Becoming a “Professional Sick Person”

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!)

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9 thoughts on “Becoming a “Professional Sick Person”

  1. mobeka

    If I might suggest, you are still a teacher. You’ve just moved to a different classroom. You are teaching everyone you come in contact with how to live life on life’s terms; even when those terms SUCK! That is something many people struggle with doing.

    Regarding vomitrocious words, don’t forget hurl and upchuck. Personally I consider vomiting the appropriate word, unless you want to go all formal and call it emesis. Sorry, my medical background is showing 😉

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  2. Naturally Ashlie

    I can totally relate to this. I kept working as a trainer for almost a year past when I should have thrown in the towel. I remember every waking hour being used at work, then being in bed the rest of it. I work from home now and set my own schedule, and sometimes I still tend to take on too much. My husband tells me he gets frustrated when I use up all of my energy on everything else, but have none left for him. It is a delicate balance, but it really was a blessing to find out that there is so much more to me than my job title. There is a lot of peace in letting go and taking better care of yourself. 🙂

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    1. tiffanyrearly Post author

      Very true. It was so hard (and still is sometimes) to figure out how to be me without being “teacher me.” Im glad you’re finding a balance that works, but Im sorry you had to give up your old job. Thanks for reading and for relating with me! 🙂

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  3. Patty Powers

    I can truly relate to how you feel with a chronic disease. I have Neurofibromatosis I have pain everyday, some days are worse than others . With this you grow tumors on your nerves and there is nothing to stop the tumor growth. There is very little research done because this is a rare disease . They can’t remove the tumors only debulk some of them because I will lose the use of something or some organ. In 2007 they debulked the femoral artery and sciatic nerve which has left my left leg numb . But I still have pain in my back , legs, and pelvic area. You seem to have a good attitude about it. I have decided it is all in God’s hands and He will take care of it. I grew up with your mom , we played together when we were children. I love her and she told me you were sick. If you don’t mind telling me what is the disease you have. I will be praying for you! God bless you and comfort you.

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    1. tiffanyrearly Post author

      Thanks so much for taking time to read my blog and for commenting. I am so sorry that you have to deal with such a painful and scary disease. I admire your attitude and hope that I can remain as positive as you are. I have Ehler-Danlos Syndrome. It is a connective tissue disorder that occurs because my body makes faulty collagen. As a result my joints, ligaments, and organs are too loose. EDS caused a condition called POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) that affects my heart any time I stand or sit upright. There are certainly worse illnesses, and I have been blessed with knowledgeable doctors. I really appreciate you taking time to comment and share about your own medical struggles. Gentle hugs to you, sweet lady!

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  4. DanielleChoosingHope

    As a fellow “professional sick person” I can very much relate to this post. I worked in the mental health field and I LOVED it. I felt so alive and full of purpose when I worked. It’s been difficult to realize that it was not fair to my husband to be so unwell. And it wasn’t fair to me, either. I deserve to get care instead of neglecting myself. Thank you for sharing your perspective. It is very well-put.

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