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.

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Quiet is Violent Tour // Nashville, TN

September 21, 2014

the feeling that surrounds you when all the other mutant kids are screaming the lyrics and crying and sweating and jumping and feeling and living is so hauntingly beautiful and empowering.

so much love.

stay alive |-/

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