Thursday, June 26, 2014

Defense Against the Dark Arts

In my professional life, I do a really good job of keeping it together.  I can check my baggage at the door, and while I have bad days like everyone else, I can be mindful about keeping other stuff out of my work, my teaching.  


Yesterday I kicked a student out of my class for using the F-word.  It was the third time I've confronted that student about some disruptive behavior (not that I'm counting.)  I went on with class, engaging with the working students, as the student I asked to leave took her sweet time picking up her stuff and shuffling out of the room, grumbling the whole time.  After class ended, three students came up to me to apologize for the way class ended.  Initially I was touched, but as I thought more about it, I realized that my cracks are showing.

This particular class challenges my patience and creativity in ways which are exhausting.  They are noisy, disjointed, and they don't like each other very much.  They are like a particularly smart virus.  Every time I find some strategy that calms them, they mutate and reform into a chaotic mess.  Many of them have significant personal challenges which they lack the emotional strength to handle.  Yesterday was not the first time I have stopped class to cajole or lecture or discipline someone.  I hate doing it every time.  I have even said to them that I am not interested in managing their childishness.  After all of these moments, yesterday was the first time that any one of them came up to me after class to apologize.  Something was different, and that something was me.  

After the class, I went directly to the Education Director's office to relay what had happened.  As we talked, I found my lost compassion and tried to consider what that student was going through.  We talked over the incident, neutrally, with humor.  Then, the ED leaned across her desk towards me.  "Are you okay?" she said, "You seem a little overwhelmed this week."

Cracks. Opening.  I am overwhelmed.  Usually by midterm, I can find some source of delight in every group, even the ones who challenge me.  I have lost the delight.  The first three words I can think of to describe my students this term are: "blood sucking vampires."

And that, of course, is what happens when self-care gets neglected.  I have had some adjustments to my personal life that have left me a little raw.  I thought I could manage the baggage, because I have before, but clearly I am not taking care of myself very well.  It is a teachable moment, and the first student to benefit from it is myself.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Reaching Out

Last night my colleague and I got the chance to talk to the members of Gilda's Club about oncology massage.  Our dear friend, and oncology massage educator, was going to do the talk, but her class was cancelled, so she didn't make the trip to Chicago.  My colleague and I spent time preparing, putting together a slide show, discussing points of interest, and generally trying to calm each other down.  

I rushed to Gilda's from school, trying to shake off the nerves and student frustration as I went.  We arrived early, prepared and ready to speak.  Although we only had an audience of three people, we both felt the evening went well.  We had a long, intense conversation among the five of us, going off script and improvising -- which only seems appropriate in a venue named for Gilda Radner.

All three of our attendees had vastly different stories of their cancer experience. What surprised us (but shouldn't have) was how freely they all shared their experiences.  They all seemed to want to talk, compare and weave in their own experience even as they learned from us.  It made the whole thing much more powerful to be able to give them the space and time to use their own lives to integrate what we were telling them.  

At the end of the presentation I told them, "I learned more today than I taught."  They gave me a richer insight into living with and beyond cancer, beyond what I learned my professional and personal experience.  It strikes me that this is all part of the joy of being a massage therapist.  We give people space and time to be themselves, and share themselves.  We are open to hearing whatever a person brings to us, without judgement.  I am eternally grateful to Greet the Day for trusting me and my colleague with this moment.