The Joy I Found in Switching Gears This School Year Because of My Chronic Illness

Fall has always been my favorite. A big part of that, I think is I am one of those weirdos who loves back-to-school time. As a school psychologist, I even chose a career path that would allow me to go “back to school” for the rest of my life. I can think of so many logical and well thought through reasons I chose school psychology, but I can’t help but wonder how much of it had to do with my love for the excitement that comes with this time of year. I have always been enamored with the ritual of choosing new supplies and new clothing, organizing them and preparing myself for a fresh start.

While I don’t think I’ll lose my affinity for a brand new pen or a pristine notebook anytime soon, it feels wrong to go without saying that this year is different. This is the first year since starting nursery school at age 2 that I will not “go back to school.” After graduating high school, I moved immediately to college, and then on to grad school after that without taking so much as a gap year. Again, as a newly wed, I sprung directly into the back-to-school season of my internship. After that, I worked nearly two years in my profession of choice before admitting with much sorrow, but also hope, that I could no longer meet the demands of the position.

This fall, I am working in a job I love (albeit part-time). I am grateful this flexible job allows me to still use my unique skill set and training as a caregiver and behavior consultant for a family with four beautiful children, two of whom are on the autism spectrum. I will admit I am sad that I am not returning to work with my colleagues, but I will also gladly admit I am excited to be helping four little people prepare for their own adventures this school year. I have braved the aisles of Target and helped young people I care deeply about make their own choices and build their independence. I have attended meetings on the other side of the table, as a concerned caregiver rather than as a school representative.

I feel free — free from the less-than-glamorous sides of being a special educator. The paperwork and the pressure. But also the need to pause for a moment and recognize this new season in my life. To say out loud that I am not going back to work in my chosen field this fall because I am disabled by my chronic and invisible illnesses. The irony isn’t lost on me that this is so hard for me to do as a special educator. I guess, most of all, as this school year begins I want to wish love and luck to my fellow educators who find the energy and perseverance to do what they do for “their kids” despite all of the difficulties. I want to wish the same to my former students, to the the kiddos who are now “mine” (the very small group of young people whose lives I hope I am having an impact on in some positive way), and lastly to myself because goodness knows I’ll need it as I continue on this journey to accept myself exactly as I am and give what I can, when I can.

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