Meet Sallie, a fourth-grade teacher and mom of three from rural Oklahoma, who was diagnosed with MS in 2011 after years of unexplained symptoms. Sallie teaches children how to serve their community and make a difference in the world, but she worries that MS may compromise her ability to continue her career as a teacher.
Work & Education toolkit (the tools used by Sallie and more)
Looking for a balanced life - May 2012
I had relapses for about six years, although I didn’t know that they were actually symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Then last September, I lost the complete use of my right arm. Just holding a pencil or a pen – let alone a marker to teach with – was impossible. I went to my doctor and he sent me to a neurologist. I was told two days before Christmas that I have had MS for many years. Since that day no one has treated me the same.
I am a mother of three, a fourth-grade math and science teacher, a robotics team sponsor, and now a person diagnosed with MS. Now that the disease is a permanent part of my life, I feel that a delicate balance I have kept up for a long time is falling over. Family, friends and colleagues question whether I will be able to continue working as a teacher. Fatigue seems to be my biggest difficulty during the day, and there are times when I have trouble moving around, bending over and getting back up, and holding things. I have always been a very positive person, but as of late I feel moments of doubt about my future.
Teaching is my life. It has always been my goal to inspire children to see the bigger picture, the real world, and to help them find a way to become an integral part of it. Albert Einstein said, “Setting an example is not the main means of influencing another, it is the only means.” I know that by demonstrating compassion toward others, my students can see that taking action is the only way to make a difference.
Unfortunately, these little ones and everyone else can see the changes in me. I finally have the job of my dreams where I can make a difference in the world, and yet I find out that I have a debilitating disease that not many people around me understand. I feel like I’m wandering around in the dark, just waiting for something to happen. I hope that something or someone will appear in my path to help me deal with my limitations at work and home, and also teach me how to explain my situation to others around me, without getting the pity that I’m receiving right now. How do I keep my life balanced after this diagnosis?
Finding where to start – July 2012
Well, here I am on day one of my new journey, it’s been a very full and adventurous weekend and I’m back home now, and I started with my three gratitudes, which wasn’t hard to do. I could have done three pages of gratitudes after the weekend I’ve had.
But, right after that I got to thinking about the overwhelming task I have ahead of me getting ready for school, and I think that’s going to be… Right now it’s overwhelming, but I think I’m going to try the Zorro Principle that is mentioned in Shawn’s book, how we’re going to start off focusing on one little area and taking care of that and enlarging my circle, so that I can look at it as a digestible piece.
So, now comes the task of finding where to start, but it’s an exhausting day. I took a long nap and I’m not used to doing that and that made me feel kind of out of sorts. But, tomorrow I gotta get busy, starting in my classroom, and getting it ready for school. And the anticipation of a new school year with these principles is very exciting and I can’t wait to let you be part of this journey with me, so we’ll see what the next day unfolds.
Even look beyond – July 2012
by Sallie’s husband, Jeff
I have been clinically diagnosed with depression. My wife has also been recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Ouch! Should I respond differently? Absolutely!
I take medication to quell the monster (depression) but like everyone else in the world, I have my good days and my bad ones. Since yesterday was an unusually bad one, I thought I would take the opportunity to talk about how my wife and I dealt with it. After 22 years of marriage, we’ve learned that some problems need a team effort rather than letting one person try to overcome whatever obstacle is presented. We also know that an open dialogue (real communication) is vital for any relationship to flourish and survive. This means don’t only talk about your hopes, dreams, and desires but also your discouragements, disappointments, and discomforts.
Some days, you just can’t look at things in a positive light no matter how hard you try. My teenage son just moved out; the lawnmower just quit; we have too many bills; I’m tired of having to do so much. All of these problems are quite common and if you add hectic work and home schedules to the mix, you can have a recipe for problems without the ‘a la mode’. Notice I just used the word ‘can’ previously. It doesn’t have to be that way. It’s all a matter of perspective. The situations listed above are surmountable if you take the approach of ‘this is an opportunity’ rather than ‘this is a problem’.
These ‘opportunities’ usually come with some distress, trepidation, or just plain old negative thoughts. There’s nothing wrong with negative thoughts, per se, but give your brain some time to work through what just happened. Solutions can be found if you have a proper attitude to tackle the opportunity. Prayer works for me. Some use meditation. There are numerous types of dealing with this. It could be listening to music, taking a walk around the block, getting some water cooler talk, or whatever puts your mind at rest. The point is to take some time(not so long your boss wonders where you are), catch your breath, and instead of seeing a problem, let your mind look for ways to accept the situation and even look beyond at what your results will provide.
You may think you’ve just attended a Zig Ziglar seminar with what I’ve outlined above but the truth of the matter is I do have depression and my wife does have MS. (My lawnmower did quit on me) These are my lifelong opportunities that I have accepted and am willing and able to look beyond them to see what life will have to offer. At times, life seems to be a battlefield. Just remember to concentrate on the battles one day at a time.
Thank you – July 30, 2012
I never knew, until I started this project, that there were so many people who could relate to the day-to-day struggles I experience. I've been riding a roller coaster ride of emotions. Your outpouring of support and understanding has strengthened and encouraged me to diligently find that balance. There have been moments I have wanted to give in to the negativity; usually those are the days when I am tired or in pain. Then I see your posts. I see how people who are just like me, people who experience the indescribable fatigue, strange pain and numbness, but still willing to share their experiences and knowledge. Please know that I read and think about each one of your comments. I am inspired by your willingness to help me along this journey. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Power and Zorro – July 2012
Ok – here’s how my week went. I went to school on Tuesday and I was met with several of my colleagues, and that’s when I realized that I should’ve started with the power lead.
I know that Shawn talks about it in his book, or mentioned to us in class how you can control a whole conversation to either be negative or positive depending on how you start that conversation. And that would be called the power lead. Well I had other colleagues come in and I saw that the conversations were going not the direction that I would have hoped so that’s when I realized that I’m going to have to start making an effort to initiate the conversation with a positive statement of some sort using the power lead.
From there I utilized the Zorro circle to focus on a particular area in my classroom – was very successful – completed that area and felt good about it. Now, I’m still going to have to continue working around the room and doing a little bit at a time in order to complete getting my room ready, but that works for me because now I have one area completely ready, and not just part of one, part of one, part of one. So that was a success.
Next week I won’t be able to work in my room hardly at all though, for the next two weeks because I will be going to a math and science class over physics in the classroom for educators and it’s about amusement park physics and NASA rocketry, and physical therapy –how science is involved in physical therapy. So, it should be a very fun, enjoyable class from eight to three, so I’m going to have to try to find time – and I promised Michelle I would find the time to recharge my battery and be able to make it through the day and not exhaust myself. So I’m going to try to do that between 11:30 – 11:45, which that’s during our lunch period for this class.
We’re hoping that I can make it through this without any major fatigue issues. That’s what my issue is for this class, and I think we’ll be able to make it. I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to the new experiences and the actual knowledge of how to use the amusement park with the physics science part of lessons that we teach and using the NASA information in my classroom. I can’t wait to try that and see how the kids respond, it’s got to be a great motivator. So, this is going to be a really good week – a really good test. Since it will be everyday to see if I’m able to recharge my battery with that 15 minutes of refocusing, taking just that time in the middle of the day. This will be a good test. We’ll see!
Moving the fulcrum – August 1, 2012
This week has been an eye-opening experience in that I’ve been taking a physics class for educators, and at times we’ve had to go on field trips, which I was very excited about and felt that it would be beneficial to know the physics behind like the amusement park and such But I also found out my limitations. And, whereas I used to could go to an amusement park with my kids even three years ago and spend all day out in the heat, um this time I was only out at the amusement park for three hours.
And it, the next three days I was extremely fatigued and had difficulty just doing normal tasks. So I found a limitation. So now using Shawn’s principles of knowing that I’m going to have to do something that I’m not comfortable with, which is asking people for help. And I’ve always been one of those who I’ll just do it myself, and I feel comfortable with that way.
And I don’t want to impose on anybody or make anybody feel obligated, so now I have to learn how to ask for help, moving that fulcrum on the balance so that I can get help when I know my limitations. So looking at my limitations and seeing that I’m going to have to start asking for help – that’s going to be difficult. But I’m willing to give it a try. We’ll see.
Back to school – September 2012
Back to school means many things to many people. For students it means, time with friends, cafeteria food, and of course homework. For some parents it could mean separation anxiety or finally peace and quiet. For me it means back to business! This year though, is vastly different than any of the previous years. Coming to grips with this diagnosis has been a difficult process at times. There are days when I feel strong mentally and physically and then there are those days when I feel weak. Knowing that I have many little minds that depend upon my instruction and guidance through their learning process keeps me motivated to push myself out that door every morning.
Now that school is in full swing, I have tried to keep my goal in mind of monitoring my energy level and managing fatigue to prevent weakness. The first week was very difficult as it always has been and most of the teachers have felt the same. Learning new schedules, helping the students adjust to procedures, and of course assessing student knowledge was the focus of that week. Now that I’m in the middle of the second week, I have been looking for ways to manage my energy. While analyzing my daily routine, I have discovered a marvelous resource, the students. I have always been a person who feels like I need to do everything myself because it would be an imposition to ask others for help. In retrospect, I have neglected letting the students learn valuable skills while serving a unique community, their own classroom. We, being the students and myself, sat down together and brainstormed many classroom jobs that they wanted to do and I was willing to give up. Some students wanted to help with setting up the daily morning task boards, sort manipulatives, sharpen pencils, and managing our classroom library. Check, check, and check…those tasks done and now I can focus on the other million things (slight exaggeration) that I must do before the day officially begins.
Another thing I have observed in my classroom this week was how many times I walk around the room passing things out instead of the students doing it themselves. I’m not an advocate of students getting up and down repeatedly which can break their focus either, so I have employed a procedure where the students must pick up all materials as they walk into the room. There are a few negatives to this, but over time I believe the students will develop enough self-control with the materials. The main goal was to look, really look, for alternative ways of doing things to alleviate my workload. I believe that I am slowly accomplishing that goal.
I have a great feeling about this year. My students are wonderful, as always, and I have different outlook on my future. With adjustments in several areas of my life, I can and will make this work, but I can’t do it alone. Thanks to all the emotional, physical, and spiritual support, I will be able to continue on with this journey.
Three energy strategies – October 2012
I’m getting engaged back into school and so I’ve had to re-examine every day and see if there are ways to cut back on expending so much energy and helping with my fatigue. And I have found that there are several ways that I can do that. One is utilizing the students’ willingness to help - asking others to help you do certain tasks is very difficult for me, and I know it is for other people as well, but when the students were willing to help clean my room, which is a requirement for us every day – to vacuum, wipe the desks off, clean the boards, empty the trash – the students were willing to help then. And we can fit it in about twice a week where they can help me with that, and that has helped me on those days.
Another way was to just cut out some of the activities – I didn’t want to cut out - but it’s important to realize I only have so much and if - energy and if I put too much toward the beginning of the week then I won’t have energy to finish the rest of the week adequately.
Also I found that if I record my lessons in the morning, then I can put them on YouTube and the students have been able to watch them in the afternoon, and then I don’t have to spend all morning – the 20 minutes or whatever – however long the lesson is in the front of the board putting all that energy. So, it’s also a win-win because the parents are able to go on and find out what the lesson was about and how to help their student at home, so I think it’s a benefit all the way around.
These are some of the tools that I’ve used to help me with my energy level, and so far it’s working out really well. I still need to find some more – I’m still not able to – when I go home – not able to do much of anything else but we’ll keep continuing looking for other alternatives.
Falling up – November 2012
I think the Happiness Advantage is a way that we restructure our brain and by looking for the positives in our life, we are in a sense helping ourselves feel better. And when we start helping ourselves feel better, and I’m not saying every day because I don’t feel fantastic every day – some days I do struggle, but on a whole I feel that I have more control by utilizing the Happiness Advantage in itself.
I think it’s a domino effect – a perpetuating situation where once you find a positive, it in turn is sort of like the Tetris Effect where you can continue to look for more positives that fit and you’re training your brain to go ahead and search out the other things after a while // they’re also interconnected. Every single one of these principles are very logical, very interconnected and it’s hard to do one without them all going back to the main one of just the Happiness Advantage.
But the Falling Up principle has been an extremely important thing to realize – when you feel so out of control, your mind is under such stress that it is difficult for you to see the possible solutions for the problems that you are facing at that time.
I know that I - my main problem in the classroom at this time is fatigue, and its getting to be more so with mobility at moments. But by looking at how my day has been I’ve been able to help -- get help by asking my students to do certain things like the minor little cleaning tasks that I’ve been having to do, which relieves me from that extra added effort, and then also it gives them a sense of purpose that they are doing something not only for me but for the community as well – so it’s a dual kind of thing.
But using that, you are starting to clear your brain. The Falling Up principle helps you become more aware and clear a vision of the solutions that are out there. In turn, with a person like myself that has MS, that’s vitally important to be able to focus and relieve yourself from some of the stress.