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Living and working with a chronic illness

Last week was Chronic Illnesses week. Last week was also the first week of classes at my institution, so time and energy for reflective blogging was at a pretty low ebb. But perhaps it’s in keeping with the theme of that week that posts like this happen when the poster is able rather than by some goal written on a calendar.

Morning, noon, and night. I can swallow each set in a single gulp! How's THAT for a super power.

Morning, noon, and night. I can swallow each set in a single gulp! How’s THAT for a super power.

Like many people I know, I live and work while dealing with a chronic illness. These illnesses come in many flavors — mine happens to be Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. A few years ago, my CFS was so debilitating that I seriously contemplated quitting my job and moving in with my parents to be an invalid on their couch for the remainder of my days, and I honestly hoped that those days would be few in number. I had no realistic hope for improvement and no energy to live. Basic things like chewing were often too tiring to contemplate. Breathing was a chore. Work? I was doing my best, but students were beginning to comment that I looked mostly dead, my supervisor kindly removed me from every project and committee I was on in one fell swoop, and my poor colleagues took up more of my slack than was fair (and did so without complaint, for which I will be forever grateful).

Thankfully, things have improved since then. I can’t work the 60- and 70-hour weeks I worked years ago, but I can put in a full, enthusiastic day at work as long as I don’t do anything else that day. I can’t keep a spotless house, but I can keep a functional one if I work carefully and efficiently. I can’t do a lot of galavanting with friends, but I can make some plans and even keep most of them. And for the first time in 7 years, I have hope that I’ll be able to keep up with life and with work.

Because of the amazing support I’ve received from family, friends, and colleagues, and because of the creativity of my medical team (which includes my unbelievably helpful mom), I’m doing ok.

It’s almost guaranteed that you have someone you work with who is living with a chronic illness of some kind or another, and many of these illnesses are invisible to the casual observer. It’s likely that this person is at the end of his or her rope most of the time, desperately hanging on to some semblance of normalcy. It’s likely that this person is scared and feels like a failure a lot of the time, simultaneously worried about receiving accommodations and about not receiving them, constantly rewriting their sense of self.

You really can  make a difference in that person’s life just by being patient, gentle, and kind. I don’t have words to thank the many people in my life who have been and continue to be vital supports for my fragile body and battered psyche. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. You have made my life possible in the most real sense imaginable.

Posted in me |

Revamping Refresher Training, now with bonus polling

Every fall, the helpdesk student supervisor and I lead “refresher training” for the IT helpdesk student workers who have shifts at the Research/IT desk in the library. Usually this consists of the two of us talking to the student workers about responsibilities and rules and then helping them figure out the ever-vexing microfilm reader/scanners. Again.

Needless to say, this always goes over super well, especially from 5-6 during the first week of classes. A couple students engage and the rest try not to fall asleep.

For some reason, I’ve had this mental block where I think of “training” as that boring thing that has to be done but that I try never to do when I’m “teaching.” Training is “here is how,” and teaching is something much more engaged and interesting. Turns out? I was wrong.

This year the helpdesk supervisor said “I want to change it up. We should make it interactive.” And I said, “I’ve been wanting to experiment with Poll Everywhere.” And so we ran an almost entirely poll-based training session, followed by a “microfilm race” (each group had to complete one task on one of the three reader/scanners) and it was good. The only thing that we didn’t cover was having every student touch every reader/scanner, and the students got to engage while also participating in their irreverant cohort culture via free-text responses here and there in the poll. Oh, and they still got paid for being there. So while it was definitely still training, I think it was definitely better.