Pushing forward

2013-08-07 20.21.01

Recently I committed to addressing a group of educators. As I mentioned in a previous post, I was torn between turning it down and going ahead with it. On the one hand going ahead with it made me vulnerable to the possibility of failure. On the other hand I felt compelled to advocate for atypical students and the challenges they face in a neuro-typical classroom.

Compelled to move ahead

I chose to share some of my observations of students I had taught during my 25 years as a classroom teacher. I recognized students over the years for whom I had made accommodations due to the way they presented themselves. While I recognized  some of their behaviours as their attempt to cope, I had no idea to what extent their behaviours masked or gave indications of their struggles.

In my learning to live with ABI (acquired brain injury) and therefore experiencing life as a neurologically atypical person, it has prompted me to think back on some of the undiagnosed, neurologically atypical students in my past.

Tempted to back out

At the risk of failure, I was reluctant to move ahead with sharing my observations. First of all, an hour and a half presentation was beyond my limits to remain cognitively engaged.

I had questions about my ability:

  • what if I experience sensory overload?
  • what if the delivery is incoherent?
  • how well will I be able to follow my notes?

I had other reservations related to the limitations that I experience with ABI. I’m often searching for the right noun, while verbs don’t elude me. I easily lose my train of thought. Stray thoughts send me out on tangents not directly related to the topic.

Planning, planning and some more planning

In working with my OT (occupational therapist) I was reminded to structure the presentation to match my limitations. In addition to that it was important to have a plan B. What if I couldn’t finish the presentation? Design the presentation in a way to minimize my own sensory loading.

I failed to minimize my sensory loading in part by not limiting the size of the group. But the larger group might have doubled my resolve and increased my focus.

The most important part of the planning was to partner with a co-presenter. By brainstorming, identifying the key points, recognizing what information and experiences were relevant, and settling on a comfortable structure and flow, hopefully the central theme would come through clearly. And most importantly, that attendees would benefit.

Heartening response

The next day an educator stopped by to see me. She told me that attending my workshop is what got her through the two day convention. Having shared my limitations as part of my presentation gave her the emotional space to give herself permission to acknowledge her limitations. That allowed her to modify her participation and choice of activities without being apologetic about focusing on her own needs.

In closing

I was reminded last summer that as a leader, when you share your own limitations or vulnerabilities, you give others permission to begin to push their own mask aside.

For me, the desire to advocate for struggling students made me push my own misgivings aside and focus on a need in others. That convinced me to push ahead. By acknowledging my limitations I maintain my integrity as an educator, yet connect with others on a personal level.


The Gift of Suffering

Aesthetics of stark reality, Elora

A fellow blogger, Rose Wolfe, who is a true encourager, shared the following response to one of my postings.

Just recently, I have been formulating a concept that there is the Gift of Suffering. In its most basic form, the idea is that our suffering adds to our spiritual maturity. As we continue to add to our faith, we grow in our relationship with Christ. Once we trust God with our lives (and, we, who are disabled, know the meaning of this), we can move forward in our appreciation of God’s plan for us. One gift: tribulation develops patience; and patience, character (maturity). Another gift of suffering: we can then comfort others with the comfort that we received from Christ.
Rose Wolfe   Living Free with disAbilities.

Let me explain how I experience the Gift of Suffering.

It’s been 21 months since my life took a sudden and profound turn. I continue to adjust to the changes which have included a liberal dose of suffering. The suffering has extended deeper into my personhood than the initial, immediate and persistent physical pain. The pain of sudden loss of a job. The pain of losing the ability to do so many physical activities that I took for granted. The pain of memory loss. The pain of not understanding what was happening to me. The pain of not being able to deal with various social situations. The pain of having plans evaporate. I never could have imagined such a multi-layered array of pain.

Suffering has given me the ability to live in the moment. Having daily familiar activities of job and family come to a grinding halt has changed my view of life. This new perspective is not a dull, monotonous, emptiness. I have learned that life can be also be appreciated at a much slower pace. Had I known this was coming I would have been wrong in expecting impatience to be one of my greatest trials. Even as the dust initially settled I had this sense that whatever healing I might receive it would take time. This has given me the gift of recognizing and appreciating the moment.

Suffering has exposed me to the compassion that lives in the community in which I worship. The words of encouragement have been generously shared. The questions that I get asked, I see as a heartfelt desire by people reaching out, wanting to understand this part of my journey. This has given me the gift of compassion and surrounds me with a level of encouragement that is hard to describe.

Suffering has shown me some clear personal limitations. There is something liberating about not being able to put up with someone’s inappropriate behaviour. I no longer try to negotiate with myself on how much to tolerate or how to put the best spin on dealing with someone’s rudeness or impertinence. My internal or subconscious response has been a clear signal to call out the inappropriate behaviour or quietly walk away from the situation. It’s a gift to not deal with lingering doubts of pushing my personal limits.

obsolete industrial park, Elora

Suffering has given me the time to explore new interests. Advice for those contemplating retirement is to resist the urge to immediately jump into something else. Commit to giving yourself a year or so before signing on to new responsibilities or projects. My recovery time has given me the gift of moving at my own pace without the threat of giving in to feelings of selfish restraint.

Suffering has created an environment that encourages reflection. In being forced to take on different activities, different pace, and different timelines I’m confronted with contrasts and comparisons. Being mercilessly pulled out of one lifestyle with it’s various pressures, choices and expectations has in some strange way benefits akin to traveling. A change of scenery creates conditions conducive to refection and taking stock. It’s a gift to be able to experience acknowledge blessings more deeply.

Suffering has given me a greater sense of trust. One word that describes much of the initial experience is ‘vulnerability’. There was so much that I was not able to manage or control. I was exposed to many unknown forces and impressions. What first expressed itself as confusion, helplessness and anxiety, gradually gave way to a beginning level of acceptance and trust.

Suffering has not destroyed my sense of hope. Initially my sense of hope was expressed in the form of “I’m glad the injury wasn’t worse.” Right from day one I had a sense that my injuries were not insurmountable. That sense of hope has given me the conviction that God has a clear purpose for me. He has gotten my attention. God chooses ways to slow us down. We might not like the means, but we would be at a greater loss if we miss the message.

It’s strange in a good way, how having suffered significant loss, I am able to see rays of hope however faint, shine through when others share their experience of loss. It seems that in the telling,  when a person is sharing their loss, there is a sense of hope. One needs a sense of hope, even if it’s a mere glimmer, to be able to share their story of loss. Without hope there would be no motivation to share.

Recently a friend shared a passage from 2 Corinthians 1 that has given him hope.

Praise be to the God …, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.