Returning to ‘academic time’ helps me focus on the present

Energy can be spent dwelling on what MG has taken or on looking for opportunity

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by Mark Harrington |

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Many kids hate the end of summer, which brings a return to school. I was never one of those kids. I’ve been a nerd since kindergarten. I loved — and still do — the start of the new school year. The scent of newly waxed floors and the sight of classrooms filled with clean desks and new textbooks are my elixir.

I enjoyed school so much that I decided a career in education would suit me. I spent 30 wonderful years teaching young people. Then, in June 2020, things changed when myasthenia gravis (MG) entered my life. Among the things it took from me was a teaching career, which hurt the most. I miss the excitement and hope that come with the start of each new academic year. I miss “academic time.”

That approach to the structure of a given year benefits me. It also has something to offer those who live with chronic illness. Let me explain.

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Sometime in August or September, students and teachers return from summer vacation and begin what is commonly known as “academic time.” In “The Art of Teaching,” author Jay Parini notes: “But thank God for academic time, with its endless supply of fresh starts. … The clock is rewound. … While feelings of guilt over past failures may linger, one can redeem them. That’s what beginnings are for.”

In other words, academic time gives us space to recognize failures and shortcomings. Then we can pick ourselves up and have at it again. Maybe this time we’ll have some successes.

Refocusing my efforts

The regular calendar year for 2023 is more than half over. In January, I made some resolutions. I wanted to lose much of the 47 pounds I’d gained since I began taking prednisone. I wanted to walk once again without assistance after losing this ability following two hip-replacement surgeries. I wanted all of my MG symptoms to be in remission.

I haven’t fully accomplished any of these goals.

I’ve lost a few pounds but still use a cane to walk. By the end of most days, my struggles with dysarthria are noticeable. It might seem as if I’ve failed on many levels, and a year ago, I likely would’ve thought of myself as a failure. But this year, I won’t allow myself to consider it a failure.

Instead, I’m declaring September to be the start of my academic year. Everything since January has been wiped away.

As Parini notes, “I learned that it was possible to begin again, with very little, and that one is not necessarily stuck with an old mask if it fits uncomfortably.” What MG has taken from me is yesterday’s news. Today and tomorrow need all of my focus.

Motivational author Louise Hay observes that the “point of power is always in the present moment.” MG is relentless in the way it pressures one to focus on the here and now.

I have several choices: I can focus on what MG has taken, or I can find new opportunities and challenges. I can feel guilty because I haven’t lost weight, or I can thank my body for holding up through infusions, plasma exchanges, and countless needle sticks and pharmaceutical regimens. I can get stuck on the treatments that haven’t worked, or I can rewind the clock and try again with new ones.

All of this requires effort, which can be difficult when fatigued. Refocusing on healthy eating requires planning and care. This, too, can be difficult when energy levels are low. Rewinding the clock won’t be a snap, but I have no choice. If I want a life that isn’t dominated by MG, facing these challenges is not optional.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 of the Bible tells us: “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” Outdoors, the leaves are turning from green to the most extraordinary yellows, reds, and browns. Eventually, they’ll lose their burning beauty, fall to the ground, and become nourishment for the next generation of life. I intend to figure out how to take what MG hasn’t removed — the little there is — and grow it into something new and wonderful.

How can I accomplish this? Maybe by focusing on the present moment. Won’t you try it with me?

Note: Myasthenia Gravis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Myasthenia Gravis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to myasthenia gravis.


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