Chronic Illness and Career: Frustration and Disappointment
As I lay here putting together medical background information for upcoming appointments with specialists, I realize that I have been almost constantly sick since I was a child. Like many spoonies, I hopped from one disease to another: asthma to allergies to psoriasis to chronic sinusitis to acid reflux and ulcers to episodic migraines to chronic migraines to joint problems. I have been sick for most of my life with things that have significantly affected my ability to function day-to-day. I have probably accomplished a lot more than most people in my position ever could. However, I always set high expectations for myself, and I have a hard time accepting any excuse for failing to meet them, even when I know that some things are completely out of my control.
I missed a lot of class in college and struggled to keep up my studies through frequent illness without any accommodations from the university because I didn’t see good enough doctors to get proper diagnosis. I managed to get a bachelor’s degree with a GPA above a 3.0 despite this. I was smart enough to have at least a 3.5, maybe even to graduate cum laude, but I had to settle for less, and not a day goes by that it doesn’t bother me.
I have been a full-time teacher since 2009 while battling chronic stomach problems, migraines, and joint problems. It has been hard to stand up probably at least 60% of the time that I have been teaching. My health seems to be deteriorating, and my energy level getting progressively lower each year as the pain increases. However, my teaching has improved significantly each year. I am having the best year of my life professionally, but the worst year of my life with my physical and mental health. I suppose I should be proud of myself for continuing to improve, but instead I remain frustrated.
I have often been hard on myself because I obsess over my work and work harder than most people I know, yet I can’t keep up, constantly feel behind, miss deadlines, and make mistakes. I often blame myself for this and get mad at myself for not being more organized and more efficient or putting in even more hours than the 10 or more I put in every day. I find teaching extremely rewarding, and I feel that I am very effective at it. I see the results in my students every day. Yet, every year I find myself failing to meet some expectations and being conflicted between blaming myself or blaming my health. Either way, it makes me question whether I should keep holding myself to the same standard as healthy people or just give up. I am scared that I will eventually burn myself out by putting in 10-14 hours per day 5-6 days per week while fatigued, nauseous, dizzy, brain-fogged, and in pain.
I have always been a bit of a perfectionist about what I publish and what I perform. I rarely feel that what I am putting out there is good enough. I have to keep reminding myself that what I have accomplished is remarkable considering the obstacles that I have had to overcome. However, these obstacles are largely invisible. Most people don’t realize what I have had to overcome to accomplish what I have. That drives the perfectionist in me crazy. Even if they could see what I have had to go through, I don’t know if it would be enough anyway. I have always had a greater vision for myself than being proficient despite handicaps. Proficient isn’t good enough for me, regardless what it took to get there. I expect myself to meet the highest standards of excellence. I am furious every day that I am not doing better, and I refuse to accept my illness as an excuse.
Having a chronic illness means that every small task in my daily life is a significant struggle. Every small accomplishment is a huge achievement. However, everything feels like a disappointment because I don’t want to accomplish 100% of what I can do while sick. I want to accomplish 100% of what I can do while healthy. I can’t imagine I will ever get to meet that standard, so it seems like every day of my life will continue to be a huge disappointment.