Why I’m Quiet

Hey guys. I know quite a few of you pop in here regularly to say hi (I’m still bemused by the ongoing stats!).

I’m not actually being completely silent, but instead have been flat out classroom teaching, tutoring, and blogging with my professional hat on!

If you fancy seeing what I’ve been up to, I’m in full glorious Technicolor over at www.TeachAllAboutIT.uk

It’s been a total whirlwind this year & I’ve just popped on to say whoooo! My tutoring business had it’s 1st birthday this week. How very exciting!

That, and I promise to write something not to do with teaching soon…

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Don’t Strive for Perfectionism

I wrote a truly exciting blog earlier on my rather more professional site about whether revision is worth the hassle, I even did a video to go with it. I spend most of my professional life advising kids to chip away at tasks to make them seem less daunting. My tutor duties are definately skewed more towards skills and confidence than knowledge – often kids arrive knowing the end point, but have no idea how to transition from rabbit in the headlights to practical students. Much of my advice centres around doing your best and rewarding yourself for progress.

I am of course The Actual Worst when it comes to taking on too much and demanding perfection of myself. I don’t think I’m alone here – in fact, I’d put money on the vast majority of teachers being massive perfectionists who tie themselves in knots over the slightest thing.

Take for instance my tutoring rating. I currently sit at 94% (it’s like a centile, 6% are rated higher). Now, do I see me higher than 93% of tutors and celebrate? Noooo. I work out how to outdo the 6%.

Similarly, of my 294 lessons (IKR! How did that happen?!), 2 have been rated 4/5 which has ruined my perfect score.

This haunts me.

This really does haunt me. I even have a tattoo to remind me & bring me back to reality. 3 hours of scraping needles & ink into my skin to have a permanent reminder etched on me that I’m “Good Enough”.

This attitude is celebrated in many schools as having Highest Expectations or Always Learning. Except this is a huge mistake. Fostering a love of learning yield far greater results than scaring them into retaining facts. Fretting about missing that 0.02 is an indicator of serious anxiety issues. Encouraging this behaviour in kids is plain wrong.

We are currently raising a binary generation of people like me and people checking out entirely. The sheer volume of kids with anxiety shold be ringing alarm bells so loud that you can’t hear the lunch bell. I saw an insight of this when my girls did their SATS over the past few years

– Beanpole worked hard and chased down every mark. This was a 10 year old who knew how to interrogate a past paper. Extra lessons were attended, lunchtimes missed in lieu of revision. She acted like a 16 year old with GCSEs and would heed none of our advice to relax.

– TinyPants made herself physically sick worrying over the marks that she struggled with. She was awared no extra time despite the aching joints of Ehlers Danlos rearing their ugly head. In the end, after 6 months of revision stress she wrote “I DON’T CARE” in 3 inch letters across her exam paper. Her summer school report was a simple “Not High School Ready”. She died her hair pink & left primary school making some interesting hand gestures.

In both cases, we have been exceedingly lucky with their high school who took the pressure down and have given them a breather. TinyPants still refuses point blank to read anything for pleasure and “you just haven’t found the right book” is met with stubborn refusal. Why? Because she was forced to pick apart texts for a year, identifying modal fucking verbs instead of fanning her creative spark with literature. I will never forgive Gove for stamping out a love of reading for so many kids.

But I digress. My point was that we are teaching kids that nothing short of perfection will do all the way through life and that extreme stress just means you’re working hard enough – complain about it & you’re a snowflake (spend 10 minutes on twitter to confirm this). Despite wrapping it up in the “keep failing until you get it right” posters, nothing they are taught backs up this theory – don’t fail your SATS or you’re not High School Ready, pass your GCSES or you can’t get into College, get AAB in your A Levels or you can’t get into University… Ad infinitum.

Fast forward to the 38 year old & it’s still going. Pass your job probation, ace the appraisal observation, get the highest tutor rating, the only disability is a bad attitude! (barf), what do you mean you can’t work and parent and sort the house whist on a constant slow release of morphine that you forget to take on time because the neuro drugs have melted the intelligent part of your brain??? Brain fog is no excuse for stopping. Keep up. No-one is irreplaceable.

My unique state is part nature, part nuture. My adrenal dysfunction likes to fool me into thinking that the harmless lesson observation, or coffee with a friend is on a par with being eaten by a tiger. Nuture wise my wonderful, but ultimately messed up mother spent my entire childhood comparing me to fictional kids who were way more intelligent than me and who grew up and married very rich doctors (Go Feminism!). In short, I’m constantly terrified that I’m actually no good at the thing I’ve trained over a decade to do and get high ratings in.

Eventually, I’ll end up in a cave as a hermit where I might make friends with the tiger that’s probably less scary than leaving the house. Until then, welcome to my mind palace.

No Pain, No… Erm…

I think the phrase is “what doesn’t kill you…”

This week has been a bit of a shitstorm that I’ve put a brave face on. After having a ‘moment’ on Tuesday (read on) I’ve been asked a million times if I’m ok. “Oh, I’m fine!” or “it is what it is”. In truth, it frightened the life out of me.

I’d had a migraine on & off since last Friday. Sumatriptan was keeing it at bay, but every few hours it popped back to say Hi & stab me in the face along with feeling whoosy & jittery. A stressful week was hitting a bit of a high (it’s coursework deadline week) and I popped off to the loo before lunchtime club. As I transferred back to my chair everything went dark & I hit the deck.

So here I am crumpled on the floor of the toilet at work with a whoozy head and, oh fuck, a leg sticking out at a right angle. So I pulled the emergency cord & waited for the cavalry.

I could turn this into a long story about our poor first aider helping me snap things back into place, an ambulance being called, sitting on a toilet foor wondering what the hell just happened, but that’s not what threw me. Part of the ambulance being called was them doing the standard blood pressure and pulse checks. You’d expect my blood pressure to be a bit raised what with trying to remove my leg and being surrounded by buzzing people who I couldn’t hear properly. What you wouldn’t expect us for them to make that raised eyebrow face at each other, take my pulse on a different wrist, wince and explain carefully that I had an irregular pulse.

After being helped up onto my chair & being stabbed a few times to get an IV line in (I have no veins – he dug around for a good few minutes & I didn’t even bleed!), we headed downstairs to the ambulance where I was hooked up to an ECG. They look scary, but apart from being a bit sticky they’re fine. So out pops the first print out…

… Let’s do another…. And another… The readings are “weird” (their words)…

… The paramedics start talking over my head about Ts & Vs and mitral regurgitation… I explain clearly that I can’t hear them properly. They take one more reading and the paramedic asks me how much pain I’m really in. “It’s not that bad” (it’s a good 7/10). Then he hit me with the line that’s been whirling around since. “You need to stop being brave so we know whether these readings are intense pain, or a heart problem, or both”

How do you explain that the only way to deal with constant pain is to employ a degree of denial, and when a combination of a major dislocation, exhaustion, and another bollocking migraine hits meadured breathing and stepping out of my body is the only way to cope. You might see me joking with you, but I’m watching from a safe distance.

The decision is made that I need to go and play musical trollies in A&E, so I head off in the ambulance with Mr Geek following.

Several hours in a converted cupboard (stretched NHS in action, it was an actual cupboard that had been converted to accommodate more beds) amd I’ve had another ECG & an xray. They attempted to take blood, but my veins were having none of it so they gave up. Even the cannula in my hand had collapsed. Vampires be warned. I’m cleared to go home with referrals. Mr Geek pops out to get my chair & lovely dr comes in to make sure I understand that cardiology will be in touch about the mitral valve prolapse and to make sure I ask fracture clinic for physio. Despite being terribly busy, she was so distressed that I don’t have a regular consultabt overseeing everything. I’m on their books, but what can they do? I have a lovely GP and that means I just get on 90% of the time.

… 2 days later, I’ve jollied up and brushed off the “are you ok?”s. My knee is braced and every time I get palpitations from sitting up ‘mitral valve prolapse’ rings in my ears. Just for reference, when you get a thing that you don’t wholly understabd, don’t google it. Especially when the self care for it is to be calm!

In very non-medical terms, it’s where the valve that stops the blood from being pumped out of your heart allows it to leak back in making it less efficient and causing a traffic jam. I’m basicallyb running on a procedural paradigm where I was in object oriented.

So, the reduced caffeine version of me remains a bit headachey & whoosy and has a very sore knee. With adrenal dysfunction and an enourmously dysfunctional family, it’s a full time mission to remain calm so I’m cracking open the Headspace app and Podbean app every five minutes.

From what I can gather, conservative treatment is to reduce caffeine, calm the fuck down, and monitor the levels of reguritation.

Blood pressure & heart rate regulation drugs can be employed and of course there’s the oh so helpful complications list of heart damage, lung damage, starving the brain of oxygen (do not google!)

Of course this whole thing creates a catch 22 where the symptoms are mild chest pain and an awareness of the heartbeat, but you are aware of them because you’ve been told (chest pain is GERD, but mimicks scary chest pain). If nothing else, I’m seeing my lovely GP on Saturday and I can offload my worries there and I can return to denial. He’ll likely agree that being a whirlwind of stress and caffeine over btec exams probably wasn’t my smartest move and to get cardiology to just keep an eye.

So no, not so “fine”, but not in a place to talk in person about it yet.

Just as a side note for anyone in the US reading who wonders how much that little incident cost. To me, nothing. A little extra tax is paid and I was treated based on my symptoms, not my insurance. Sort yourselves out. Social Healthcare works. It’s not perfect, but what is?

Sleep is For The Weak

I watched an interesting and yet terrifying documentary on Netflix today called Take Your Pills. If you’ve not watched it, please do. It’s a worrying window into how kids cope with the academic pressures ladled onto them. There were also so many ambitious adults on there who are taking Adderall to stop burnout. Some had progressed to taking low doses of LSD, with stories of people in their 30s having exhaustion induced seizures and being called / emailed at the hospital for work they hadn’t finished.

(For point of reference Adderall is an ADHD drug similar to ritalin – both are amphetamines, but adderall is closer to methamphetamine)

Ironically, here was me watching this in bed in my pyjamas at 10am on a Wednesday morning. I’ve worked every day for the past 14 days and by Tuesday morning found myself wrapped in a blanket at 7am staring into my mirror instead of getting ready for work, after another “fun 4 hour sleep” unable to put makeup on because I was so tired & woozy. Technically I should have called then, but I felt too guilty to call in sick. My pain levels exhaust me, but I don’t want to “use them as an excuse” – the internalised ableism is almost audible around me at times like this.

As my workload went up, so did my pain levels amd my ability to cope dropped – I already have a heafty painkiller routine, but the morphine levels have risen recently. I had a bit of a stark awakening when just before a stream on Monday my shoulder popped out (fully dislocated with a torn muscle). Mr Geek returned the joint to it’s rightful place & I asked for “some morphine please”. This sparked much hilarity from my friends on camera who witnessed a totally calm woman politely request strong narcotics. From most people I’d get upset, except I know they intrinsically get this pain threshold thing – I don’t scream & wail because I’m not scared. It hurts like a motherfucker & still does, but I know why and how to solve it, and precisely how bad it will get. Staying calm stops my muscles going into spasm & helps the joint back in. Much love to Jo & her meditation techniques for this.

Anyway, knackered lots of pain etc. so in bed on my “day off” before tutoring starts. It occured to me that I was utterly confused by the concept of not being able to focus – these people wanted to push through the tired & work faster, longer, better. And were using amphetamines to do it. They are literally taking drugs to have the unpleasant side effect of my adrenal dysfunction. WTH?!

I made a list of things I’ve achieved over the past 7 days to show the effects of skidding through life in constant fight or flight:

7 days of stuff I’ve done

Learnt how to code with basic Unity & Cardboard VR

Made & released a simulation App for my department’s charity den (go look & download to raise money for our local homeless shelter!)

Written a draft short campaign for the roleplaying group I play with (3000 words & counting) based around Tudor / Medieval Sussex folklore.

Created ink drawings for a couple of characters.

Scruffy witch with long teeth stands holding a fish

Ginny Greenteeth – river hag, notorious for dragging people into water.

Joined in 2 roleplaying streams totalling a collective 6 hours (no regrets!)

They’re not on YouTube yet, here’s one we made earlier!

https://youtu.be/YcDgJos28sE

Created an ink drawing of one of the characters from our game stream.

Drawibg of a Young man in a long coat running with a flaming torch in one hand and a dagger in the other

Lamb the SaltGypsy from our Salt & Thirst Campaign with BloodThirsty Puppets

Worked at my teaching job for 32 hours + a few evenings of marking

12 hours of online tutoring

And a blog post.

….

Now in a list, I looked at that and thought “wow! I’m a fucking superhero!”. No brain, you are not. You are skimming years off of your life by not slowing down even when limbs are literally falling off and you’re crying from being tired. What my brain is failing to mention is:

The sketching is done at 1am when I can’t sleep because my CRPS is playing up & my leg feels like its on fire

Much of the middle of the night suddenly awake cold swears stuff is due to panic dreams where I can’t escape from a fire. Subconsciously I know this is because the alarms broke on Friday & we’re just waiting for an engineer & there’s a plan in place, but I don’t like feeling vunerable & not in control. Being nervous = extra adrenalin.

The streaming is my socialising. I do this from bed because sitting in a chair is too painful after work. I’d rather cut a boob off than not join in.

Same goes for tutoring. Big pile of pillows in bed. I enjoy it & it’s paying for the holiday which the girls & Mr Geek deserve so much after giving up life to accomodate me all year.

I loved creating the app, but the all consuming fear that I’d let people down if it wasn’t done meant that by Sunday morning I was covered in hives (I still argue that it was worth it)

……………………………

So the brain & I had a serious talk having been placed into a salted bath by Mr Geek who now just looks at me like a concerned pet owner does at a cat that keeps pulling it’s fur out.

I can’t keep going where the adrenalin rush pushes me. I can’t shrug off every conversation where Mr Geek tells me to rest more and stop working, or at least saying yes to more work. I can’t survive on less than 25 hours sleep per week.

Something has to give, and with a leaky heart valve we’d rather it wasn’t that. Also, that’s not a very rock & roll way to go.

The brain needs to stop flooding me with adrenalin and I need to be sensible and take a few days off. I’ve cleared my diary for the whole 4 day Easter Weekend, much to the dismay of my tutees (downside of self-employed tutoring is they genuinely believe I’m on 24 hour call).

  • Even if it snows, we are going to a National Trust garden.
  • I’m going to sit in Mr Geek’s lap, tangled up together with all the tech off and read for pleasure
  • I’m going to paint with TinyPants on a hill.
  • I’m going to watch sharknado with beanpole

I’m writing this downas a line in the sand. As a very loud, but wise man who never followed his own advice once told me: 49% work / 51% family.

– work emails are no longer on my personal device

– My tutoring books are closed

– Working on a Sunday is now emergencies only

– Anything past 7pm needs to be completed from bed

That seems like a reasonable step towards not breaking my head.

Escapism

So here’s the thing. I make a lot of jokes about goofing off & not trying too hard – all of these things are basically pure fantasy. I love my job. Teaching is in my bones and I find it nigh on impossible to switch off.

I work “part time” now, by which I mean I am contracted to work 4 days each week, spend my day off marking & prepping, and tutor 4 evenings & Saturday mornings. Part time = 45+ hours each week. When I’m not working, I’m mulling something over about work. So I needed a distraction that wasn’t generalized ranting on Twitter.

I’ve blogged a lot before about the need for pacing and work/life balance, but I just suck at it. Take right now as an example – it’s past midnight & I have a meeting tomorrow (today) with someone who I really want to approve of me as a teacher (fuck. I’m 38 & have been doing this a decade. Why am I still seeking approval like a puppy?!). Ok, I’m mainly awake because my knee dislocated, it’s swollen like a balloon, and liquid morphine keeps me awake.

So yeah, here I am at peak anxiety with pain levels that are piercing through the usual drugs & a top up of 20ml morphine. Anxiety does not help with pain, so I learnt to meditate.

I ought to mention that I’m equally shit at meditating because my brain gets bored. I sit here & do a “body check”. Breathe in……. Breathe out….. Breathe in…… Toes…um… Shit. I can’t feel my toes! …. Calm down dickhead, we haven’t felt our toes in years. Oh yeah…… Breathe out…..

I place myself somewhere calm….. here I am dancing gazelle-like through the fields of my mind… getting to know my new roleplaying character…. Clear your mind…. Nope…. And relaaaax…. Nope.

Because actually where I get to relax is inside my head creating stuff. As a weird only child, I spent ages in my room building home made maps & villages where the stories I told to the people in my head took place. I was generally far happier chatting to made up people than real ones. Mr Geek shares my love of sitting quietly with little plastic figures & watches from his office as I bring my imaginary friends out to play with others.

It’s been decades since I created something more personal than cool learning resources. I’ve sunk all of my creativity into developing CSI style codebreaking resources, Elma the Elephant hexadecimal colouring, Game of Prolog, Revision Twister… But over the past few months the games have crept back in. First came Warhammer, then Bloodbowl (if you suck at meditating, try painting teeny little orcs for weeks on end), then over the past few weeks I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to join some roleplaying games online and have just started a weekly campaign.

Before you back away from the nerd, hear me out.

Today was Game Zero – working out who we are, our back stories, the world around us & how we gel as a team. What I remember from teenage games was us as kids picking the warrior woman with the massive tits and distracting guards with nipples (and frankly nearly killing our shy DM who barely looked at women let alone knew what a real boob looked like). Instead, what we got was a game that lets us test out our psyche.

“What do you want from this character?” Holy crap, that’s a deep question. By this point I was already invested so just went with it.

In a group of just four, one is seeing what it’s like to have real faith, one is living knowing that they will die, one is merging being a young soldier with hidden disabilities, and another a manchild rebelling against caring parents for the greater good of those around him. This is heavy stuff – not your average elven archer skipping through the forest in suggestively shiney tights. I have to hand it to Blood – she unpicked our characters until they were real. We all know at some point a specific character is going to die, and yet we’re going to willingly get attached. Self-preservation mode has pressed the eject button & has shot itself through the ceiling.

So here we are, instead of meditating and clearing my mind to reduce pain, I’ve created Pip (Lady Philippa Billingworth), a genetically modified soldier with the anger issues of an orphaned teenage girl, topped with a mutation causted by the faulty collagen gene already in her body allowing her to bend & break her body seemingly at will. She’s the angry, frustrated internal me, albeit with a 7ft much more functional body and weapons. That can’t be a good idea…

To see what we’re up to & some of the other weird and wonderful activities from the guys, check out these links:

You can find me on Twitter at @I_Am_Spanners

Please do check out the Bloodthirsty puppets at either their website or Twitch (where you’ll get points for watching which you can use to mess with the game play!)

www.bloodthirstypuppets.co.uk

Bloodthirsty Puppets Twitch Channel – Regular games of various fun. Catch me every Monday at 7.30pm GMT, and watch along with me on Friday Night Spiced at 8pm GMT (unsurprisingly on Fridays), plus plenty of others.

And of course, I can’t do an intro to me being allowed to play with tese guys witbout mentioning ‘the hot one’

Skaggeth Twitch Channel – this guy is an absolute dude.

Dear Fatty

(Yes, I know I shamelessly stole the title)

New (academic) year, new challenges. But this year marks a big one and a massive personal challenge for me. If you’re reading my blog, then you’re probably already know about the fun & games I have with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome – TLDR; it’s shit & cramping my style, but this month marks the 1 year anniversary of fracturing my spine and just over a year since my hearing dropped to unworkable levels. Life went on. But without my beloved racing that was an outlet for lots of rage – but now I’m back! Wonkier, in more pain, and with an extensive arse (the image below is my “thinspiration” – a combo of being stationary & evil painkillers has wrecked my weight).

So, with new work challenges I knew that I needed to build in some head space and get back to racing, but with our club now super popular it would be difficult to have a chair set up for my weird & wonky limbs. I’d saved up a percentage and reached out to The 53 Foundation for support – then after completely forgetting I’d contacted them I got an email telling me that they’d love to help me fund the rest of my chair & to go ahead and order it!

As an able bodied peron, the financial layout for going for a run is as simple as some trainers & leggings – an entry level wheelchair is £625 (professioal chairs start at £3k), so this grant was quite literally a game changer.

With my chair winging it’s way to me, I knew I had to pay this kindness forward and whilst I’ll be racing to raise money for the 53 Fondation soon (I promise!), there is one woman who I can’t ignore for my first race.

That’s me in the lurid pink alongside team mates who made sport fun for the first time ever.

That's me in the lurid pink!

At the end of October, to prove I have properly taken leave of my senses, I’ll be participating in the Great South Run (oh the delicious irony!) in my chair supported by my amazing friend Rachel & Mr Geek. Instead of sponsoring me for a big charity, I would be eternally grateful if you would consider making a donation towards Shona’s powerchair GoFundMe. It breaks my heart that this amazing young woman who dedicates herself to helping others in the bendy community has to resort to crowdfunding to get an appropriate chair, but lots of us have been there.

Training starts in earnest now and I’ll be posting updates on how we’re doing (even if that is elongated whining about how much everything hurts!). I’m not aiming for a PB – because Ive never pushed that far, so it will be a PB! I have no aims for elite sport – I simpy want to finish in as few pieces as possible (and have the following week already set aside for bed rest).

Wish me luck!

My Daughter is a Raptor

I think most parents with an aspie child have days when they look at their child and think “yeah, I’d probably do that too”, it’s just today I envied beanpole’s way of dealing with things being up in the air. Tonight that has taken the form of her being a raptor & it’s making her happy. (School project has allowed her to immerse herself in her favourite subject since the age of 2. Dinosaur knowledge is way beyond stuff I know). I have chest pain…. She’s being a raptor. Frankly, I reckon she’s coping much better!

It’s been a weird old week. Beanpole went off to a school residential camp, I’ve had a course outsude of school alongside long evenings with open days for new students & our usual weekend routine got turned upside down.

By Friday I was coming apart at the seams. My personal limit was found when I eventually found where beanpole was staying (5 minutes further than I had anticipated), found a dodgy parking spot and was promptly told to move. There was nowhere else to park. I tried to reason, but instead had to do a 12 point turn and drive back up the single track road until I found a bush soft enough to park the car in so I wasn’t blocking the road. This wasn’t the plan. Now I was late. I’m a professional adult who has been reduced to tears because I didn’t know where to park my car. In fact I hadn’t quite pulled myself together by the time I joined the other parents. A few excuses about work being full on….

At least it’s the weekend. We have a routine. But not this weekend,  because seeing as I’ve been ill for two weeks and have barely stopped we’re going to cram extra stuff into the weekend on top of the 10 hours of prep/marking that I’m attempting to get done. Our standard family dinner where we discuss the week went out the window, so now I’m already unprepared for Monday. The less organized I feel, the tighter my throat feels and the more I feel like running away and hiding under a blanket.  Or more realistically,  stamping my feet publicly and shouting at everyone to do what they are meant to be doing & stop changing things (translated in my head as why are you acting like arseholes? Can’t you see this is driving me mad? )

This is all sounding very familiar.

image

I think this suggests I’m back to being anxiety girl (with the superpower of blowing things out of proportion! )… and I secretly know where beanpole gets it from.

I’d much rather be a raptor than me right now.