I decided to attend an educators’ convention as an honourary member. After 36 years as a paying member I smile at being given the title ‘honourary’. Deciding to attend was easy, attending was a different story.
In order to attend I needed to get to the event. Knowing that my driving limit is about 100 km, I knew the 200 km trip would be pushing my limit. For good measure I gave myself a slight advantage by not setting my alarm clock. I would let my body indicate when I was reasonably rested. Had I woken up at 9:00 I might have abandoned the idea of attending.
I was on the road by 7:00. I complimented my body both on being awake and getting organized and out of the house within an hour of waking. The two hour trip took almost double the time due to the slow traffic caused by the rain.
I arrived at the event feeling overtaxed, the sensory loading and the neural fatigue had left its mark. Neural fatigue and socializing just don’t mix. With over a thousand people at the event, I felt I was in the wrong place. I had definite misgivings about staying.
Since it was almost lunch time I assembled a plate of food from the buffet table and searched out a quiet place to eat. I had to get away from the overcrowded area soon to be filled with hundreds of people. The volume, the acoustical effect of block walls, would do nothing to help reduce my neural fatigue.
Eating lunch; the nutrition and the calm location, should help to relieve some of the fatigue. Shortly a former colleague approached and asked if I was open to having someone join me for lunch. Her sensitivity, and consideration was a clear signal to extend an invitation.
Had a boisterous and excitable colleague approached me I would have cringed. Had a colleague who didn’t have the sensitivity to engage in a balance conversation approached me my fatigue would have persisted and left me discouraged. Had a colleague who was absorbed in their own accomplishments joined me I would have gone into a downward spiral.
We shared laughter. We shared tears. It was energizing and refreshing. The nutritious lunch, the supportive company and the brief time to relax, rekindled a desire to participate in the afternoon events. Her awareness of my needs and mindfulness during our lunch gave me the social momentum as it helped to dissolve my isolation.
On the second day of the convention, after a good night’s sleep, I was in better shape. Another colleague shared how my experiences of living with ABI has given her insight into some of the challenges her students face. We discussed various possible challenges that neurologically atypical children likely encounter in institutional settings like schools.
We ended our discussion as we entered the auditorium to join in the opening program of the day. No sooner did we step inside when 800 people, accompanied by four amplified musical instruments, broke into song. For me the music had the effect of a sound canon. My only saving grace was having taken a seat a mere ten steps from the exit. Despite my quick exit, it took me ten minutes to recover. The five seconds of music had transformed me from engaging in an animated discussion into sensory overload. Unable to even speak I couldn’t alert my colleague that I needed to make a hasty retreat. Nor could I afford to delay my exit.
In reflecting on the convention the sessions were engaging and left me with food for thought. However, I need more than that to rate the experience as ‘good’.
Despite being in the profession for more than three decades, for me the event was not so much about looking back as it was about looking forward. Considering ways to serve educators in new ways. Exploring that potential made the effort and challenges of getting to and attending the convention worthwhile.
While my ABI coloured much of my time at the convention, it did not define my experience.