Tag Archives: teacher

A Reason

In light of circumstances happening in my life right now, I am bringing back a post that I originally published in August of 2014. I think what amazes me most is that years later, I still feel lost at times and certainly abandoned by people I never would have imagined would leave my side. But life has a way of surprising me, and not always in good ways, which means I just pick myself up, dust myself off, and give extra gratitude for the ones who remain by my side for the long haul. You know who you are so allow me this moment to thank you and tell you that I love and appreciate you more than you know.


When looking back at my journey with MS so far, I think that the hardest part has been how my friends and family have reacted to the ever changing me. When I was going through the grueling process of endless doctor appointments and tests that ultimately led to my diagnosis, I learned a lot about myself, but also about my friends and family. I quickly discovered who was going to stand by me for the long haul, and who was not prepared to handle the obstacles along the way. Some learned as much as they could about MS in order to be more understanding of my situation and more aware of what I was going through. Others slowly phased themselves out of my life, unnoticed until they just weren’t there anymore. Still others ran from our friendship, deserting me in my time of need.

This was not easy for me to accept. I don’t like to say goodbye to friends. A quality of mine that is both good and bad is that I love fiercely and with every fiber of my being. I would do anything for any one of my friends, and have always put the needs and wants of others ahead of my own. I give without question and offer support whenever I am needed. It’s who I am. I admittedly don’t understand when people are not like me. All I know is that I could never just abandon a friend, especially during difficult times. I will never relate to the way that some people could let go of our relationships, seemingly without a second thought.

Each time I relapsed, more friends seemed to fall out of my life leaving an indelible mark on my heart. I wondered why it was so easy to give up on years of friendship for reasons out of my control. Why couldn’t they still see me, the person underneath? Why couldn’t they see that my heart was still the same, only now it was broken into pieces, with each person taking a piece of it when leaving my side?

Through years of heartbreak, I finally realized that if someone couldn’t accept me as I am then I should not expend any energy hurting over it. The fact of the matter is that energy is limited for those of us with MS, and I decided that I was not going to waste what precious little I had on people who definitely did not spend any time or energy worrying about me. I started to scale back my efforts with those people, and suddenly all new and amazing people came into my life! Instead of being bogged down by negative energy, I surround myself with wonderfully supportive friends who spew optimism just like I do.

I am adjusting to my new normal every single day, and I am incredibly grateful for my small circle of lifetime friends who have remained steadfast at my side. But now I have newer friends who have shown me such tremendous warmth and compassion, and I don’t know what I’d do without them!

Finally, I recognize that not everyone is meant to be in my life forever. I am able to honestly declare that I am thankful to each person who has walked by my side, however briefly, on this journey of mine. I wouldn’t be the person I am now, with the understanding that I now have. As if I needed further clarification on how I came to arrive in this place, my (always full of wisdom) therapist brought everything into perspective for me by sharing a quote: “People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.” Indeed!

 

Rest

Rest. Such an innocuous word. You’ve probably said it to every single person you know, and probably multiple times. But I bet most people have never thought about the true balancing act that happens when you have Multiple Sclerosis. I would venture to say that I have been commanded to rest more frequently than the average person, and that’s ok… because sometimes I really do need the reminder.

If you have followed my blog, you’ll recall that in my past life (before MS decided I could no longer perform my job) I was a high school teacher. I worked long hours, arriving at my desk before 6 am, and usually not leaving until at least 5 pm. I then took work home with me, along with the emotional baggage that comes from truly caring about each of my students. My weekends were spent grading, planning, and prepping for the week ahead. It was a job that fulfilled me yet was truly frustrating because my work could never be done. It was all about prioritizing. Add to that lifestyle a daily schedule that was made for me and that I was contractually bound to follow, and I truly had no life. “Rest” was built in in the form of a period off, but resting seldom happened during that time, and god forbid I drank too much coffee, using the restroom only happened on scheduled time.  And I was able to keep up that pace without blinking for the first ten years after my diagnosis.

It is impossible to go from the scheduled life, which I thrived on for the better part of my career, to nothing. These days I have a schedule for myself, far less grueling than the one that was made for me by the Master Schedule Gods. I try to stick with my schedule because it makes me feel like I am human and I can be productive even without that job that ruled my life.

Gym, yoga, volunteering, and doctors’ appointments are on my schedule these days in place of being confined to the walls of my classroom like in my old life.

These days, I walk a fine line between “doing” and “resting”. Overdoing anything causes a ripple effect resulting in being forced to rest simply because my body does not allow me to function normally, even according to the standards of my constantly changing “norms” which are a part of every MS patient’s life. Not functioning means that I am down for the count, with a completely empty tank, and not enough energy to do anything, even eating or getting up to use the bathroom. And forget about taking a shower, because that just doesn’t happen.

As much as I hate it when I am ordered to rest, I know I should listen. But I want to think that I can still do as much as I used to, which I can’t. It’s a lesson that is hard to learn because in my mind I’m still that same strong, tenacious person that I have always been. In fact, I believe that I am a stronger, wiser person than I have ever been. Here I am, approaching 15 years with MS and I’m still learning and constantly adjusting to how far I can push myself, whether it’s in the gym, on my yoga mat, or even just with how much I can do socially before my body has decided that enough is enough.

Marty was always ready to rest with me and he made it so much better when i didn’t feel well.

One would think that after living a third of my life with MS, I’d have adjusted to all the changes that this invisible illness (and uninvited silent partner in my marriage) has brought with it. But a part of me longs to be, and often tries (without success) to be the person I was before my life was forever changed with my diagnosis. I am beyond grateful to my support system for their “gentle” reminders, because even though I want to be invincible and go, go, go, sometimes what I really need to do is just rest. It’s never what I want to hear but it is often what I need.

My biggest supporter and cheerleader. Without Bruce’s support I would not be able to live the life I am now.

From Mentee to Bestie

So not that long ago, one of my former students, now a college graduate wrote a blog entry about me , and now I feel it’s time for me to write about him. I even stole his title except instead of “mentee”, he wrote “mentor”.

On the day of his high school graduation… I was so proud.

I understand that I often talk about my former students on my blog, but sometimes I am just so proud of them, and they still play such an important role in my life that I can’t imagine myself being a complete person without them. They lift me up in ways no one else can, probably because I did consider them my kids when I was working, and now that I’m not, I have all these amazing young people in my life who I view almost as little siblings but way better. 

When I first met Josh, he was a withdrawn, shy, sometimes angry sophomore. Not only did I have him in my homeroom, which was five minutes a day, but I was also lucky enough to have him in one of my classes as well. We learned quickly that we shared a love of animals, we shared the same type of sarcastic, sometimes dry but biting humor, and we bonded every single day.

As a sophomore, with little support from administration, Josh fought to have himself de-classified. He had been classified with a “learning disability” in grammar school, and that classification followed him. When he realized that he did not require services and that he was not being challenged in his classes, he disputed the classification, and even though it’s very rare, he succeeded. Clearly, he was right that he needed no special education classification because after graduation he went on to Montclair State University, where he graduated in four years, with honors.

The biggest change I witnessed in Josh was when he was 17 years old, and he went from being a sadly closeted adolescent to an out and proud gay man. His whole demeanor changed, and suddenly he was more joyful, and full of confidence. I was so proud of him then (and still am) because we all know that the high school years are traumatizing for anyone, and even more so when dealing with the extra baggage that Josh had been carrying. Sadly, other teachers were not so respectful of Josh. One told him he better study so as not to end up back in the “retard classes” (not my words… ever). Another told him to work harder so he wouldn’t end up like his brother (who suffers from drug addiction). And yet another had the gall to make fun of the homosexual community in front of Josh’s entire class. It’s no wonder that he couldn’t wait to graduate and meet some more open-minded people. So off he went.

When he was in college, he would send me screen shots of his grades… Dean’s List. My heart soared with pride. He worked hard and was rewarded with stellar grades, good relationships with his professors, and friends who understood and accepted him. Whenever he was on break, we got together to catch up and it became clear that Josh was someone I truly enjoyed chatting with, and that he would be one of the ones who would forever have a very special place in my life (and my heart).

Now that Josh has graduated, he is going through the process of trying to get a “real” job, sending out a gazillion resumes hoping that just one person will take a chance on him. He is experiencing what happens so often: jobs want experienced staff but how do you get experience if no one gives you a job? He (like I did all those years ago when I graduated) is doing the retail thing in the interim, but not without questioning why the hell he worked so hard in college to be stuck in a small town (which he hopes to escape) working a retail job that anyone could do. I tell him when we get together (every week without fail) that it’s a rite of passage and that someone will take a chance on him and that he just needs to be patient. Easy for me to say, but patience does not come easy when you are in debt from your education and making drinks at Starbuck’s.

Josh has become such a staple in my life that he has even been to my home to watch some of our favorite shows together, and has met Bruce. Josh is motivated to do better and to be better than all the BS that surrounds us all. He is smart, well-spoken, intuitive, witty, and I adore everything about him. We share so much and I trust him implicitly (and vice versa). Every week I think to myself that this young man could not possibly be the child I once met. He has grown more than probably any other former student of mine, and I just couldn’t imagine my life without him. As much as I have been the “big sister”, Josh has stood by my side through MS, cancer, and everything in between, and I would not trade him for anything.

So if you are reading this and looking for someone awesomely spectacular for your company, Josh has a degree in Communication Studies (Public Relations), and I can promise that you will not be disappointed. 😉

Yoga

I know that I have written about yoga before, but my practice has evolved so much in the two short years that it has been a constant in my life. In that time, I have gone from “tolerating” it to loving every single thing about it. The beauty of yoga is that they call it a practice for a reason, and on good days, I astound myself, while on others I try to figure out why the heck I can’t do what I just did the day before. Then I remember that I have Multiple Sclerosis and there is literally a disconnect between my body and my brain. But I never regret my practice because it is so much more than physical for me.

Downward facing dog.

When I get on my mat, I am truly in my space. It’s my time for me to be genuinely present with myself without feeling any pressures from the outside world. I love removing myself from the real world while I connect with my body and feel what I can do when I give my body permission to open up. The mind body connection is so powerful and it puts me in a very meditative state. Now I didn’t always love yoga, but once I found the right instructor, as well as the right mindset, everything changed for me.

Upward facing dog.

In December, a local yoga club ran a “12 Days of Yoga” challenge on Instagram. I was skeptical because in the scope of the world of yoga, I’m an average yogi at best. I work harder than most because MS makes me do that, but I’m ok with that. I don’t compare myself to anyone except me so I am happy with my progress. A friend of mine, who is a teacher that I used to work with, and has since become a yoga instructor (shout out Jess!) tagged me and told me that I should definitely participate in the challenge. I got all frustrated with the logistics: post a flyer indicating your participation, tagging the sponsors, etc., and I found it overwhelming. Then my beautiful friend, in true teacher fashion, messaged me and broke down exactly what to do… for those out there who know teaching terminology, this was true differentiated instruction for this girl (me), who really needed it.

Chaturanga. And Scarlet!

The challenge included a pre-set list of poses, and each day I was to post a picture of myself, with any variations or modifications necessary, and tag all the sponsors of the contest. I do yoga every day anyway, and thought it would be a great way to keep me on my mat and also give me the opportunity to win prizes. Truth be told, I never win anything, so that wasn’t really a motivation for me. I just wanted to prove that an MS patient need not be limited to chair yoga.

Crane (or crow) is a very difficult pose that I have been working on for a while. My modification here is one foot on the wall to help the balance.

I must have made my point because (amazingly) I won a beautiful new yoga mat… more specifically, an amazing Lululemon yoga mat. I was beyond grateful, and also incredibly surprised. The mat is so nice, and like I said, I generally never win anything, especially something so perfect for me and my lifestyle. As if that was not enough, I found out a few days later, that the yoga studio that sponsored the challenge has a foundation, and that they are giving me a year membership to the studio, paid for by the foundation. I was almost moved to tears. Yoga studios are expensive, and rightly so because of the personal attention that is given. It’s something I couldn’t afford without making major sacrifices financially. I have been known to do drop in yoga classes at random studios for $15 or $20 a session, but an actual membership is not something I ever imagined I could have. I couldn’t be more appreciative.

On the day that I picked up my brand new Lululemon mat.

I didn’t love yoga from day one, but once I found the right instructor, I got hooked, but I never thought it would change me so much. I am more in tuned with my body, and I’m aware of what it needs when I get on the mat. I am able to transcend anything that is happening in my life when I am focusing on my practice. I have learned to keep the positive energy flowing through my body, and to look at others with more compassion as a result. Most importantly, I have learned to challenge myself, without fear of failure. Yoga is a practice, and challenging myself in my practice only helps, even if I can’t do everything perfectly all the time. Like MS, every day is different on my mat, and that’s ok. If I never challenged myself, I might never have grown to love all the different aspects of yoga the way I do.

This one was a modification because I was supposed to do a handstand, but my recently dislocated finger was not ready to bear my weight that way yet.

This is all a metaphor for life itself, really. We never know what we are capable of (or consequently the rewards that await us) if we don’t challenge ourselves to do the thing(s) that feel(s) intimidating. There have been many challenges in my life, and the only ones I regret are the ones I didn’t accept. This yoga challenge was something I knew I could do, even if I had to modify a pose or two in order to participate, and I’m so glad I did. More than anything else I know that taking on a challenge is nothing to shy away from. In the worse case scenario, you learn a lesson to help you succeed at the next try, and that’s as valuable as anything. The next time you are faced with something you want to try but you are afraid, I dare you to try. You just might surprise yourself! Namaste.

For the plank day, I added some variations to challenge myself. See that? I challenged myself within the challenge. It’s how I roll.

Gifts

As a former high school teacher, one of my greatest joys is watching as my “kids” grow up and start their lives on their own. I feel incredibly lucky that I maintain such special relationships with so many of them. Many people do not understand (nor do they think it’s normal) that I have been able to do this. If I’m being honest, I consider it a gift, because fostering lifelong relationships is something that you will never learn how to do in any education class in college or in graduate school. I am humbled and honored when my former students choose to keep me in their lives because it validates my life’s work somehow.

So today, let me tell you about Ashley. She was a freshman when I first met her. She was sweet, and enthusiastic, and she was an amazing student. Her smile always brightened my classroom, and I was lucky enough to teach her again when she was a sophomore. She was an asset to any classroom because everyone loved her and she set such a great example for the others. I got to know her extremely well, because during those years, I also ran a very successful Walk MS team, which I ran as a school club. She devoted endless hours to our fundraising efforts and to raising awareness of Multiple Sclerosis in our community. Basically, if I could have cloned Ashley and had all of my classes full of more Ashleys, I would have been ecstatic. Coincidentally, Ashley has a little sister (who is equally as awesome), and through the years I have forged a special friendship with their mom, too… how lucky am I to have these three amazing friends just because Ashley was randomly placed in my class when she just 14 years old?!

Here’s my little Ashley, working hard to distribute a fundraiser as on of my key go-to people on my 450 member Walk MS team.

As luck would have it, Ashley chose to attend my own alma mater, Rutgers University. Not only was I beyond proud, but I was so excited that she would be living just a few miles away from me. We had meals together here and there, and always, ALWAYS kept in contact. Perhaps you can imagine how I felt when she graduated at the top of her class and got herself a full ride to Seton Hall Law School.

It was a special Rutgers homecoming when little Ashley joined us for a tailgate.

I celebrated Ashley’s bridal shower with her (seated next to her mom, of course). I watched her marry the love of her life through my tears of joy, and was honored to be seated with her parents (now my friends) at her wedding reception. Similarly, Ashley (and her husband) were there to celebrate the renewal of my wedding vows with me and Bruce. They were also there (with her mom and sister) when my husband threw a party for me for finally earning my masters degree. These are life moments… milestones, really, that we have chosen to share with each other. No conscious decision was made, we simply allowed our friendship, born out of mutual love and respect, to grow organically as the years passed.

Showers of happiness celebrating little Ashley and her soon-to-be-hubby.

Now, more than 14 years since I first met little Ashley, she is married, she owns a home, and she is a damn good attorney. (I keep tabs on her because she happens to work at a law firm where one of my best friends is a partner… the epitome of the expression “it’s such a small world”!). I treasure the relationship I share with Ashley (not to mention the ones I share with her sister and her mom), and I do believe that my world would be a much emptier place without all three of these beautiful (both inside and out) women.

These are just a few shots from the day I watched little Ashley get married.

Now, that little girl who brought sunshine and smiles into my classroom every day continues to do so, especially when I recently learned that my little Ashley is going to have a little one of her own! My heart almost exploded when I found out, and I feel as happy as I did when I found out that there was going to be a baby Rankin (in the form of my own nephew) on the way. I feel like I’m going to be an auntie again, and I offered myself up as a go-to baby sitter, because there is nothing I wouldn’t do for Ashley & Co.

Here’s me with little Ashley at the after party when Bruce and I renewed our vows.

Not every single former student of mine occupies the same special place in my heart as Ashley does, but the ones that do know that they can turn to me for anything. I may not have had children of my own, but I loved all of my students as if they were mine. Fortunately many, like Ashley, have been able to transcend the teacher/student relationship and we now share relationships as human beings, without titles.

A sampling of little Ashley (and her sister little Britt) through the years.

I knew I’d never be rich when I chose to become a classroom teacher, nor would I earn bonuses or even be given accolades that are so prevalent in the private sector. But because of the profession I chose, my heart and soul are full of love and pride, which makes me richer than I ever thought I could be. And while money is nice and we all need it to survive, I guarantee that the bonuses I have been given are way more special than any amount of money I might have earned. Money is quickly spent, but what I have been given will last me a lifetime.

Mandatory selfie with my little Ashley while she was studying to take the bar.


I love you Ashley, Bobby, Britt, Diane & Greg! Thank you for being part of my special extended family! xoxox

Do-over

Last week, I wrote about our plans to have a wedding since we never had one. This week, I proudly present an entry written by my one and only, Bruce, relating to the same topic. I know his posts are very popular, and I am sure you will all love this one as much as I do.

Over the years, I’ve been asked a lot how exactly I’m able to handle everything that comes with Ren’s MS. Now as we’ve moved into middle-age, and breast cancer has been added to her plate, the frequency in which I hear this from someone has increased almost exponentially. Usually, my response revolves around how I just keep my head up and continue moving forward, but that doesn’t begin to adequately explain what it is to be a care partner and to struggle through everything that Ren has to put up with from day to day. And as I’ve written here before, our relationship is such that whatever one of us goes through, we go through together. So while I’m not personally suffering with the debilitating nature of MS, or struggling through radiation treatments, I’m as close to it as anyone possibly can be. As a result of all that we’ve gone through, our relationship has strengthened and brought us to a place I didn’t think was possible. It’s a place (as Ren mentioned in her entry last week), that most couples just don’t find themselves in. Thankfully, that is not us at all.

When considering exactly what it is that keeps me going through it all, it ultimately comes down to one thing: I love Ren. I don’t just love her, but I’m in love with her. And I pretty much have been in love with her since we met as 18 year olds at Rutgers University…I just was too young and stupid to completely grasp it at the time. What started as a simple crush grew and grew into this overwhelming need to have her in my life all the time, and after several years I was lucky enough to finally have that happen. Of course, as the saying goes, you have to be careful what you wish for, because once you have it it’s not always what you thought it would be. Don’t get me wrong, because Ren has always made me incredibly happy, but once we were together I had a very hard time dealing with it. In our early years, I often would put her second (or third or fourth) behind my friends, and certainly could be accused of taking her for granted. Being such good friends with her before we became romantically involved made things easier for us than most new couples, but for me they might have made them too easy as I ended up treating her too much like my buddy Rennie instead of my girlfriend Rennie. Add to this my tendency to reject romance completely (Ren once stated that a rock on the ground was more romantic than I was), and think of marriage as an unnecessary business arrangement, and you can see how there were many times when Ren didn’t always believe that I was as devoted to our relationship as I insisted (and knew) I was. And as our friends started to get engaged and married, my resolve to ever be the contrarian got stronger and stronger. Basically, I was a jerk.

When Ren and I finally did decide to get married, as she’s described here, we went with a very low-key approach. This was done for several reasons (more than one of which was my reluctance to look like a hopeless romantic in front of my family and friends), but the most important of those reasons was that we just didn’t have the money for a big wedding, and neither of us thought it responsible behavior to go into mounds of debt for one day…even if it was our wedding day. I know at the time Ren would have liked a “real” wedding, but as she has often said, she’d marry me with a piece of string tied around her finger. In the end, she was just happy that I was finally committing to her in the way that she’d always dreamed I would.

This is our actual wedding picture. Nothing conventional about it.

The first couple of years of our marriage were rocky, and there were doubts at times about how long it might last, but we were finally coming out of the woods as we approached our third anniversary. Then Ren was diagnosed with MS, and our world was turned upside down. Suddenly, our issues (which in retrospect were stupid little things) meant nothing, and it was all about getting a handle on things and ensuring that she was receiving the best care she could. And as I wrote about here on the blog, my attitude suddenly began to change. Even though it might not look that way, I’d always been devoted to Ren, but a metamorphosis was starting. Slowly, my attitude began to change. I no longer took her for granted, and I found myself wanting to be more romantic and spend more time with her, and just her. I also found myself thinking about finally giving her what I should have given her years before: a real engagement. It was an idea that gestated for the better part of ten years, and which did result in a renewal of our vows for our tenth wedding anniversary in 2010. But I knew that wasn’t enough. I had to do more.

At the renewal of our vows, celebrated with about 40 people at our favorite spot in New Brunswick.

Eventually, as my career began to pick up steam, and I was finally earning a substantial enough salary (or so I thought) to be able to give Ren what she deserved, I set the plan in motion. In the fall of 2015, I realized it was time to move ahead with things, and began looking at engagement rings. Yes, we’d been engaged before, but not in any true sense, as we’d mutually agreed it was time to get hitched. There was no dropping to one knee, and certainly no romance. Young Bruce simply would not have that. I badly wanted to right that wrong, so I went out and bought an actual engagement ring, and on the campus we’d met on so many years ago, I retroactively popped the question. Thankfully, she said yes (phew!).

Taken probably 3 minutes after the proposal!

On what was one of the happiest days of her life, I finally realized how important it was to have done this for Ren. She was ecstatic. And with everything we’d been through over the years, it was inspiring to see. For that one night, Ren finally felt like the princess she should have always been, or at least like the princess I should have made her feel like when we were younger. After all, she’s simply been the most important person in my life for more than half of it…a life that she completely changed by just being a part of it.

In the months following my “retroactive proposal”, our relationship went through a RENnassaince (pun completely intended), and we realized that we were even more in love than we’d ever been. During this time the idea of actually having a real wedding on our 20th wedding anniversary came up, and when I looked ahead at the calendar and saw that it fell on a Friday I just knew we had to do it. So this past summer we booked a venue, and have started to look into all of the other details needed to plan the big day. And now we can afford to do it exactly the way we want to, and we’re old and wise enough to know exactly what we want.

But in the end, this whole thing is really about Rennie. She’s the most incredible person I’ve ever known for so many reasons, even though I too often spent some time early in our relationship taking her for granted. While I still beat myself up for my behavior back then, I know that it was short-lived, and that I’ve spent much more of our time together appreciating her for the person that she is. And I get better at it all the time. Regardless of what obstacles MS or cancer puts in our path, I know that not many guys get to date their crush, much less marry them. And on April 17th, 2020, I’ll get to marry her all over again.

Lemtrada

On a daily basis, I don’t think much about MS. I mean, I know it is there, but 14 (+) years in, the symptoms are generally manageable but more of a nuisance than anything else. I don’t feel sick because I have been adjusting to my new normals for so long. Usually those norms become a part of who I am: neuropathic, off-balance (read: clumsy), unable to sleep, and tremor-y, just to name a few.

But last week the vertigo hit me from out of nowhere and I spent four days crawling around my house. I needed to take care of things on the homefront, and crawling was a better option for me since I was closer to the ground which meant a shorter distance to fall.

Normally I wouldn’t even think about calling my neurologist because I always think these things are just par for the course living life with MS. And even though I know the rule of thumb is generally that your neuro should be informed of any “new” symptom that lasts more than 24 hours, I seldom listen (insert judgements and “shame on yous” here). I asked my MS sisters if they thought I should call, and they responding with a resounding “DUH”! Ok so they didn’t say duh but they did tell me what I needed to hear.

I saw my doctor emergently just one day later. I have a great relationship with him and have been seeing him almost as long as I have been diagnosed. It will be 14 years in November. So usually my bouts with vertigo have been “positional” which basically means it only happens when I am sitting, standing, or laying down in certain positions. This is NOT MS. But when the vertigo is constantly present, then for sure it involves activity on the brain stem. It also causes utter nausea, and I have been walking around with what feels like vomit at the top of my throat ever since this started. Once we established that MS was indeed the culprit, he looked at me, as serious as I have ever seen him, and said, “Rennie. We need to talk.” I knew what was coming yet held out hope that magically he would have a brilliant solution for me.

Since corticosteroids make me crazy, this is the solution for immediate treatment of the relapse.

What he told me was the following: “Gilenya (the disease modifying therapy (DMT) that I have been taking since clinical trial ) is clearly no longer working for you.” I have seen writing on the wall for a long time now, but I still felt like I had been punched in the gut as the color, I’m sure, drained from my face. I know my situation. I have failed on every single DMT out there. Except two. I am precluded from taking the one I had been waiting for as it progressed through clinical trials, due to my recent battle with breast cancer. That leaves just one more option: the one I have called “the big gun” since before it even came to market in November of 2014.

Gilenya has been good to me and I am very sad to say goodbye.

While Lemtrada (Alemtuzumab) promises great results, it is not without risks. Scary ones. There are pre-medications and post-medications, not to mention monthly blood work for at least 6 years after the first infusion. In simple terms, Lemtrada is an antibody that works by depleting certain white blood cells, partially responsible for immunity. Since MS is thought to be an autoimmune disease where the body mistakenly attacks the brain and central nervous system, the theory is that depleting the culprits allows the body to repopulate with healthy cells that have no memory of their previous programming, thus potentially reducing (or even stopping) MS activity.This means that I will be even more vulnerable to secondary infections and illnesses while my immune system works to re-build itself. The thought of wearing a protective mask and explaining to my two year-old nephew why I can’t hug and love on him the way he’s accustomed to breaks my heart. Plus, if it doesn’t work, there are no more options out there for me, and they still haven’t done research on which, if any existing treatments, would even be safe after taking Lemtrada. That, for me, is the scariest part.

This is just the first bit of literature I have been given, and I know there is plenty more to come.

But if there is one thing I have learned from MS, it’s that I can’t be scared for the future. I need to focus on the present. For me, there is no decision to be made because even though I complement my traditional treatment with alternative ones, not being on treatment is simply not an option for me.

Essential oils and a chakra bracelet help keep me balanced.

As I have done for the past 14 (+) years, I will do what I always do: Pick myself up, put on my big girl panties, and do what I need to do to in order live my best, most productive, and happiest life. After all, isn’t that what everyone aspires to? Plus, I still have plenty of fight left in me, and I am far from done!

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.

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.

Transformation

It’s that time of year again… the summer is drawing to a close, with everyone taking their last trips down the shore, enjoying the joys that summer always brings, while preparing excitedly for a brand new school year.

At this time every year, I like to reflect upon how insanely different my life (and my attitude) is since MS made the decision for me to retire on disability in May, 2014, after already being on sick leave for all but the first four weeks of the school year.

Back then, I couldn’t imagine my life without the career that had defined me in so many ways, and that I was so passionate about. I considered myself beyond lucky to have a job that I loved, because so many people are not as fortunate. People often told me that I was one of the few people they knew who actually liked her job. And I did. Every damn second of it.

Now that I am a few years removed from the feeling of such a devastating loss for me, I have clarity that I didn’t have before, and gratitude for everything, including the painful, emotional, difficult situation that started me on this part of my journey. I never dreamed that I could ever be in this beautiful place that I currently find myself in, happier than ever, which I could not have imagined when I was still working.

The other day, a Staples commercial came on TV advertising their usual 10 cent sale, and I was brought back to the days when I used to have lists of which retail establishment had things on sale that I needed for my classroom so that I could stock up for the year. I used to get so excited about these things, and now it hardly even phases me. I love that because it shows how much I have grown during the last couple of years.

I’m not saying that I got here without my share of growing pains, but I am saying that I understand it’s all a part of the process. Once I opened myself up to the possibilities of creating a new life, it changed my perception of everything I knew.

What I know now is that regardless of how much I loved my students (and still do!), my own family always needs to come first. I often lost sight of that as a teacher, but I don’t regret it because now I have all of these amazing young adults who make up such a big part of my life, and I love that. I love watching them venture out on their own, doing the adult thing, and spreading their wings to soar.

I also know that taking care of myself is vitally important. When I was working, I overlooked my own wellness in favor of my job and my students. Again, I don’t regret it because of the amount of love and gratitude they gave back to me (and still do), but I know that I am of no good use to anyone if I am not staying on top of my own health and wellness. This includes all the things I have incorporated into my post-teacher life: meditation, yoga, hardcore exercise, acupuncture, reiki, and healthy eating, all of which force me to put myself above all others so that I can stay strong for the long haul.

I remember the days when the weekends meant nothing more than time to grade, write lesson plans, and create dynamic presentations for my classes, leaving no time to actually enjoy spending time being fully present with my loved ones. Once again, I have no regrets about how I lived my career because it’s what the kids deserved and I don’t know how to do it any other way.

But now… now life is better than I ever thought possible. My circle of friends has changed, but in a good way because I am surrounded by other people who take nothing for granted and never waste an opportunity to laugh and smile because we are grateful for the life we are living, regardless of whether we chose it or not. I am more in love with my husband than ever because we have been given this incredible gift of time together. Hell, we even booked a vacation in September, something we have never, EVER done before. Some small part of me still feels like a rebel for doing it, but no matter how much time passes, I guess old habits do, indeed, die hard. But lucky for me, I have worked very hard to help these old habits go by the wayside.

The transformation from Mrs. Rankin to Rennie has not been an easy one, but it is ongoing and I’m getting better at it all the time. I have been transforming my entire world: physically, mentally, and spiritually for the last few years, and my progress has been slow but steady, and that’s ok. I know that as human beings, one of our biggest challenges is having the ability to change according to our life circumstances, good or bad. I’m not going to lie and say that the process has been an easy one, or that I don’t have my moments of weakness, but it does get easier with time and with the determination to live my very best life possible. Rather than crying about the fact that I am not going back to work this week, I am happily wishing my former colleagues the very best of luck as they begin the new school year. Life is, after all, what we make of it, and I am making mine everything I want it to be. So who wants to join me in a glass half full of lemonade?

The sunrise over the Raritan River by Rutgers University, a very symbolic photo at a place that will always hold an extra special place in my heart.