How My Disabilities Stole My Career and Gave Me Back My Passion
I went to Urgent Care last week. I won’t bore you with the details, but it was kind of urgent and I did need care. After the nurse practitioner was finished examining me, he confirmed that I did need medication and said he would call it in to the pharmacy. After our discussion, he asked a perfectly reasonable question: “Do you need me to write you a note for work?” he inquired.
My voice cracked when I answered him. “No, I don’t need one,” I said in a small voice; one just a breath above a whisper. He left the room after bidding me goodbye, and that was it. I, however, left the room feeling completely deflated. You see, the question he asked was perfectly normal, but it stung just the same.
I don’t have a job right now, and even though there are good reasons why I’m not employed, acknowledging that fact still guts me sometimes. When people introduce themselves to others for the first time, employment – a career – always comes up. When we can’t answer that question, it hurts because so much of our identity is linked to our profession. It defines us even though it should not be the end-all-be-all of our existence.
As a person with multiple disabilities, I am unable to work outside the home. I rarely drive because I can’t always control my legs. Sometimes, it’s so hard to walk that I need to get my husband or one of my kids to help me get to the bathroom. I have multiple physical and mental health conditions that make it difficult for me to be a reliable employee. That’s always going to be important to employers, regardless of the current job market. A business needs to be able to depend on its employees. I’d be lying if I said they could depend on me because I can’t depend on me. I can’t depend on my body or my mind.
My body decides when it will work and when I’m in too much pain to get out of bed. My body decides when I can stand long enough to make myself a sandwich, and when I need to eat whatever is easily available. I’m unsteady going up and down stairs, and I can’t just call my company and tell them I need to cancel an appointment with a client because I can’t walk into someone’s home. I’ve done the “grin and bear it” thing before. It worked for a while … until it didn’t. It worked until I nearly wrecked my car on the interstate. It worked until I had a panic attack in the parking garage outside of my office. It worked until I nearly rear-ended the car in front of me because I lost my concentration. It worked until I decompensated so much that my psychiatrist and therapist made me sign a document promising that I wouldn’t harm myself. My other choice was to be hospitalized.
I tried to take other jobs, but I underperformed, got laid off, or got fired. I felt like I was bringing my companies down. I wasn’t helping anyone; least of all, myself. My career for the past 20 years of my life wasn’t my passion. Great as it was, it didn’t fulfill me as much as I thought it would; as much as I thought it should.
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. To be more accurate, I always wanted to be an author of contemporary romance and young adult fiction. That was supposed to be my Plan A. Instead, I traded in that dream for Plan B. I needed something that could pay the bills because no one else was paying them for me. I focused on what was concrete, so I put all the stories, poems, songs, and prose away and took jobs that were dependable. Obtainable. Realistic.
I’ve made all kinds of excuses over the years to put off going after a writing career. I convinced myself I wasn’t good enough. I figured the market was too full of talented people that I would never get noticed. I believed I needed more worldly experiences. I thought I had enough time. I thought there would always be enough time. The thing is, time isn’t promised to any of us. We plan for a future, but tomorrow could be taken from any of us in an instant: no matter how old, rich, young… Life doesn’t give a damn. We can only do our best to make the best of the moments we have.
Now I’m rocketing toward the ripe old age of 50 and I’m wondering if I can ever achieve that dream of being a published author with a book deal. Will I ever be on a bestseller list? Will I publish something before my mind and body decide to totally give up on me and I’m literally unable to do anything other than count my regrets? I’ve been wasting time. I’m done wasting mine. Now, I’m just praying that my body and mind stay strong enough for me to establish a writing career. I’m terrified. I’m terrified because I don’t know if I’m strong enough to do it. I don’t know if I can keep the pain, the anxiety, and the depression away long enough to get any of my works in progress completed.
Having invisible disabilities is a struggle, in part, because no one can fully understand what you’re going through unless they have those same diagnoses. An outsider to this world wouldn’t know the debilitating physical and mental challenges I experience every moment of every day. They won’t know that sitting in this chair is terrifying; that I’m forcing myself to type these words and wondering if anyone will fully appreciate it should it get printed. They don’t know how badly my back is hurting right now. They don’t know that my medication reminder will sound off for the zillionth time today to remind me to take one of the 15 assorted pills I need in order to function. Yet Plan A is all I’ve got and I don’t have the luxury of giving up on it. I won’t give up on it.
The easy path led me to one of the darkest places I’ve ever been, and I’m still crawling my way toward the light. I don’t know what the future holds, but I don’t want to waste the present. Not one more day. Don’t you waste it either. Go for it. Go for your Plan A. So, Plan A: Let’s do this!
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