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How Chronic Illness Caused Me to Lose My Sense of Purpose

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I have started and re-started this post three or four times. I have written and rewritten drafts in my head and let my fingertips graze the keyboard, daring myself to start typing. I have been unsure of how to approach the topic of losing my career. Of how to do justice to the crushing feeling of loss that has overwhelmed me these past few months.

In attempting to express all I’m feeling, I had to ask myself: What really is the most important part of me losing my career? It’s not listing off my resume or my education background. It’s not explaining how I accidentally fell into teaching or even what subjects I taught. Actually, it’s not really about teaching at all. No, to me, the most important part of this story is what happened to me once I became a teacher:

I found myself. I found my purpose.

That’s right, as odd as it may sound, I found myself through my career. I accidentally stumbled into a job I loved and was actually pretty good at. Working with my students made me feel needed. It made me feel like I had a purpose in this life, that maybe there was a reason for my existence after all. I’m not sure my students ever truly needed me – I’m sure they would have made similar discoveries with other teachers – but it felt nice to feel like I was doing something to help make the world a better place. It was the first time in my life I felt like I actually belonged. I spent most of my life trying to change who I was in order to fit in with everyone around me, but I had finally found a place where being exactly who I am was precisely what was needed.


If I’m being perfectly honest with myself, I think letting go of that feeling of purpose is truly the hardest part of losing my career. Believe me, I will miss all the kids, the field trips, the games, the breakthroughs, the “ah-ha” moments, the performances, the laughter, the smiles and all of the other amazing things that exist in the classroom. But the most dizzying and disorienting part is feeling as though my purpose in life has been violently ripped from my grasp so soon after I had just discovered it. And if I don’t have a purpose, then what am I doing here? What is the point of my existence?

The reality is they will be just fine without me. They will. Teachers come and teachers go, the school I worked at is a beautiful place and will continue to give kids a well-rounded education long after I’m gone. I’m not the only person who can reach the kids and help them learn. The part that truly terrifies me is I’m unsure of how I will get on without them. Without that feeling of purpose.

I’m going to attempt to explain how it feels to have your entire world ripped away from you, but I’m honestly not sure I can accurately describe the feeling because it is beyond all words. It feels as though my entire world, everything I know and have worked towards, is crashing down around my feet, but I’m the only one who can see it. I’m the only one who feels each and every earth-quaking blast. There are others who feel the impact and are cut by the splintering glass of my shattering world – for instance, my partner, Matt. His world has definitely been impacted and changed. But there are some changes only I can feel. There are some changes only I can see. Such as the loss of purpose.

The suffocating notion that my only reason for existing in this universe is now gone is a feeling only I can feel. And that is pretty unsettling. To watch as everyone carries on about their day while your very right to exist is in question is perhaps the most isolating part of all of this. No matter how much I share that feeling with people who care, no matter how much I talk about it, and no matter how much they wish they could take the pain away, it is my burden to carry alone. And it is my job to figure out how to accept my new place in the world.

The truth is I have no idea where I will be able to go from here. I hope through my writing I will be able to find purpose. I hope sharing my experiences and thoughts will help others who are struggling as well. Because that’s truly what I love the most: feeling like I’ve helped to make a difference in someone’s life, feeling that because of something I’ve said or done, someone else feels a little less alone in the world. I love writing, it has always been a passion of mine, so I have been throwing myself into it, hoping it will help ground me and save me from the swirling chaos of change. Yet, I know the reality of uncertainty, so I know I may not always have the ability to write, so I know the true challenge of purpose is trying to find a way to discover your value in the world that doesn’t depend on what you can do or produce or create. Sometimes our purpose is just to be.

Our culture is constantly pushing the idea that you are only as valuable as your assets, whether that means wealth, beauty or ability. Well, I don’t have much in the way of wealth, beauty is fleeting and subjective, so that leaves ability – yet my abilities have been seriously diminished. I just recently wrote a whole article dedicated to the notion that even though I can’t work, I still have value and a right to exist. I truly do believe that, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still fight against the well-conditioned voice in my head telling me I’m wrong, that I truly have lost my value the moment I was unable to work. The same voice that whispers to me I am a burden to my family because they have to pick up all the slack I’ve dropped.

You may be starting to notice a trend here – I seem to end up talking about my value and it’s link to my ability to do things a lot. I often sound very confident in the notion that I have value no matter what my ability is and that I know I have the right to exist no matter what anyone else may believe, but deep inside I still wrestle with these concepts as I have been so deeply conditioned to believe the exact opposite. I am trying to learn to be OK with this as well. I don’t have to be an “inspiration” all the time, or ever, really. I don’t write to be an inspiration, I write to feel better and to hopefully help others feel better as well.

It’s OK for me to be flawed, which I am. It’s OK for me to struggle, which I do. I don’t want to only share the positive and happy parts of life with all of you because that is dishonest to what struggling with these illnesses truly is like. That’s a disservice to all of you because it denies the fact that we all have bad days and we all are trying to figure out how to continue living now that our lives have been turned upside down. I’m allowed to be human. And I’m allowed to not know what the hell I’m doing with my life or what my purpose on this planet is. However, saying all of that is the easiest part. Believing it is my next battle.

This post originally appeared on Spoonie Warrior.

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Thinkstock photo via iolya.

Originally published: June 8, 2017
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