I am woman!

When I was at school, I had a fantastic English teacher whom I really admired.  What I loved the most was her feminism.  She truly believed that women could do anything; she believed it so much, she would reword the Bible with inclusive language.  Such was the culture within the All-Girls Catholic school I attended.

As a teenager and young adult, feminism dominated my very existence.  I needed to achieve the best marks, have a successful career, travel the world and buy my own house, car, designer clothing and handbags.  I suspect that my ‘daddy issues’ intensified my passion for equality.  I even took a Women’s Studies class at university which equated to three hours of men bashing each week; and I loved it! I worked in a hardware store and consistently had to remind the male clientele that my eyes were actually much higher than their gaze.  A close friend and I regularly engaged in passionate discussions about our need to complete a PhD thesis on the inaccuracy of original sin.  The snake that tempted Eve was actually the phallic symbol that to us, linked original sin to men.  The list went on…

As I grew older and wiser, my feminist attitude mellowed and my passion to succeed was no longer rooted in the feminist ideal.  Sadly, the last few years have highlighted increasing sexism the workplace.  The perception being that we are not assertive but bitches and our expression of emotion is simply a feminine weakness caused by hormones.  Even though research increasingly demonstrates how women and men process information differently, function differently, and express emotions differently, it does not prioritise one way over the other.

So how does this background information apply to me now?

Over the last few years it has become increasingly obvious to me that sexism is alive and well.  Despite each professional achievement I make, it is becoming more and more obvious that my femininity directly affects how people perceive my ability.  In fact, I am consistently being under-estimated.  As if I wasn’t already challenged to overcome the stigma of epilepsy, I now find myself dealing with the consequence of having a well rounded pair of breasts, blonde hair, blue eyes and a childish sense of humor!

Whilst I refuse to join the testosterone fuelled pissing contest that seems to dominate leadership, I have come to the conclusion that something needs to change.  Unless I am prepared to turn into that scary spinster stereotype, I am going to have to find other ways to ensure my skills and knowledge are valued as equally as other male colleagues in similar positions.

For now, let my actions be guided by the philosophy of Oprah Winfrey who said:

“Excellence is the best deterrent to racism and sexism.”

Look out world, for ‘I am woman, hear me roar’!

MJ

It’s All About Perspective

Quote for the week comes from my College Chaplain who said:

“Life is short. Take the scenic route!”

 We had just attended the funeral of a mother taken too early. One of the boys was checking that he would be back in time to catch the bus.  It was perfect timing.   In that moment, I think we all realised that life really is short. The time we spend winging about work, family, money, and health is unimportant. If we turned our focus in the other direction, we would certainly be much happier, healthier and fulfilled. So today instead of focusing on the sad and frustrating things, I am going to try and write about all things uplifting.

Many years ago as part of my undergraduate degree, I took a course in creative writing. I excelled in stories and poetry about adultery, revenge, vampires, blood, emptiness and death. There is something easy about writing sad stories. We casually joked that it may be a psychological problem of mine until the lecturer forced us to write something positive. He said that stories and poetry with uplifting and positive messages are difficult. Even Shakespeare struggled with the concept. So as I attempt to write this uplifting post, I am challenged once again.

Honestly, I have had a very messed up week. It is a knotted jumble of the good with the bad.   Mostly, I am pre-occupied with the exciting news that I will soon own and love a Havanese puppy. In a crazy twist, the litter was born last Friday 13th. They are black with white patches and one of them will be mine in June. In amongst this, I learnt of and attended a very difficult funeral. I cannot express the pain I had watching two teenage boys act as pallbearers for their own mother. Whilst, it is not an image I am going to forget anytime soon, it does motivate me to live well, foster healthy relationships and to smile often!

So back to the puppies! As a first time puppy owner, I am thankful for YouTube and all the many people who have shared their methods for toilet training a puppy! I have heard everything from “go potty” to “release”. It really is quite entertaining stuff.   I am also enjoying trolling the online pet stores for crazy and cool ‘puppy stuff’. If you haven’t seen a puppy booster seat for a car, you have not spent enough time doing your research.

Names are an interesting thing. Everyone is willing to share his or her own unique ideas. So I began my own possible list of boy and girl puppy names. My stepfather thinks I should call it ‘cat’. My man on the other hand likes ‘Satan’. I did like Johann after the composer Johann Sebastian Bach. It occurred to me that you could call, “Johann!   Bark!” But perhaps that is is only funny in musical circles?

In the end, and over a bottle of sparkling Shiraz, I have decided on one boy and one girl name. Given I don’t have to name the puppy until he or she is five weeks old, I will hold off making my choice public. You never know what I could think of in the meantime.

As I sign off, I am reminded that there are only nine school days left before Easter holidays! Yippee! And remembering the title of my blog site, Adventures with Epilepsy I am thankful that I continue to remain seizure free.

What great adventures might I have this week?  I’ll tell you about them soon.

In memory of all the people we love!

MJ

Image from:

Overwhelming Days…

Despite my generally positive outlook on life, I, like many, have miserable days.   Yesterday was a mixture of tears, terrible self-confidence, love, relief and laughter.

My fault; I got on the scales in the morning of an EEG and neurologist appointment.   I was already anxious about whether I would get my drivers license back and, as I have been true to my new years goal of fitness, health and general calm it made sense that I may have lost weight. I have been going to yoga three times a week and have been on the treadmill every alternate day. I have never felt as fit as I do at the moment. I really need to throw out those scales! All I can think is that although I am not a biggest loser contestant I will be if I keep this up!

What do you do when things turn ugly?   I ring my darling mother. Always full of sensible advice, Mum tried to remind me of all the positive things.  She reminded me of my positive sense of self only the day before; that I was proud of my motivation and commitment to lead an active and stress-free life.   Then she talked to me about my pending specialist appointment. We discussed my reaction and her concern for my ability to remain strong if I failed to get permission to drive. Just the possibility that the EEG might show some seizure activity terrified me and I cried again.

So what happened? EEG came back “satisfactory” with no seizure activity. I can drive again!  I would normally have done a yippee dance but my state of mind is so mixed up at the moment, I felt relief minus the smile. I am not happy with my weight. I want a baby and cannot bring myself to even begin trying until I have lost this weight. It was so bad that I (briefly) considered crazy ideas for quick (and ultimately unhealthy) weight loss.   There is more. I am not happy with the stress at work.  It is difficult to let things go when you care and have so much passion for your job. It’s worse when you consistently deal with disorganization and unrealistic work loads.

As usual, I need to do something about it. A baby, my self-image and drivers license matter more than anything. I’ve arranged to return to my dietician next week, re-organized my wardrobe separating the beautiful yet too small clothes, and completed a healthy grocery shop. A vegetable soup is currently simmering on the stovetop. Other than continuing the exercise there is little else I can do but wait to see results.  Then I figure I will have the experience of going clothes shopping in my own home AND without the expense!

Work… well that is another matter. The boys return to school on Tuesday and I am looking forward to seeing them. I expect that returning to the classroom will erase the frustrations I have with other aspect of my job.

Now that I am driving I’ll finish with some humour:

Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?

George Carlin

Concentration is the Key

At least for me, Tonic Clonic seizures result in memory loss and difficulty concentrating. As a woman and someone with epilepsy in an academic position, I cannot afford to be forgetful and scatter-brained. People do not understand the result of a seizure and often fail to accept the symptoms like they do the flu, asthma and even allergies. Put simply, this ignorance means I cannot afford to allow my symptoms to affect an excellent standard of work. The lack of understanding, no matter how small is everywhere.

So what am I doing about it? Well complaining certainly won’t solve anything! Instead I have started my first 2000 piece puzzle. I call it complete insanity supported by a close friend! It is a poster-sized picture of a concert hall complete with choir, pipe organ, orchestra, grand piano and audience. Imagine “Where’s Wally?” as a musical and you have some idea of the difficulty. The following three things are a consequence as I work towards its completion:

  • The puzzle has forced me to concentrate and focus;
  • My memory is improving as I remember images and look for matching pieces; and,
  • This quiet activity is enjoyable shared with a friend. We have both shared giggles and our frustrations.

I doubt we will finish this before school (aka work) resumes on the 19th January, however it is certainly waking my brain up for another busy year.

MJ

Resolutions of Value

New-Years-Resolutions-Quotes-Images-1019The last time I actually fulfilled a New Years resolution was my final year of high school. I resolved to be invited to a formal other than my own. Lucky for me I caught the bus everyday with the boys from our local Boys College. I was excited to be asked by a close male friend. More than 15 years later, we still communicate.

Since then, like many of you I am sure, I have made the usual resolutions and failed to successfully accomplish them. It seems to me that many resolutions are negative from the very beginning; they have little to no respect for who you are as a person. At least for me, they have always been competitive and more concerned with outward appearances than my own development and wellbeing. With this in mind, I am making the conscious decision to create realistic, positive goals to improve my physical and mental health, career and relationships.

So what are they? I don’t have a list exactly, rather the motivation to not have another seizure for at least 12 months. In Australia there are laws regarding epilepsy and driving. I am currently unable to drive until at least the 23rd January when I will have an EEG and follow-up consultation with my specialist. Hopefully nothing has changed, and the suggested cause of my recent seizures is substantiated. If I have a seizure within this year, I will have my drivers’ license suspended for 12 months. I intend to do everything within my power to ensure this does not happen.

It is interesting how people just don’t understand the importance of having a drivers’ license.   For me, it is simply the independence driving affords. I can meet friends anywhere I choose, I can get to work earlier or leave later and I can go grocery shopping without worrying if there are too many bags to carry home. Ultimately my independent and stubborn soul finds the need to rely on others difficult to handle.

In the interest of my own wellbeing, independence and health goals I am taking stock. I am sure the cause of my most recent seizures was stress.   Actually now that I think about it, all of the seizures I have had in the last 10 years were stress related.   I need to remember that you work to live, not live to work. Despite what we think, everyone is replaceable. So if I want to reduce stress in my life, I need to consider how stress affects health and discover ways to overcome it.

So what is stress and how does it affect your body? Researching the answers to these questions lead me to the Stress Management Society. See their web page at:

http://www.stress.org.uk

On this web page I found a stress test. Well no surprises there. However some of the suggestions are extremely valid and will form part of my plan for action:

  • Work off stress with physical activity
    • Release adrenaline and increase endorphins, the happy hormone.
  • Say “No”
    • When necessary, say “no” and don’t attempt to fulfill unrealistic expectations.
  • Time Management
    • Do one thing at a time. Be organized and factor in time for unexpected issues. Write a list of work that needs to be accomplished. Prioritize an order of importance and decide what jobs can be delegated to others. Finally, consider if there are any jobs that are not important and can be deleted from your list.

I will begin now with physical activity that encourages endorphins. Whilst I have always preferred to play a musical instrument or sing for hours than exercise I will begin by finding activity that is enjoyable. Earlier this year I bought a treadmill. I actually quite enjoy a brisk walk on the treadmill with a great play list on my iPod. Similarly I enjoyed my associations with Planet Inline, an inline skating school in the heart of Brisbane City.   For obvious reasons, skating is not a safe activity at the moment however there is nothing stopping me resuming regular treadmill activity with an updated play list to keep things interesting!

There is so much yet to say. I am finding this exploration into the aspects of my life therapeutic and informative. Whilst I keep you informed of my progress, please continue to leave suggestions and feedback.

“Those who gave thee a body, furnished it with weakness; but He who gave thee Soul, armed thee with resolution. Employ it, and thou art wise; be wise and thou art happy.”

– Akhenaton, ancient Egyptian ruler

MJ

Laughter is the Best Medicine!

It is just over two weeks since my seizures on the evening of 3rd December. My tongue is no longer sore, but it feels like I have just left the dentist; half of it is numb! I sound like the women in that really old EXTRA chewing gum commercial.

Hopefully it improves before school resumes next year. Students are observant and will eventually feel the need to impersonate my new sound.

As I have no intention yet of informing students and thus their parents about my epilepsy, I will have to make up a story.

“I was kidnapped by the Grinch and forced to watch One Direction and Justin Bieber concerts. The resulting nightmares caused a nervous reaction where I chewed my tongue.”

Sounds like a plan…

Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine.

Lord Byron

MJ

I’ll Show You!

ill-show-you-how-great-i-am-2It all began with two things:

  • A tonic clonic seizure the day after my eleventh birthday; and,
  • The list of “don’t do’s”.

You know that list… the one where the specialist diagnoses epilepsy and proceeds to tell you and your family all the changes that must be made. I specifically remember the following:

  • School and concentration would be an increasing challenge;
  • I would no longer be able to go to the cinema;
  • TV, flashing lights and flickering sun light may cause problems;
  • Roller Skating, bicycle riding and my team sport of Netball were now dangerous;
  • Be conscious of the effects of music, its volume and live performance;
  • You should not expect to qualify for a drivers license; and finally,
  • You should never be left alone.

All I remember thinking was, “What! That’s unfair!” and finally the typical teenager response, “I’ll show you!”

At first I wasn’t allowed to participate in my school swimming carnival. That didn’t bother me. As a young nerdy musician, I was very pleased about that decision. Similarly, I loved the Serengeti sunglasses my mother bought me for car trips and outside activities!

What did get frustrating was being watched like a hawk. I roller-skated with company, I rode my bike with company, I swam in the beach with company. I wasn’t even allowed to lock the bathroom or toilet door anymore!

I was too afraid to tell my friends. Teachers at school were now even more conscious of my activities.  One memorable example was our excursion to the Sciencentre in Brisbane. I vividly remember the fantastic spinning chair. Here is an excerpt from the Science Centre web page:

‘Sit, belt up and spin out. Take control: speed up or slow down using your body. Discover the tricks that skaters, dancers, gymnasts and divers use. Warning: don’t do this just after a meal.’

(www.sciencentre.qm.qld.gov.au)

You can understand how I was looking forward to my turn. Unfortunately, while waiting for my turn, a special needs teacher quietly removed my well-behaved butt from the line and took me to this stupid platform that did a similar thing only at a snails pace.   Whilst I said nothing and was polite, it still makes me furious.

Yes, school did become a challenge. I was diagnosed with both tonic clonic and absence seizures. The tonic clonic seizures were controlled by medication relatively quickly, however the absence seizures, although short, happened often. It is a cycle; concentrate, get tired, stress because you missed information, sleep, concentrate, get tired, stress, sleep…

You get the picture.

As for the DON’T DO list:

  • I have my driver’s license.
  • Roller Coasters – AWESOME!
  • Bungee Jumping in New Zealand – AWESOME!
  • Movie attendance: Although that IMAX cinema makes me incredibly ill, dizzy and shaky.  Same thing with a few arty-farty movies i.e. “The Blair Witch Project”
  • Rock Concerts!
    • Radiohead: Fun but the lighting gave me tunnel vision and a wobble in my step;
    • Other concerts include: U2 (twice), Metallica, Nickelback, Dixie Chicks, Billy Joel, Elton John, Robbie Williams (twice), The Living End, and Powderfinger;
    • Festivals including Big Day Out and V Fest attendance (John Butler Trio, The Pixies, Pet Shop Boys, Muse, Angus and Julie Stone, Wolfmother, Tool and Rammstein);
    • Musicals and Opera: all over the world.  Too many to list.
    • I am looking forward to Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters in early 2015;
  • I’ve trained and passed the Fresh Meat test for Roller Derby;
  • When I have time, I join classes to learn street skating on Roller Blades;
  • I have completed my Masters Degree in Educational Leadership with a 6.25 GPA; and,
  • I have lived alone and away from my family.

Clearly, I am one of the lucky ones.   Despite this, I too am familiar with the ignorant, panicked, wide-eyed look on people when they learn about others’ and my own epilepsy. This has meant that there are particular events permanently embedded into my memory.

For what-ever reason I was motivated, this blog will hopefully serve as some personal reflection, information, encouragement and support for others.

MJ