Wednesday, July 6, 2011

An overview of my "chaotic" life and a wake-up call or two...or three...or more

Most people have their own chaos, or their own chaotic areas, in life. And each of us are unique, of course. So, what makes my life chaotic? While I don't believe my life is in a state of complete disorder, it is definitely busy and can be chaotic at times. Here's an overview of what keeps me busy:

  1. Teaching--I'm a high school English teacher. I teach English 10, IB English I, and Speech & Debate. Having three preps means I spend a lot of time planning and organizing for these three classes, and I have a lot of different assignments to grade.  And, no, you can't just do the same thing each school year. I like the variety of having three different classes, but sometimes it can feel like a lot.
  2. Coaching--In addition to my three teaching preps, I coach our school's Speech & Debate Team. Coaching is rewarding and, at times, it's the most fulfilling part of my teaching career. But, it takes a lot of time and dedication. The team practices each week and we have tournaments most weekend. Last school year, somewhere around twenty weekends were taken up by Speech & Debate activities. (I never did the official count because I didn't really want to know.) The team has grown and met great success over the past few years. 
  3. Graduate School--I started working on my MA in Literature (not Education) in the fall of 2008. I should finish next spring (2012)! I take one or two classes each semester, including during the summer. Something that has been making my graduate school experience particularly interesting is the "foreign language proficiency" requirement. (Did I mention I'm working on a MA in Literature--English Literature??) So, since I managed to avoid this foreign language requirement in undergrad when I transferred schools, I have been taking Spanish courses in addition to my literature courses. I have taken 101 and 102...just two more to go to reach "intermediate proficiency."

In addition to the above, I also have the "normal" things to take care of--keeping up with things around the house, taking care of the "dog child," etc. My wonderful husband is very supportive and helpful with all of these areas!
On top of these things, Bradley and I also have to handle having very different work schedules. The end-of-day school bell rings at 2:10pm; Bradley often begins his shift at 2pm. He works a good number of Sundays, too, so tournament weekends often mean that we have very little time together.
And (finally?), I have a number of health issues to deal with, including a plethora of food allergies and intolerances which keep life interesting.

I like to keep busy. If I had a "personality label," it would probably read "works best when busy." When I'm not busy, I feel sluggish and unproductive. And I like to sleep...a lot. I honestly feel more productive when I have a full schedule. Sure, I get stressed from time to time and there are times when I feel burnt out, but I enjoy what I do. But  I've realized that for both my sanity and my health, I need to learn to relax more. And I actually struggle with this. I need to learn how to relax because it definitely doesn't come naturally. Even when I think I'm relaxed, others, including my husband (who knows me better than anyone), sense that I'm not. And I don't want to come across as someone who is uptight all of the time.

I've had some "need to relax" wake-up calls. Thankfully, none of these wake-up calls were serious, but as they've accumulated, they've been enough to tell me that even if I think I'm relaxed, I'm probably not, and I should think about this more and work on relaxing more.
Here are some of the wake-up calls I've had over the past few years:

  1. Heart palpitations--In the fall of 2008, after moving into our house, starting at a new school, and starting graduate school, I started having pain in my chest and shortness of breath. I figured it was my asthma kicking in. When the pain really became annoying, I went to an allergist/asthma doctor and was told that, no, it's not my asthma--it's stress. The heart palpitations went away (I had a lot going on that fall), and they've only returned for a couple of brief periods of time since then.
  2. "Take a chill pill"--I was driving to a Speech & Debate Team tournament with a few of the students from the team. One of the students was a new member. As I was going over times and some tournament information, this student jumped in and said, "I don't mean any disrespect by this Mrs. Fulton, but I think you need to take a chill pill." student had ever said anything like that to me. I wasn't offended; I was interested. This student didn't really know me yet...or so I thought. When I asked what made him think that, he replied that I seemed like someone who gets stressed and uptight over things and I should really relax more. His bold statement and observations have stuck with me...and we still laugh about how he told me this shortly after meeting me and joining the team. :)
  3. Lessons from a voice teacher--One of my former voice teachers from just a couple of years ago was determined to get me to relax! She wanted to cure me from holding onto my stress. She picked up on my nature during my first lesson with her. I wasn't fully aware of it then! While she didn't cure me, she did help during the time I took lessons with her.
  4. Advice from a Spanish professor--As I walked out of our last Spanish class before our final exam just a couple of weeks ago, the professor walked out behind me and then walked beside me and asked if I would mind if she gave me some advice. I said "not at all," but I had no idea what this sweet, older woman was going to say. You guessed it--she said I should relax more. She went on to say, "Sometimes you just have to say f*** it! You don't have to do everything perfectly. Don't take life so seriously! Enjoy life!" The fact that this sweet woman said the f-word was surprising, but it made me take her seriously. And the fact that she made this observation after knowing me for only six weeks really made me think about what she said.

So the first step in solving a problem is to acknowledge that there is, in fact, a problem. My problem: I don't let myself relax enough. I need to learn to function on modes other than "110% 24/7." Now to learn to relax...


  1. Jenn,

    I feel the need to respond to this post because of your ending topic of stress, and your internal response to it:

    I've had panic attacks/heart palpitations for years (typically in private, though there was a scary/memorable panic attack occurrence during a family get together celebrating Christmas of 2009). Stress has always been an internalized experience in my life, something that shouldn't burden others. My stress-inducing phenomena tended to be uncomfortable social situations, proficiency issues (work skills, academic skills, interpersonal skills), and my overly inquisitive nature (having to 'know', or feel like I knew, as much as possible about people, places, things).

    I'm intrigued by the way you ended this post by a reflection of allowance; that you don't allow yourself to relax 'enough'. I'm never sure how much relaxation is enough; so I'm very intrigued by how you feel about your concept of enough relaxation? I appreciate those of my friends who work best when they are busy, and am well aware that those people would be less effective at their work if given too much time to dwell on their thoughts or to stagnate...

    I've gotten the, “Raf! Chill out! Stop being so serious! You're too uptight and you think too much on things” indictment before; but honestly, I don't know that having that mentality is so much a problem, as much as it represents a key part of my character. To suppress my intense personality or the intense degree to which I approach my activities, works, or social engagements would be to undermine the true level of comfort I've come to have with myself.

    Perhaps you need to find an interesting way to use your moments of quiet in 'self productive ways'. Meditations, journalistic reflections, soul work (such as knitting, puzzle-solving, pleasure reading, gardening)... something that enables you to humor your perfectionist qualities, while also giving you a chance to use that energy in an altogether different environment than your other engagements (school, work, domesticity). There is often joy, reflection and self-knowledge to be had from those 'unproductive moments'.

    Productivity produces productive products. Sometimes, even in our quietude, our creativity rages under the surface.

  2. I really appreciate your comments, Raf! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. And I enjoyed the experience of reading your post--very poetic. :)

    I am most definitely one of those people who works best when busy, and I'm not nearly as productive when my schedule isn't full. You mention how the "busy" mentality is a key part of your character. While I've always known that I function best when I'm keeping busy, I feel like I've just recently really come to a point where I can accept this and understand that not everyone else works this way, and not everyone understands that I do...and that's okay. I used to always feel like I had a problem. Perhaps it's just how I had allowed others to make me feel. Regardless, I have come to point where I can accept that the "busy-productive" is part of my nature.

    That being said, I think I do have a problem relaxing. I don't know how much relaxation is enough, but I think it's important to have some downtime, even for a few minutes each day. I will often keep pushing myself and don't "let" myself have those few minutes. For instance, I might push myself to grade one or two more papers at night instead of taking a few minutes to read something for fun. Did the papers have to be done that night? The answer is most often no, and I probably would have benefited from a few minutes of pleasure reading instead of commenting on a student's paper. This is the type of thing I mean when I say I don't let myself relax enough. Sometimes I push too hard.

    I also have a problem with enjoying the moment. This problem also ties in with what I mean when I say I don't allow myself to relax enough. There are times when we're hanging out with friends or eating dinner, and I'm not enjoying those moments because I'm thinking and stressing about everything I need (or think I "need") to get done. I need to be able to let go and enjoy those moments. It was a wonderful feeling on vacation! :)

    I like your suggestion "to use moments of quiet in 'self productive ways' humor [my] perfectionist qualities." I had never really thought of my quiet time or "me time" activities in this way!

    Thank you, again, for sharing your insight on this topic!

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  4. As someone who doesn't grade papers or critically review others' works, I'm curious at what point in the grading/critical review session you feel you are at the height of your critical proficiency?

    Does giving attention to those extra two or three papers at the end of the night enable you to sacrifice your critical proficiency? Do they get 'all of your intellectual muscle'? Do you get to a point when it's more repetitive/mindless and does that mean you're 'in a flow'?

    Nice that you have family that plays the cello. I go to various Chamber Orchestra concerts in Charleston and my favorites are when they have a Cello or some other resonant string instrument played masterfully.

  5. enable is the wrong word... I should say, "cause"

  6. I definitely get into a good flow or rhythm when grading papers. It can take a bit to get into it, but I get there. I'm also aware that I can fall out of this flow when I'm tired or distracted, and I try to stop before I come to this point. If I realize I've gone past that point, I will go back (later) and take a fresh look at the papers I graded "out of flow." I will also often go back and take another look at the first couple of papers I graded/commented on. So, no, I don't think I sacrifice any critical awareness or "intellectual muscle" when I push myself to look at two or three more papers. It's rare that they *have* to be looked at by the next morning (for planning/scheduling purposes), though, and most times I'm just pushing myself to be super-productive when I would probably benefit from doing something a tad more enjoyable for myself. :)

    I miss going to regular concerts. I played and saw so much more back in college days. We have classical music on 24/7 here at the house (seriously), and I always have it on in my car. I'm so thankful that we have a great classical music station here! I woke up to Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio Espagnol when I took a nap this afternoon. That took me back. It's one of my favorite pieces. Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique is another one. I especially love the March to the Scaffold and use it in my class to talk about technique and effect.