a-test-in-resilience

A Test in Resilience

I am not complaining when I say it’s been a rough couple of months for me. I am just stating a fact. I lost Lytton, re-started a DMT with unexpected side effects, and recently dealt with a training setback. It’s been a test in resilience from October 2019 to February 2020. I think I am passing, but I am still in the middle of it, and I know my perspective may be wrong.

Initially, I planned to make this post about my running. I entered two marathons for 2020: one in March and November. The March marathon would be my first ever, after several years of running multiple half marathons. I made it a goal to qualify for Boston, my college hometown, despite my MS.

#GOALS

Qualifying for Boston is a multi-year goal. I am not fast enough at this point, and I am only able to get myself down to 9:15 minute miles for 3.1 miles. I need to get myself down to 8:09 or faster for 26.2 miles to qualify. The first step is to run a marathon to see if I can even run one, let alone train myself to such speeds.

Granted, training to those speeds wouldn’t be awful even if I never qualify for Boston. It’ll put me into competitive waves with local races, and gives me a healthy fitness goal. 

I chose a March marathon for my first because it’s the last of the season, locally, until the fall due to Southern temperatures. It was deeply symbolic because I ran my first half marathon at this race in 2013. It’s also a day before the 2020 Olympic trials. All signs pointed to this being a perfect test run on whether I could even finish a marathon.

But by mid-January, I recognized that I was in the middle of a massive setback, and I needed to listen to my body.

Running as Disease-Modifying Therapy

Before I delve into the first setback, I want to talk a little bit about the importance of running to me. I mention it in passing on the blog because I am of two minds about it. On the one hand, I recognize how fortunate I am to be doing it with MS. I know not everyone has the same freedom of mobility I do. I want to be sensitive to that. On the other hand, I want to show that mobility-impairing diseases, like MS, don’t have to stop you from being physically active.

I try to walk a fine line between being sensitive and promoting healthy living. This year, I wanted to explore what running means to me as I train for a marathon and work towards a balanced life with complementary therapies.

Running is my primary form of managing my MS. It is the umbrella that all my care falls under, whether it’s eating or stress-reduction. I am chasing a goal of getting faster in my races; therefore, I make healthier eating choices to fuel my body appropriately. The act of exercising lowers my stress and gives me meditative moments when I am alone. Running helped get me to a physical space where I think Tecfidera will be more effective.

I credit running for balancing my mental health. I know this isn’t possible for everyone, so I acknowledge my privilege. But once my mental health stabilized, I was able to make other changes in my life that benefited how I managed my MS. It is a form of disease-modifying therapy for me.

And then I experienced my first setback.

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learning-to-manage-expectations

Learning to Manage Expectations

Learn to manage your expectations.

It’s one of the first things your healthcare specialist says to you after receiving your diagnosis. While my neurologist never explicitly said it to me, it’s implied. Granted, they have high expectations for my wellness, often higher than I had for myself. But when I was in the hospital, pre-diagnosis, that was one of the first things the hospital neurologist said to me in response to my health concerns.

Whether it’s been said or not, it’s something we learn quickly with a chronic illness. We must manage our expectations because we have no choice.

For many of us, we have the following expectations in life: we’ll be healthy, achieve personally, and go far professionally. Often these expectations get scrapped in favor of coping with a chronic illness diagnosis. We might have pain to manage that prevents certain exercises. Our fatigue gets to be too much that we cannot do the same personal tasks we once did. Or our workplace can only accommodate our illness so much before we see colleagues surpassing us.

The expectations we once had slip away and we feel nothing but discouragement. But do we have to let those expectations go?

John Gary Bishop says in Unf*ck Yourself that we should “expect nothing, but accept everything.” It’s perhaps the healthier way to approach the “manage your expectations” conversation. We should scrap all the expectations we have for ourselves and accept whatever life sends our way with an open mind.

This refers to the positive and negative expectations we place upon ourselves.

Why We Set Expectations

Why do we even set expectations in the first place?

In childhood, expectations are placed upon us and for us. Parents might expect us to take on a level of responsibility around the house, or they might share their desire to see us succeed when we become adults. We extrapolate this external expectation and internalize it for what we think we’re capable of doing. Expectations drive our dreams and our desire for achievements.

But rarely are limits placed on these expectations, and as a child, why should it be limited? We imagine being firefighters, doctors, and presidents as our career goals, not wanting to pick between the three. We expected to achieve anything, especially when told we can be whatever we want when we grow up.

Illness or not, we learn quickly that there are limits to our expectations. Not all of us will get into an Ivy League school. We will have to choose between a firefighter, doctor, and president for a career, if only to pick one to focus on at a time.

Life will not work out the way we expected. And then we get our diagnosis.

The Problem with Expectations

The obvious problem with expectations, at least at first, is that we are often unprepared for the letdown. When we don’t achieve the way we expected, it can feel like a failure. For some, that can lead us to shutdown and get stuck.

When we set expectations early in life and achieve them, it’s often viewed as a good thing. Rightly so, you set a path for yourself and achieved your goal. Rich Karlgaard writes about the problematic relationship Western culture has with early bloomers in his book Late Bloomers. Western culture is so hyper-obsessed with the Mark Zuckerbergs, Elizabeth Holmes, and Malala Yousafzais, that it overlooks those who quietly grind away to achieve their success later in life (30s and beyond).

Because there’s an intense expectation for early success, often when we leave high school or college without making some “30 under 30” list, there’s a feeling of panic. This can bring our personal expectations down, or cause us to stall out for a few years.

This is one problem with societal expectations: we misplace expectations on people who may not be emotionally mature to handle the pressure (for reference: Elizabeth Holmes, Martin Shkreli). When young people are pushed to succeed early, they forget that a window does not close as soon as they turn twenty-five. That window for success stays open their entire lives.

If you are alive, you still have the chance to bloom and succeed.

The second problem referenced in Karlgaard’s book is that early bloomers do not know how to handle failure in the same way late bloomers do. When you are a late bloomer, you get used to “failure;” you get used viewing it not as a failure but as a learning experience. Late bloomers are better equipped with managing their expectations.

Learning to Manage Expectations

In life, there are two sets of expectations: “positive” and “negative” ones. This is a false binary, but I am going to use it for clarity sake. Positive expectations are the goals we set for ourselves that we want to achieve. Negative expectations are the times we don’t believe we can achieve it.

At the time we receive our diagnosis, we might drop our positive expectations: career, family, personal goals; and replace them with negative expectations: lack of mobility, exacerbations, and limitations.

For example: before my diagnosis, I intended to become a University professor. After my diagnosis, I dragged my feet because I assumed I wouldn’t be able to handle the rigorous testing due to memory issues. I replaced a positive expectation, “career goals,” with a negative one, “my memory prevents me from achieving.”

If you are like me, a late-bloomer, hopefully you know how to handle disappointment and also view perceived failures as learning experiences. Transfer that awareness to how you view your illness: manage your expectations away from the negative reasoning of “I can’t do this,” to positive “why not try it anyway?”

Often after a diagnosis, we work our way through grieving for our health. It’s a healthy and necessary process, but sometimes we decide to get stuck on the negative thinking. It’s easy to look at all we think we can’t do, rather than focus on what we can do.

But you might surprise yourself if you take a moment to release the expectations you place on yourself. Yes, you may be struggling to walk or get out of bed today because you physically cannot do so, but does that mean you should indulge in the negative expectations of what you can’t do?

No.

There was a time after my diagnosis where I didn’t think I could run or do anything active due to numbness and fatigue. I was in a negative expectation mindset. I actively decided to remove all expectations on myself and said, I can do something. It won’t look the same as a person without an autoimmune diagnosis, but it will be something.

The moment I removed all my expectations (negative and positive), I found I was able to achieve.

I actually found I went farther than before my diagnosis because I removed all expectations I placed upon myself and my abilities. Even when I was “healthy” I had numerous expectations that prevented me from achieving.

This is because when we manage our expectations by removing them, we remove the mental obstacles that prevent us from attempting in the first place. We go out and attempt to achieve without thinking about the limitations we might have. We may still stumble, but it isn’t a failure as much as it’s a learning experience.

If you were an early bloomer, this is your opportunity to bloom once again. Or, as it is in my case, my chance to bloom later in life.


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Fall Festival Fun

Depending on where you live, festivals are happening throughout the year. Living in the South, we tend to only have major festivals in the spring and fall when the weather is optimal. Because fall in the South is vastly different from what I grew up with, I’ve come to rely on the fall festivals to be a vehicle to “feeling” the fall season.

A lot of that stems from childhood activities during the fall and the mother of all fall festivals.

My Love for Fall Festivals

Growing up in New England, every year around this time is a massive fall festival that highlights all the New England states. Centrally located, going to this festival was a highlight of my childhood. For many children, myself included, it meant skipping a day of school in favor of going because the weekends were always too crowded.

This festival takes place on massive fairgrounds with several exhibition halls filled to the brim with vendors, displays, competitions, food, and informational exhibits. A crowd favorite? A butter sculpture that changes from year-to-year. They also have different buildings that highlighted everything each New England State produces or grows.

It was at this festival I learned about a new thing called “the information superhighway,” or the “World Wide Web.” They had an exhibit explaining what this new-fangled, recently released to the public in a more open capacity (it was limited until that point). I was more interested in the coloring book and stickers I got after going through the exhibit than what it had to tell me about “the internet.” Oh, if only I knew.

They also had a sizable midway and barns filled with various livestock for show and sales. In high school, I attended most years either as a volunteer for the agricultural display where we made free bows for fairgoers or as part of a competition. Never won anything significant, but it was always a fun excuse to skip school legitimately.

Unfortunately, there is nothing comparable in the South, at least nothing I’ve found. I do have plans to bring Jai up when he’s older so he can experience the same excitement I had for this festival as a kid.

Fun & Cheap (even Free!)

Another reason why I love fall festivals is their price. A favorite one we attend every year is only $10 for the public to attend, but free for members. Once inside, goers are able to view various points-of-interest, participate in fun activities for children, watch dancers showing off, listen to music and walk through both food and trinket vendors.

Other festivals near where we live are free to attend, which can also include free demonstrations and live music that always appeal to fascinated toddlers. There is never a requirement to spend money at these festivals, which both Ash and I love, though we try to support local artisans when the price is reasonable.

Suggestions for Attending (especially in hotter climates)

Some tricks that I’ve gathered from attending festivals all these years

  • Bring a sizable and easy to carry a water bottle. Water can get expensive but is necessary to have when dealing with hot weather and walking around.
  • Limit alcohol consumption (even if it’s a wine/beer festival). If it’s a particularly hot day, drinking too much will quickly dehydrate you. If you must drink, consider matching each cup/glass with an equivalent amount of water.
  • Hats, sunscreen – the works for sun protection. Some locations may not have shade and where they do you may end up fighting others for space.
  • Bring layers, comfortable shoes, and check the weather. While in the South, wearing shorts and tee-shirts might be the standard uniform for most days, there are the occasional cooler days where having a sweatshirt for part of it might be ideal. Comfortable shoes are also a must as most of your activity will be walking up to a mile.
  • If allowed, bring in a picnic lunch to help save money and stick to a healthy eating plan. Festivals always have tempting terrible foods that are deep-fried, but if you are trying to eat healthily, it can be discouraging to see and smell the foods you want to try but know you shouldn’t. Bring the main parts of your lunch if you can and then treat yourself after you’ve eaten to a festival dish. That way you are already full and will eat less and only limiting yourself to one unhealthy item versus a meal’s worth.
  • For those with children:
    • No matter the age, an extra set of clothes (especially bathing suit & towel) and shoes. Some places have previously unknown water/pool offerings and nothing is more discouraging to a kid than saying “no” because you are unprepared.
    • Bring cash because some festivals have play areas to burn off energy that might only accept cash.
    • If bringing a lot of stuff and you have one, consider bringing a heftier stroller versus the simple umbrella stroller. Strollers are great for carrying food, extra clothing, etc. If your little one is too old for a stroller, consider a collapsible wagon. Some are highly rated and can carry up to 150 lbs (which will be useful when little ones outgrow that).
  • For those with MS or illnesses affected by the heat:
    • Bring a cooling towel of some sort that you can re-wet frequently to help keep you cool.
    • A portable chair that can function as a cane while walking around. Getting down on the ground can be difficult and more difficult to get up.
    • Check, if you can, for motorized access if you use a scooter. Most festivals have to be ADA compliant, but one of the ones near where we live has very narrow walking paths between the vendor tents which can make it frustrating for those in a scooter.

What are some of your favorite fall festivals that you attend? Do you have any fun childhood memories of fairs? Share your experiences in the comments below.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton


Final Thoughts: Home Life and Early Childhood Education

August was a fun and interesting month.

I did a lot of heavy lifting this month with my writing: talking about toxic friendships and how I dealt with them, and the importance of teaching toddler’s life lessons. I am ready for a three day weekend after all this writing!

I enjoyed the research I did for literacy and reading Peter Gray’s book Free to LearnI hope if you haven’t had a chance to yet, that you can check out the printables I made for cleaning and scheduling. I still need to make some tweaks to my daily schedule, but I am almost to a great place in my personal productivity.

I hope everyone has a safe and wonderful weekend and here’s to the first month of the fall, September! Can you smell the pumpkin spice already?


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Featured illustration credit: Michelle Melton Photography


Early Childhood Education Blogs

For any parent wanting to teach their toddler at home, an essential resource is the variety of education blogs on the internet.

Twenty years ago it would be a trip to the bookstore to find a book among whatever the store had to offer. The publisher would vet a resource before printing to ensure the information was accurate and achieved a specific goal. Now we can search what we might need/want on our phone within seconds because anybody can put anything out there.

Therefore, finding a reputable resource can be difficult. Some blogs use tactics to shoot up to the top of the search results, which means that just because it’s on the front page of your favorite search engine doesn’t mean it is a quality resource to use. Often you have to dig to find meaningful results.

Not all parents go to school for early childhood education, so we aren’t familiar with the milestones necessary to teach before preschool. The researcher training I received means that I know that I can’t stop at the first set of results. I need to be sure whatever information I walk away with is credible.

I don’t want to be teaching him incorrectly or placing an expectation on him before he’s cognitively ready because the blog has their months/priorities wrong.

What you’ll find below are some tips for vetting your research to determine if a blog is worth following or if they are spreading misinformation. Operating under the belief a child should be learning something before they are ready can make the task of preparing them for school frustrating.

How to Vet a Blog

There are several steps I follow to determine if a blog or article is credible, especially if it’s on a topic I am unfamiliar with, like childhood education. Many of these suggestions seem like common sense. Still, even I’ve been guilty of skipping a step or two, only to find a resource isn’t credible later.

Pre-Research Steps

  • Go to the experts first. Determine what your national standards for a particular age and their recommendations are. I find these sites can be a bit stuffy for their ideas, which is why I branch out into the wilds of the internet.
  • Decide what you are looking for: activities or material for teaching.
    • Activities do not need as much vetting. Before you start the project, you can determine if it will be age-appropriate or doable.
    • Material for teaching is where it gets dodgy. If your child is interested in Space, you may find that you stumble upon a set of blogs that advocate for alternative theories on planet shapes. Even the ones that promote mainstream ideas may have incorrect facts that you inadvertently teach your little ones. 

Vetting a non-scholarly/non-expert blog

  1. Search for the activity or material you want to do with your little one. Read the blurbs underneath the site header on the search page to determine what the site will offer before you click on the link.
  2. Once you click on the site, make the following observations. These are all meant to help you determine the resource’s motivation for getting you to visit their page:
    1. What is at the end of the domain address? Is it a “.com,” “.edu,” or something else? My blog is a “.blog” for reference. This observation will determine the type of site you are visiting. Anything that isn’t .edu/.gov/.org (though .org can be problematic at times) means that the site is commercially run. It doesn’t mean they aren’t an expert, just that they may have other motives to draw you to their website ($$$).
    2. What do you see when you first visit the site? Are you met with pop-ups to join a newsletter? A bunch of ads (if you don’t use ad block)? Cluttered layout? None of these are bad on their own, because they earn the blogger money. Still, it helps you determine their monetary motivation. If you have to join a newsletter to get the resource, the blogger may spam you or try to sell you something.
    3. Is the resource sponsored? Many bloggers who want to remain reputable will disclose the sponsored post. If the post is sponsored, is it a company you are familiar with? If it isn’t, again, not a bad thing, but you may want to do a more thorough check to determine if the product is worth getting or if you’re going with an analog. If the blogger does not disclose sponsorship, but it is clear that’s what is happening, then consider finding another resource.
    4. Check to see if there is a clear bias on the page: this can be a belief system, lifestyle, or product recommendation. Again, none of these are bad, but it might affect the material or activity you want for your little one. It is just something to be aware of as you set it up/do your research.
  3. Check the length of the post. Quantity doesn’t mean quality, but I do find there is a healthy balance in some of my favorite resources. If a post has too many pictures before getting to a very short blurb on the activity, I am less likely to stay and use that specific resource. Likewise, if the post is too short, and I need more information, I’m going to go elsewhere.
  4. Does the information match up with the pre-research you did on the actual expert blogs? If not, but it looks like something you could use later, it would be worth bookmarking until then. But be mindful of all the other information posted on the blog.
  5. See if they link out to other resources within the post, especially if you are looking for teaching information. I try to link out to other blogs/resources as much as I can to demonstrate my ethos and commitment to quality blogging. This isn’t super important to your vetting process, but it may mean that they are a blog worth following for future ideas.

It may seem like a lot of steps to go through to determine a blog’s relevancy, but it’s worth it because it can weed out the bad information. Many blogs you stumble upon on the first page of a search are there because they deserve to be, but sometimes you manage to get a less reputable one in the mix.

Below are my current recommendations for some favorite childhood education blogs.

I was not compensated in any way to include these blogs. These are purely my recommendations from my research and experience.

Expert Blogs (US Only)

How to Teach Toddlers at Home

Preparing Toddlers for Preschool

Fun Educational Activities to do at Home

What are some of your favorite bloggers out there? I am always looking for more recommendations to add to my reading list. Leave a link to your blog (or someone else’s) in the comments.


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Featured photo credit: Canva