back in the day. For example, we are both very fitness minded, and Meg has recently become involved in Spartan races. I find it more than coincidental that competing in a Spartan Sprint has been a goal of mine for quite some time, as a way of acknowledging my 15th MS diagnosiversary next year. I discovered that there is a race on the exact day (June 2, 2018), and when I mentioned it to Meg, without hesitation she signed up right along with me. And even though she will have already completed the “trifecta” by then (a sprint, a super, and a beast all in the same year), she is still willing to dial it back as I compete in my first. What’s more, she said it will be her best race ever. I can’t think of a more perfect way to acknowledge this date than with my lifetime friend who knew me before MS, before spinal fusion surgery, and before breast cancer, and who has been by my side through it all.

Proof. We are doing it together.

Megan is loving and kind, thoughtful and compassionate, selfless and sweet. I could never ask the universe for more in a person who I have leaned on so heavily for the better part of the last 30 years. She can still read me like a book, without even seeing my face, and friendships like ours don’t come along very often. In fact many people live an entire lifetime and never get to experience what it’s like to have someone like Meg to call their forever friend.

I remember vividly a session with my therapist long ago, when I first stopped working and was feeling abandoned by so many people. She told me that day that people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. With Meg, there has never been a question as to where she fits for me, because she is the only person in my life who actually defies that saying. Megan came into my life for a reason, has endured the seasons with me, and will remain in my heart and soul for the rest of our lives.


(P.S. I know Meg is happy as can be right now because I have not included any incriminating photos and that we were young and free before the digital age!)

Partner

The other day, Bruce turned to me, and asked me why I always refer to him as my partner rather than my husband.  It’s not that he was upset or angry about it, it’s just that he was curious. And looking back at the many blog posts that include him in any way, I do always refer to him as my partner.

I looked at him and I almost didn’t even know where to start explaining. I mean partner encompasses so much more than saying husband or spouse. By being partners, Bruce and I share every single aspect of our life together.

This is the exact spot where Bruce first saw me walking across campus, and last summer we went back to the scene of the crime!

By simply calling him my husband, no one would know that he is my care partner. He is the one I lean on when I’m not feeling well, and he puts everything else aside for me during those times. He supports me physically when I’m not well by picking up my share of the slack around the house while still working full time. He does this without complaint, knowing that if the roles were reversed, I would do the very same for him.

Calling him my husband doesn’t reflect the depth of our friendship, that started when we were just 18 years old. He was my best bud for years before we started dating, and the history we shared during those years made our relationship much more special when we finally did get together. That’s how I knew it was for keeps because he’s still my best friend. He’s the first one I turn to when I need love and support. He makes me laugh so hard that I cry (and maybe even pee a little bit… but that could be MS too!?), and having him beside me, even if we are just sitting in silence, provides me with the kind peace of mind that calms me to my very core.

Saying that Bruce is my husband can’t possibly do justice to the guy who loved me even when my entire life revolved around my job… and even more when I added graduate school to the mix, taking away more time together from the already limited amount we had. Even when we were spending time together, I was always thinking about school or grad school. I was seldom fully present, but he supported me anyway because that’s what partners do.

Being my partner means that he has chosen to continue on our journey together despite the many obstacles we have faced. Being my partner means sharing the burden equally, and that burden can be pretty weighty at times. But when we each take half, it’s not so bad. Bruce wears many hats in our world… best friend, care partner, husband, fiancée, soul mate, and partner.

A reenactment of one of the very first pictures of us, taken in New Hope, PA.

I can’t even remember what it’s like to not have him as my partner, or when his title evolved to partner. What I do know is that having him as my partner in life has made everything better, including MS and breast cancer. Having him as my partner means I smile wider, love harder, and give thanks every damn day that he is there.

The truest sign of our partnership is that we complement each other so that each of us is better because of the other. With all that being said, it is true that Bruce is my husband. But he is my partner in this life, and being my partner entails way more than just being my husband. Plus, he’s the captain of #TeamRankin… and as we all know, #TeamRankin never loses!

Truth

Years ago when I was still a teacher early in the blissful years of my tenure at the BORO, I thought I had died and gone to heaven, having landed there after a difficult three years teaching elsewhere. I started as a long term substitute in a North Jersey high school, where I basically saved their rich asses from much parental outrage when an existing Spanish teacher left the district in a lurch with basically no notice. As such, and because the kids were used to not having a “real” teacher for so long, they really ruled the roost. I was cursed at, disrespected on a daily basis, had items thrown at me, and I had very little support. I knew that I was not meant to stay there because I felt that despite my lack of actual classroom teaching experience, I did my very best with what I was given. I then took a tenure track position closer to home, which I thought would be perfect for me. This new district referred to itself as a “suburban school with urban tendencies.” Translation: teaching in an inner city would have been a better idea. But I stuck it out for a second year because I thought it would make a difference having made a mark during my first year there. Yet even then, little discipline was handed out when students discussed my ass in front of me, or when they made me cover the auto shop where I heard things that no teacher should hear from the mouths of adolescents.


When I found my new home, word spread quickly, and the district retaliated against me because they heard that I was leaving. They were angry because I was heavily involved in advising extra and co-curricular activities, and all they could think about was filling my shoes. I was given a final evaluation that was disgusting and filled with lies, all without a single supervisor or administrator ever stepping foot inside my classroom. It hurt my ego even though I knew the truth but I took comfort in the fact that I would be moving on come the following September.


Then came the BORO, my beloved home away from home.  I thought for sure I would end up teaching the rest of my career there, which I did, even if it was cut short due to MS. A few years after I started there, we were blessed with a new school psychologist, who in my mind had always been an under-used resource, because I never in my teaching years before that, had ever met a school psychologist that had such a similar philosophy on our students than Dr. Brett Holeman.

The best of the best right here. I challenge you to find a more dedicated, compassionate, student-focused school psychologist anywhere. Go ahead and try! You won’t find it. He is truly one of a kind.


From day one, we connected because of the many students that we worked with together. While I always had great relationships with my students (even the ones that everyone else hated), I knew I was not qualified to handle many of the issues that result from the difficult life circumstances that our most at-risk students dealt with on a daily basis. I leaned heavily on Dr. Holeman for advice on how to handle specific students and circumstances, because after all, he’s was the doctor. I was just a classroom teacher. And a damn good one, too.

Both Brett and I believed (and still do) in the wellness of each student, inside and out. Each student was (and is) a complete individual with human necessities that include feeling safe and secure, and having an outlet for talking about the things that are not measured on data-based or high-stakes testing. Each student represents more than the dollar amount spent on their education, but rather a human being needing certain affirmations in order to become functioning members of the society in which we live.

 We were like-minded colleagues with an awesome working relationship, and a mutual respect for how we both viewed our population. We stayed late at school at times, always hoping to help our students with issues ranging from abusive relationships, homelessness, eating disorders, bullying, alcoholic or incarcerated parents, and the list goes on. Sometimes, I would simply join a student in his or her first session with the Doc, so that they would feel more comfortable until they could see how much help and peace Dr. Holeman could offer them. Beyond the walls of the school building, there was nothing, unless perhaps we had a brief exchange regarding one of our mutual students, or we ran into each other on a Friday night because we happen to reside in neighboring towns.

I trust and respect this guy so much, that I often referred colleagues to him when they had personal problems because he’s that good. One year around 2005 or 2006 (I can’t remember exactly, thanks to MS, but he probably knows), I went out on a medical leave due to an exacerbation of Multiple Sclerosis, and consequently missed the entire first half of the school year, from October until February. He checked on me frequently by email, and when I finally returned, he helped me work through my transition back to school. I can’t say that anyone else (except Bruce) was there for me during that difficult time, but Brett was.

We continued to work as a team in this manner until MS forced me out of work and I retired on disability in May of 2014. It was not how I expected my career would end, but sadly, MS is a progressive illness and I just was not able to perform my job the way it deserves to be done. No amount of compassion or love for my students could fix that for me.

 One day in the Spring of 2016, one of our shared former students (approaching 30 years old), reached out to me. She was about to be homeless and was desperate for support. Dr. Holeman and I both share the philosophy that if a former student, regardless of age, needs something that we are capable of assisting with, then we will. Because we believe in the wellness of our students in the grand scheme of life, not just the four years they spend with us in the confines of the school building. I spoke to the social worker at the MS Center where I am a patient, and I did some further research as well. Then, I reached out to Brett, who I had not spoken to since I retired, explaining the situation to him and sharing with him the research I had already done. I simply asked him if he could add to the list. He responded, immediately feeling the pang of sadness for this student, who we both adored. He told me he would check with a few other contacts he had and he would get back to me the following day. Which he did. Even though he didn’t have to. Especially since (unbeknownst to me), some egregious accusations had been launched against him, and he had been placed on administrative leave, pending investigation.

It was at that time that we reconnected in person. I can’t begin to express the depth of my complete and utter shock at the things that were being said about this man, whose only motive has ever been (or will ever be) the complete wellness of the population he serves: his students.

While my challenges are medical in nature, we both understand that these obstacles make us stronger, and we do not back down from them. Instead of explosive anger, he has used that emotion to push him forward in a positive direction with fitness and the art of natural physique body building. As with our like-mindedness relating to our students, we are also alike in this situation.  Although you won’t find me entering any fitness competitions, I use exercise, specifically yoga, as a positive outlet for my frustrations. He has persevered months of listening to his name and reputation being slandered, based on unsubstantiated hearsay while keeping his integrity in tact.

What I know for sure is that Dr. Brett Holeman is the best school psychologist you’ll ever find, and he has also been voted one of NJ’s top docs for kids. He is honest to a fault, and the only thing he has ever been guilty of is advocating too hard for a student in dire circumstances. What parent or guardian would be opposed to that?

I believe that the universe brought us together again at the exact moment when it did because I have been able to support him on this rocky part of his journey, while he supported me during the rocky road of breast cancer. Both of us have lost friends, or people who we considered friends, just because we were both faced with ginormous obstacles to overcome. It is at times of great adversity that people show their true colors, and we build up our strength (both physical and mental) to overcome the challenges placed before us. The two of us accept the fact that we are allowed to be afraid of the uncertainty before us, but we continue to forge ahead because we have faith that things are going to work out the way they are meant to.

 Ultimately, we are still working together as a team, and all of the former students that we are in contact with are still learning from us. No matter how old or young they are, they see us both persevering, and not ever considering giving up. The fact of the matter is that education extends far beyond the classroom and it doesn’t end at high school graduation.

For me and Brett, our lives have run oddly parallel to each other if you look at the big picture, and I could not be more grateful for his friendship or more proud of his perseverance. Just like our students, I’m still learning from him every single day.


Life does not always follow the plan you might have dreamed about, but our happiness depends on how we choose to address the difficult times. Thank you, Brett, for helping me remember this during my own trying times just by watching you. Your strength (not your muscles… although they aren’t bad either ?) is an inspiration to me and I am lucky to call you one of my very best friends.

Fight on, brother. The truth will come out and I’ll be right there celebrating with you when it does. #TeamBrett

I made this sign to hold up at one of Brett’s recent fitness competitions. It was worth making despite the blue and gold glitter that I will be finding in the oddest of places until the day I move out of this house!

Perspective

This past week I had a few rough patches. One day I found myself telling my MS family, and they all offered me comfort in the same loving way they always do. I thanked them and told them it was all good because tomorrow is a brand new day full of possibilities. Then another day, as we all checked in with each other via text, the norm on days when we don’t see each other, I found myself when asked how I was doing, responding that I could complain but I don’t. It’s not an act or something I put on in front of people, but rather absolutely the true and honest way I live my life.

(MS) Family is everything. My girls, my sisters, my angels. They saved me and showed me how to live as Rennie.

Every day when I sit with my journal and write my gratitude list, it seems to get longer and longer. Obviously I am grateful for the most amazing husband and partner, and the life we have built together. But beyond that, I’m grateful for things most  people don’t even think about… the perfect spring day photo field-tripping with my photog buddies, an awesome workout when my trainer says things like “MS? What MS?”, a body-encompassing hug from the ones I hold dear, doggy kisses (even when I’m frustrated about cleaning up another poop in the house), and even despite MS and breast cancer, I am so incredibly grateful for my health. It is precarious at times, but I have learned to slow down and nurture it, my relationships and how they have changed as a result, and the family I would never have found if I had perfect health!

My sneaky friend Marlene caught me thoroughly making the best of the photo field trip “barn tour” we took last week.

It’s so unfortunate that many people are never given this kind of eye-opening gift… one that comes from a difficult life circumstance but makes you see everything differently. I was that person until MS forced me to give up my beloved career. And even then, it has taken me years of processing and learning how to accept myself in this new light. I genuinely feel lucky for the gifts that I’ve been given through an experience that was the hardest thing I ever had to go through. I will never, ever regret the passion, energy, sleepless nights, and endless piles of work that made me Mrs. Rankin, the teacher, because I have so many beautiful people in my life because of her.

Mrs. Rankin with some of her all-time faves at their very last Walk MS before graduating.

But Rennie, the human being, has learned how to be satisfied with her best effort and she is not (quite as) obsessed with being perfect. She appreciates every moment of every day, whether she is spending time with former students, friends, and family, or spending the day cuddled on the couch with her pups. This girl knows how lucky she is that she has the opportunity to take care of herself how and when she needs without losing sight of that because she always took care of everyone and everything job-related before anything else, including her own wellness. She always sought work/life balance but she just couldn’t make it happen. Nothing could. Except MS.

Yoga has definitely been something I have leaned makes me feel better, and has also helped me get to know who Rennie is. I’m far from perfect, but it is called a practice for a reason!

Fighting a battle against MS is not easy, and certainly made harder when breast cancer was added to the mix. But again, I learned so much about who I could count on as part of my “ride or die” team, and also about myself and my own priorities. What I know for sure is that every single day is a clean slate and offers a whole new set of opportunities for each and every one of us. Instead of dwelling on what I miss about being Mrs. Rankin, I look at how much better it is to just be Rennie. I mean, my students are still growing up in front of me and doing some massively impressive stuff. And I get to experience it totally differently because I am Rennie. I don’t have to wake up at 4:45 in the morning and be within the confines of a classroom to continue my work as a teacher. I can really enjoy nights and weekends without the pressure of the job constantly weighing in the back of my mind.

New possibilities every single day…

Now I’m not saying I was miserable when I was Mrs. Rankin because that would devalue everything I did to be the teacher I was. I loved every second of it, but I just didn’t know how much more I could love life. And I do. I take nothing for granted because there are no guarantees ever.

Life with this guy since I stopped working just keeps getting better and better.

These days I’m smiling a whole lot more, laughing out loud (often boisterously and without fear of being stared at), and definitely loving those who have stayed the course with me much more deeply than ever. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a scare of epic proportions to gain the kind of perspective we all need to live a genuinely happy life. I’ve definitely had my share of these “scares” and oddly enough, I am happy that I have, because I am a better person, in a better place than I ever thought possible.

Celebration

This week Bruce and I are finally on a little getaway alone together, celebrating all the amazing things that we always celebrate in April: my birthday, his birthday, and our wedding anniversary. This year every celebration has had an extra note of euphoria with me having completed my treatment for breast cancer just three days before the start of all the usual festivities. This entry will be short and sweet because I’m enjoying every last bit of time we have together in this rare moment of complete and utter elation, feeling like we conquered the world (that sometimes feels like it’s working against us) yet again, and nothing can bring us down. Today the moral of the story is to enjoy every moment and live happily, because you never know what tomorrow will bring. Trust me…. this is something I’ve learned first-hand! See you next week!

We love taking road trips. There is always a “beginning of the trip” selfie!

There is so much about this picture that I love.

Walking around Burlington, Vermont in the rain is still making fun memories.

No comment necessary!

One of our favorite things to do when we travel is find as many local breweries as possible.

Cloudy and gloomy to some is gloriously beautiful to others.

I can’t always keep up with Bru and his beer, especially when he orders one with breakfast. I’ll stick with coffee!

This is how we roll on a road trip!