This last year was a really weird and shitty year to be a teacher. But, surprisingly, it turned out to be a strangely good year for me as a person living with diabetes. And it feels really hard and perhaps dangerous to ignore that juxtaposition.
--The shitty parts--
Starting in March 2020 we sank into this crisis important role with very high stakes, and It felt very important to be doing everything we could.
We had a crucial role that kept being over-complicated by people higher up in the decision-making process (and farther removed from physically being in a school). Meanwhile we (the teachers and staff who have a ground level perspective and draw upon science/data to determine what will keep everyone safe) compensated in all the ways we could, from the ground up, to build systems that were more responsible than the expectations that kept being adjusted over time.
I have gotten acclimated/desensitized to this feeling of being appalled. Appalled at policy and large scale decisions. Appalled at vaccines being messaged as THE ONLY WAY TO KEEP EVERYONE SAFE while vaccinated folks continue to transmit asymptomatic COVID (which is also a tricky thing to quantify since vaccinated people aren’t getting tested). Why is it still ok for vaccinated people to be in public indoor spaces without masks? Because enough vaccinated folks think it’s time to return to normal life and everyone is tired of wearing masks. I am appalled that people aren’t considering the impact of their vaccine-bolstered trust that they probably won’t get sick or get really sick. If not for yourself, do it for children! Do it for the people who can’t get the vaccine! Do it for people who got the vaccine and are still at risk! The people who got the vaccine but don’t have antibodies.
But here we are, in the age of the vaccinated privilege of selfishness1, at the start of the 2021 school year, after a summer where teachers were DESPERATE for a break, figuring out what the fuck we can actually do about the harmful decisions that our city government continues to make and justify.
And it’s about to happen, kids are going to die. Kids will be hospitalized. Kids may not even know that they have had COVID and find out later thru long COVID symptoms, because testing protocols are so freakin minimal2 there is no way of catching as many asymptomatic cases that we’ll have.
The kindling for future suffering and delaying of getting to our future *safer* new “normal" has been set up. No one should feel safe about having large groups of unvaccinated children together in a room with the 2 air purifiers sent to each classroom in NYC public school classrooms by the DOE that are more expensive, shown to be actively unsafe if not maintained, and significantly less effective than HEPA filters. Kids surely won’t, and if teachers do they are living a delusion! Not to mention the fact that the DOE’s plan for quarantine ignores the whole idea of asymptomatic COVID (which is not only infectious to others but can lead to Long COVID). Talk about trauma, mental health and need to prioritize social emotional support……….…
Things I want to point out from this "Homecoming" handbook where the DOE outlines their health and safety plans::
Vaccinated teachers do not need to get tested at all (or quarantine at all, unless they have symptoms).
Students who are vaccinated and don’t show symptoms have been ENCOURAGED to get a test 3-5 days later “out of an abundance of caution”...is ANYTHING BASED IN SCIENCE??? Are we going to be allowed to keep our community safe, or are we going to keep obscuring the data-based knowledge we have about asymptomatic vaccinated individuals? Or that COVID may be most infectious BEFORE someone starts showing symptoms?
I am so not up for being complicit with this disaster. I haven’t been up for it at any point. And I certainly hope that teachers who are desperate to return to classrooms and aren’t questioning the impact on students (rather than their personal safety as vaccinated individuals) reflect on the ethics of their complacency.
--The Good Part--
While this pandemic demolished all our spirits and took up so many of my spoons, I also found myself having a better HBA1C6 than I’d had since I was in high school, when I was a diligent and quiet and straight-laced baby who was scared of the world and didn’t want to take up anyone’s space about my health (since so much of my childhood had been being hit by <and adapting to> serious illness). After that I’d spend the rest of my years until 31 having a really hard time keeping HBA1C in a good range, because it just IS REALLY HARD TO for one million reasons7.
This is part of the journey of having type 1 diabetes --
grappling with the amorphous idea of the impact of decisions you are making or not making contributing to your longevity/ability...
and the immediate critical need to be vigilant about not passing out/harming oneself indirectly from the effects of low blood sugar
Things sway between two points based on mental health: extreme vigilance to prevent both situations from happening which compounds my ADHD, and the feeling of why is it even worth trying, just ignore it (but then suffer the consequences and throttle the dissociation to compensate for back-burner anxiety of not knowing what’s happening/what’s going to happen)
Anyways: that HBA1C news was wild. I did not realize how much impact being at home would have on my health. What I think happened for me is this:
Diabetes is a roller coaster you learn how to manage by figuring out which variables (of which there are a LOT) need to be modulated in order to stabilize. Troubleshooting life is how I learned science!
But being at school is all about uncontrolled variables. It’s a frantic hustle, in which everyone is working as hard as they can towards the really difficult goal of facilitating a huge number of students’ learning for a huge variety of kinds of learners -- and that mostly looks like never stopping to breathe, and for me often involved not being able to cut off curious, devastating, vulnerable and critical conversations that trail after class far enough into my lunch time such that I don’t have time to really get food in me before the next class. *breathes*
What no one sees (except those who spend time with me outside of school) is how I compensate for that lack of care I've been able to spend on myself sometimes through to the following day. But during the 2020/21 school year, I was at home leading a virtual classroom and I could say, “Hold on, I am going to my fridge to grab something to raise my blood sugar!”, or “well looks like I ran out of insulin, be right back!” or any number of the mechanisms and pieces of my health routine that can go awry. I could even cook something quickly with the ingredients I had in my fridge that were the RIGHT CHOICES rather than whatever really bad choices I or other people had in their classroom drawers, or brought to share at meetings that I don’t have an option about going to.
In an IN PERSON context, if any piece of my equipment8 was not working properly or dead (which is incredibly frequent as there are so many parts to go wrong), I routinely ignored my physical state and spent all the energy I could9 with kids at school and waited until after I biked home at the end of my school day to deal with the harm caused. If I ever was in a crisis in which I did have to leave school, I felt awful and guilty like I was abandoning10 my school community.
Remote meant I didn’t have to travel to school every morning, which I often had to do at an extra fast pace to compensate for other ways health slowed me down on a particular morning, hearing my pump alarming telling me my blood sugar is going low, pausing for as few seconds as possible on the bike to jam a handful of chalky sugar into my mouth, taking a few chews and then let it dissolve into my gums11 so I wouldn’t have to sign my name on the late list.
It meant that most of the time I wasn’t simultaneously dealing with drastic changes in blood sugar, that not only NEED to be dealt with but also involve physical effects that keep my brain from working the same way as it would if my blood sugar were stable.
As we approach this year and I aggressively probe my mind12 and life thinking about what I have learned is non-negotiable for me, I will think about the specific example of managing low blood sugar:
One of the things I resent most about the phenomenon of having low blood sugar or the feeling of blood sugar PLUNGING is the fact that 1) a classically described characteristic of low blood sugar is “irritability” and 2) I HAVE to fully rest my body while waiting for sugar to work in order for it to go up. You can see where that would be a tricky situation for a teacher on their feet most of the day13.
So...irritability, let’s break that down.
Is irritability a physical symptom? No. Irritability is the result of a physiological response as body temperature and heart rate rise -- the fact that one’s heart is pumping extra hard. I am dizzy, maybe nauseous, I can’t see so good, I have a harder time processing what people are saying. I’m probably engaged in an interaction that I can’t physically keep up with because of the turnt up state of my body. Blood flow is being prioritized to the most vital body systems, and as such, the brain leans towards the more primitive fight/flight/freeze place.
What I have found over this last year and a half of being able to workshop how to accommodate all the shitty things that can happen with my body at random times (which is not something that anyone learns or workshops with doctors), is called
POWER SAVE MODE.
Sometimes I stay low for HOURS (which is mostly because I haven’t sat down (or lain down or done either of those things long enough…) aka actually given my nervous system time and space to slow down) ((Love, the ableist world 4eva)). I literally have no idea how I’ve survived this long when I think back on how reckless I was once I was out of my parents’ house. There have been so many times when I could have perished, and I’m not even gonna get into all that part of growing up as a human, but obviously that’s a big chunk of my journey of medical trauma.
So Power Save Mode is inspired by moments I have gone REALLY REALLY Low to the point of not being able to do anything else other than breathe and feel like the weakest thing and wonder if I am actually gonna pass out with no one to help me get the sugar in in time14...
Power Save Mode has been important in moments like these where I feel horrible but I just have to be patient and wait for sugar to work...and I have now applied it to other moments of lowness of various degrees (aka not just emergencies), and surprise surprise, giving myself time and space to recover ALLOWS ME TO RECOVER. Which in turn allows more of my brain to work again!
That might seem obvious, but if you are a person who was a disabled neurodivergent child, you know that feeling like you deserve extra things or different things is a really hard thing to learn that the world is not helping teach you. Here I am, 32 and living that life finally! And I don’t want to stop.
Now that this pandemic has given me space to workshop all the ways I can protect myself, the idea of being back in the classroom15 is scary because it means I will have to either let go of the things I’ve learned that have changed my ability to operate in my life without exhausting and directly harming myself in immediate and/or future ways, or I need to figure out how what specific accommodations could look like at school for me so I can effectively advocate for that moving forward. With fewer resources and schools already stretched and strapped, it can feel like an even bigger imposition (as well as forcing access intimacy) to have to ask for ways for us to be able to operate and maybe even thrive and feel validated…
So I want to work with each other! I want us to ask each other what we need and really listen and question our internalized ableism about perceived limits of our productivity...I want us to normalize asking for and gaining access to accommodations that allows us to flourish and do great jobs as educators16 (with less resentment and more self assuredness). If there was a year for teachers to be leaving the profession it is these…
I want people -- and our students!! -- to see each other asking for and getting what they need, making it feel more and more possible for everyone to feel this job is sustainable. I want able-bodied people to practice slowing themselves down and listening and seeking to anticipate our community’s needs, but not in a superficial or performative way, in a meaningful and true way that is grounded in love for humanity in all its forms. I want “disabled” and “disability” to be words people are used to hearing and aren’t afraid of. I want people of different experiences with ability and disability to have each others’ backs, and take opportunities to be active allies in interrupting moments/settings where people have different levels of access...noticing whose access needs have not been considered, and directly address that need. Noticing whose voices we aren’t hearing, who we are talking to or not talking to, who isn’t ending up at staff “bonding” events. We are wise and we all need to preserve that wisdom by taking care of each other's rights.
Selfishness is relative along the lines of privilege in my head which feels important in terms reflecting on how we judge others
10% of kids in school will get tested once EVERY TWO WEEKS...and only unvaccinated students will be tested
high school teachers are also asking, what do they mean by classroom if kids are moving between classrooms and cafeterias and bathrooms etc etc etc
high school teachers are also asking, what do we mean by classroom when students are back to the normal schedule of mixing in different groups in different spaces for different subjects?
and learn remotely...without any concrete plan of how teachers will be responsible for children’s learning inside and outside of school at any particular time at the drop of a hat)
think about the implications of kids that are unvaccinated having to quarantine whenever there is a positive case in a “classroom” (I say “classroom” because we share and move between our classrooms) as cases pop up again and again in classrooms
HBA1C refers to an average of one’s blood sugar over the last 3 months. The average lifespan of a red blood cell is 3 months, and the sugar that accumulates on red blood cells can show you a more long term average, and that is therefore The Barometer for managing future complications of diabetes. When it’s too high doctors will sometimes shame you by saying YOU ARE KILLING YOURSELF! as if that statement alone helps people know how to change.
Having type 1 diabetes (like many chronic illnesses) is doing science the best you can as you try to be thoughtful about one million variables that take a lot of work to isolate
insulin pump, infusion set, insulin canister, tubing that connects my pump to the port in my body where the insulin goes in, test strips, glucose meter, glucose sensor, adhesive tapes and alcohol to make sure those tapes actually stick, special inserter that is the only way to install a new glucose sensor in my body, spare insulin and syringes for when all goes to shit, double A batteries, triple A batteries, specific chargers (I CANNOT travel with all this, and/or repack and restock it everyday of my life)
In an effort to compensate for my lack of ability, which is that internalized ableism
a concept my therapist regularly reminds me to stray away from :)
and into deep and deposits in my molars yummy yummy you think sugar is a treat…...
despite inclination to dissociate and not deal in advance
and yes, I have gotten called out more than once while teaching in an ICT setting for *not circulating enough aka sitting down with kids who needed different kinds of support instead of flitting around and looking over kids shoulders briefly to see if people are “doing the work”
this is a scary state to be in by myself and vast majority of my life I have slept by myself. Waking up in this state drenched in sweat, then having to somehow make it to a fridge to find something to put in my mouth that hopefully will act as fast as possible…
regardless of the fact we are still in a pandemic!
[or insert your job here!]