Why I’m Getting Botox!

Why I’m Getting Botox.

To settle your curiousity, it’s probably not what you think…
Before recently, I had no understanding of what Botox was and how it worked. I just thought it was some kind of cosmetic procedure which added to the list of beauty buzz words fuelled by celebrity gossip magazines and Hollywood.

This year I discovered much more about Botulinum Toxin (that’s right; TOXIN!), one of the most lethal poisons to humans and animals. Botulinum Toxin was named by its discoverer Dr Justinus Kerner in the 19th Century who also coined the name of the disease Botulism, an ailment that slowly paralyses different parts of your body until your heart stops. This doctor realised that sufferers of this new ailment usually consumed cheap meat. ‘Botulus’ is the Latin word for sausage. See what they did there? All those movie stars are getting highly lethal sausage poison injected into their face. But that’s none of my business!

So why am I bothering to educate you on Botox? In September I was diagnosed with a neurological condition called Adductor Spasmodic Dysphonia. The exact cause of this condition is unknown, but the outcome is a miscommunication between the Basal Ganglia and the voice box, resulting in spasms in one’s vocal folds. These spasms cause the folds to slam together (in the case of Adductor type of Dysphonia) and this manifests in an inability to produce sounds while speaking (or shouting or singing).

If you’ve spent time with me in the last couple of years you may have noticed my voice “cutting out”. This has been gradually happening over time, and certain triggers such as stress, tiredness, and nervousness make it worse. The sounds I find most difficult to produce are long vowel sounds; when my voice is spasming I simply cannot produce these sounds, so you will only hear me pronouncing the consonants in certain words (consonants are my friend because they don’t require the vocal tract to be open in order to articulate them). At its best, my voice is completely ‘normal’ (this never lasts for an entire day). At its worst I can barely get sentences out, resembling what you hear from someone on a train going through a tunnel in a phone conversation.

Being a neurological condition with no known cause or determined pathophysiology means that there is no cure. What’s the good news? Botox! When injected in tiny doses to the throat, Botox paralyses the voice box which stops spasms and allows sounds to be produced. Results vary for each patient and require follow up treatments (injections) every three to four months (because it’s a toxin your body slowly rejects it).

Having a condition which at times severely affects your voice is quite a challenge for a teacher, avid karaoke fan, and conversation enthusiast. It’s a struggle not to fall into the spell of social anxiety, asking myself before an outing or day of teaching “Will my voice work? Should I avoid talking as much as possible today? Will I be able to say the things I want to say?” Rather cruelly, this pressure actually makes my voice work. So instead I endeavour to focus on the positives, of which there are so many. I’m very grateful that I do not have a life-threatening condition. Furthermore, there is treatment for my condition and I have access to it. What a blessing!

I really appreciate the opportunity to share this knowledge with friends, family and coworkers and it means a lot to me to have this condition understood. Just to make it abundantly clear, Spasmodic Dysphonia is a neurological condition, not physiological or psychological. Please don’t tell me to “try drinking hot water with lemon and honey”. Also, while I agree that it’s important not to abuse your voice, this condition hasn’t been caused by yelling too much at naughty students or singing too much karaoke. On a final note, please don’t worry about my throat hurting; while it is painfully frustrating, it does not hurt me physically in any way, no matter how strained it sounds. Thank you for reading, and thank you in advance for your understanding.


Are They Worth Your Time?

Are they worth your time?

“Don’t make someone a priority if you are just an option to them”.

“If someone doesn’t make the time to be with you, then don’t waste your time on them”.

These kind of quotes and sayings are a fairly consistent message on my Facebook feed and in everyday conversations. They are usually received well, with a collective praise of Amens and “I agree”s.

While I do see that there is some strength in placing a high value on yourself and your time, I actually don’t feel that it’s weak to actively pursue friendships and relationships from all kinds of people at every opportunity you have.

If someone you meet is abusive, then of course it is wise to be quite careful about how you choose to spend time with them, and how much of your life you give to them. However, people-ALL people-have value. I believe that if we choose to, there’s something we can learn from each person we meet.

I’ve already been blessed and honored with meeting and befriending so many amazing, wild, crazy, intriguing, scary people in my lifetime. Furthermore, I am fortunate enough to have made a handful of very intimate friends who I will probably always have in my life, those ones we like to call “best friends”. On close reflection of these intimate friendships (and even of the more casual friendships), I could easily recall times when I’ve reached out time and time again and been met with silence or passivity. Equally I know there are times when I haven’t been able to give friends everything they need in that moment.

Honestly, if I walked away from everyone who has ever disappointed me, I would be in total isolation. If I chose to let my offense get the better of me every time an old friend didn’t keep in contact, I would have no friends left. People are not perfect and therefore relationships are not perfect. In some seasons we are the reachers who strive in all our relationships, who remember the birthdays, who send the cards, who make the phone calls…..And in some seasons, we are the terrible (very human) friend who forgot our BFF’s birthday or couldn’t be there for something that meant a lot to a loved one.

In the past few years I’ve decided to view every human interaction as an exchange. We can give something and receive something from everyone we meet. This applies even to the people we pass in the street. In this time I’ve learned that people are so unique in the ways they choose to communicate and express their emotions and thoughts. In terms of an exchange, what might be an absolute requirement for one person may not be so important to another. (Sorry for not writing “happy birthday” on your Facebook wall).

I choose to unapologetically love my friends and the people in my life regardless of the times when I’ve felt neglected by them. I refuse to see that as a weakness. It may leave me vulnerable, but there is strength in vulnerability. There is strength in forgiveness. When you say that someone isn’t “worth your time”, you are placing a higher value on your own needs than on the benefits of your relationship with them. Sometimes this is ok. But for me, ultimately, I do what I do because people are worth it.

She was asking for it.

Another week has passed and most teachers can tick off a checklist of obligatory emotions experienced throughout the typical week: happiness, anxiety, nervousness, excitement, exhaustion, sadness, curiosity, disappointment, fatigue, disgust, empathy, frustration, gratitude and even pleasure. I can say that I have experienced each of these this week, and do so most weeks.

As I reflect on the week that has been, I’m proud of my achievements and generally happy with my students and the progress my classes have made. But there’s something I just can’t stop thinking about. It’s not necessarily the incident itself nor the perpetrator that I can’t stop thinking about, it’s the fact that this type of thing is a regular occurrence in schools across the globe. It bothers me that I was not even surprised or barely moved by the situation apart from my shallow disgust of the perpetrator’s actions, and a determination to follow the correct internal procedures to deliver ‘justice’ to the situation.

It’s not until the weekend that I’ve further reflected on the deeper issue and the way that society at large reacts to this occurrence. I’m talking about sexual harassment. This week my year 11 students completed essays under controlled exam conditions during class time. One of my students-who has a track record of poor and unruly behaviour-was completely disruptive throughout the class. While students were sitting, silently trying to work, this particular student decided-among other things-that it was acceptable to call out the names of female students, to comment on their skin colour, to repeatedly yell out “bitch” and to pass notes to other students which read “I love you baby. Let’s just fuck”.

Of course I was immediately disgusted at each one of this student’s inappropriate behaviours, and I instantly dished out the verbal warnings. Not wanting to further disrupt my class, rather than calling for a member of senior leadership to come and escort him out of the room, I chose to de-escalate the situation by moving other students away from the perpetrator and quietly talking to him about the content of the essay he was writing. You have to choose your battles and there was no way I wanted a screaming match or any kind of loud, physical or verbal aggression while other students were trying to complete assessment.

After the class had finished, my task was to write up the obligatory paperwork and emails required after such incidents. Emails were sent. Parents were called. Discussions were had…And then I rushed to sit happily and eat my sandwich, speak to my colleagues, check my phone, and prepare something for a future lesson before my already shortened lunchtime had finished. Yes, this was just another part of my day, this was just another element to the job.

Why is this behaviour considered normal? It’s not just in adulthood, not just in the workplace, not exclusive to certain demographics or geographical locations; globally, from a very young age, people-yes, mostly women-can EXPECT a certain amount of sexual harassment in their everyday lives. I can’t help but to wonder what the reaction of the school and the student body would be had the perpetrator been a homosexual male student harassing another male student.

I remember having a conversation last year with some other teachers my age. We were talking about the cultures and standards that existed in high schools “these days”. At first we were commenting about the OUTRAGEOUS kind of behaviour that was now common. But as the discussion developed, we each started to recall our own high school experiences. For each of us (though I grew up thousands of miles away from them in another country) we realised that we ALL had experienced harassment and only came to process it accurately and see it for what it was once we entered adulthood.

If you actually think about the things that happened in high school, though it may not seem dramatic, for many of us it was not a place where the environment always cultivated equality and respect. I went to a beautiful country high school, where the teachers and students were mostly friendly and relaxed. Still, it was normal for girls to occasionally have their bra straps tugged at, it was normal for students to joke about sexual fantasies they had about other students, and I even remember an event where a boy walked behind a girl and lifted up her skirt for everyone to see, much to the girl’s embarrassment.

How does the young victim usually react in these situations? Mostly with awkward laughter or a playful slap. We didn’t know how to react. We certainly weren’t going to get angry if the student doing these things to us was popular; No. Anger, disapproval and hatred was only reserved for the unpopular students. I’ve seen many young women (and young men) who even feel quite positive about the attention they receive in these situations.

Hold on. If it’s not strictly unwanted, is it still harassment? A lot of the time, yes! The reality is that as young teenagers most of us were (and are) not yet emotionally intelligent enough to process these events and equate them to the fact that these taunts are disrespectful. Time and time again teenage women, AND adult women deal with a feeling of insecurity and inferiority if they are NOT harassed in some way. When females are walking down the street and one member of the group is openly objectified by a stranger, there is often some tiny feeling of jealousy or yearning from the unobjectified peers. What kind of society are we living in when women feel so unvalued and insecure that they crave affirmation through the sexual harassment of their male counterparts?

Are men to blame?

Though it would be easier to blame the entire male population, we know that they are not solely responsible for this dynamic. We could dig deeper into the obvious anthropological and historical suggestions for this gender imbalance and its resonance in a culture of sexual harassment, but I’m not going to to expand on that here. Instead, might I suggest that we ALL increase our efforts to educate ourselves, our children, our students and our community about respectful and effective communication.

Society tells us “rape is rape”, “no means no”, and that ANY sexual advances without explicitly expressed consent are to be considered as assault. This is reinforced by the law. Yet people still seem to struggle and have varying opinions about the perceived ‘grey areas’ of consent concerning sexual activity. Imagine a world where there were no perceived grey areas of sexuality because people were emotionally mature enough to express themselves effectively and to truly understand their rights gained through a respectful discourse.

Your thoughts might be that it is impractical and undesirable to explicitly ask for permission to do something in “the heat of the moment”. But there are plenty of ways to do so. And personally, I find nothing sexier than someone who can express their sexuality (and even just who they are) in a mature and adult conversation. Men have been heard saying, “She was asking for it.” OK. But were YOU asking for it? Or did you just do it anyway?

Getting back to the incident at school, though I cannot take on the role of a parent, I will endeavour to teach my students about respectful and effective communication. Because instead of seeing boys pulling the pigtails of girls whose attention they want, I would much rather see a young man (or woman) approach another student and say, “Hi. You’re smart and funny, and I love that you are so kind. I think you’re beautiful. Can we get to know each other more?”

Communication. Education. Respect.

Thank you ever so much for reading.

Fifty Shades of Morality: Why Kant Morality be Absolute?

I will start by saying that I am not a scholar of philosophy, nor have I deeply researched the history of morality and ethics. Rather, this post is an exploration of my most intimate thoughts, a buffet of my internal dialogue on the subject.

“It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.”

In my 25 and 3/4 years, my thoughts on morality have changed several times.
What’s interesting is that my thoughts on morality and ethics do not always coincide neatly with my philosophies of human rights.

When I was young, an early teen, I remember subscribing to a view of cultural relativity in regards to anthropology and cultural practices. Perhaps it came from my mother’s background in sociology and anthropology, or perhaps it was from my parents drilling us with the message of “respect everyone”…but as far as I was concerned, I thought that each person and each society should be allowed to autonomously decide on cultural practice and law.

I was happy to ride my moral high horse with this position which I thought to be superior until one night at the age of 15 I watched a television program documenting the still-existing practices of an African tribe whose name I have now forgotten. I found the program deeply interesting, but as I watched I became more and more concerned, disturbed and frightened. I learned of the tribe’s practice of kidnapping and killing new born babies in order to use their blood for witch doctor medicines. This threw my mind into turmoil. How could I possibly continue with my stance that law and morality is relative to each culture? I thought to myself, surely there must be some kind of fundamental set of principles to govern all cultures so that such atrocities could not take place. And thus a universalist was born.

This universalism was adopted in other areas of life; I figured that all of morality could be scrutinised by a universal set of principals. I became a moral absolutist who thought that everything could ultimately be either right or wrong, good or bad, black or white. This strict view of the world was of course what I used as my own personal moral compass. I was my harshest critic. I would find my dialogue judging people based on “Well I would never do that”.

But then tragedy turned my life upside down and I fell apart…

In the last few years I’ve afforded myself the ultimate honour and privilege: the RIGHT to make mistakes. I’ve failed, made mistake after wretched mistake. And instead of my usual elitist and absolutist judgement, I’ve humbly admitted to myself, “This is the best I can do right now. I’m doing what I WANT to do. I’m letting myself go, I’m letting life happen.”

In doing so, I have slowly moved away from the idea of moral absolutism. As a secondary teacher in a South-East London high school, I always try to avoid thinking or saying that a child themselves is “good” or “bad”; rather I prefer to say that a particular choice or action is “wise” or “poor”.

I used to be one of those people who would point out the mistakes made by someone if they were being held in what I thought to be too high esteem. A couple of years ago one of my closest friends said to me “Nelson Mandela is my hero. He united my country”. Immediately I responded with “Yes he is amazing, but he’s also a bit of a Filthy McNasty, he left his first wife and kids the moment he met Winnie and….”
“But he’s my hero. I don’t care what he did in his personal life. He achieved great things”, my friend interrupted.

Now that I’m on the other side of sin, I realise that people are capable of simultaneously doing both wonderful and horrible things. This does not make someone a “bad person”. While I like some of what Kant’s version of deontology has to offer, I will no longer subscribe to a black and white philosophy of morality.

When crossing the road, I’ll continue to be that annoying friend who ALWAYS waits for the little green man no matter how clear the road is, because that’s what we tell children to do! I’ll continue to fight for the rights of minority groups who have been oppressed because their lifestyle is violating someone else’s beliefs. But I will also continue to move away from moral perfection and judging myself and others by such standards. So I’ll keep my universalism when it comes to human rights, but I’ll exchange my moral absolutism for something that’s a little more forgiving.