October 26 was my sick-iversary. Technically October 26 isn’t the day that I became sick, but it was the day that I (or more specifically my doctor) realized that I was too sick to work. The realization was hard to come by, because I loved my job. You see, I was a middle/ high school Spanish teacher, and I am one of those weird people that enjoys teenagers. (That’s not a plea for any of you to send your children to me, though!) I didn’t want to leave. I would have continued to teach forever (and eventually been buried by the football field holding my dry erase markers . . .), but there were a few things that let me know that I couldn’t do it any longer.
I wasn’t being fair to myself. I taught for over a year while I was very sick. I don’t mean that I was really tired (which I was) or I had a headache (which I did). I mean, I was really, really sick. My students were totally used to the fact that I had to step out of class to vomit* quite often. My mind would go blank, and I would drop whatever I was holding. Many evenings I had no memory of what had happened during the day when I returned home. In the evening I would go straight to bed, and I was rarely able to leave my bed during the weekend. It was a miserable existence.
I wasn’t being fair to my husband. If you’ve followed my blog journey, you know that my first major illness meltdown was on my honeymoon, and after that meltdown I’ve never really been the same. So my time of working while sick, was during the first year and a few months of my marriage. As a result, the months when we should have been enjoying each other and having our first arguments, I was asleep. I would come in from work (which was 40 minutes from home, so I had quite a drive during my exhausted, sick lunacy), and Joe would have dinner prepared. Let me interject here, that Joe is not a cook. He knew, though, that if he waited for me to fix something it would never happen. So, we would eat something microwaved (or warmed up on the stove), and I would fall asleep eating. I would sleep on the couch until time to move to the bed. Joe was taking care of the cooking, most of the cleaning, packing my lunch, starting my car, and doing everything while I slept. He’s a trooper, and he married me for better/worse, sickness/health, etc., but he deserved better.
I wasn’t being fair to my students. I was the kind of teacher that went to student sporting events, academic team matches, choir and band concerts, plays . . . I sponsored snowball dances and prom and free tutoring sessions in my classroom. I even missed my students during long weekends. I really believe I was made to teach. But, when you’re struggling to stay conscious and vomiting between class periods, you lose some of your drive. As I became sicker and sicker, I became less and less of the teacher I wanted to be. The students I had during those last few horrible months deserved the best of me, and that was a part of me that was no longer available.
I had to stop working, and I lost so much of myself when I did. I identified myself as a teacher, because that’s what I always wanted to be. I value my role as a wife, as a daughter, as a sister, and as a friend, but I still feel I was a teacher primarily. I still mourn that person, but I am also proud of the person I am becoming. I was afraid that I would never be me again after I left work. I joke that I am a “professional sick person,” and some days I really earn the title. But being a “sick person” doesn’t define me the way being a teacher did. I am a wife; I am a daughter; I am a friend. I’m no longer a teacher, and that’s okay. I am learning how to be me in spite of the things I miss.
In leaving work, I reclaimed part of my life. I can stay awake to talk to Joe during dinner now, and I think I’m a bit more pleasant than I was during those awful months of trying to teach while so terribly, chronically ill. I am able to make it to doctor’s appointments and treatments without worrying about calling a substitute teacher. This life is better than the one I had before; this life is fairer to my husband, my family, and me.
Peace, love, and health friends.
*Full disclosure- There was a lot of discussion in my house about which word sounded less vile. Joe says “throw up” sounds better than “vomit.” My inlaws have suggested both “barf” and “puke.” So, help us out- which word do you prefer? (Yes, I know. They all sound disgusting- especially if you have as much experience as most of my chronic illness friends!)