This article was first published on the Global Lyme Alliance blog on October 18th, 2016. Most of the links on this post are informational, but a few are affiliate links to help maintain this website.
For an educator, the start of the school year is filled with energy and excitement. There are students to meet, classrooms to decorate, and coworkers to catch up with. There is an undefinable sense of hope that comes with a new beginning.
This fall, for the first time in ten years, when all the other educators went back to work, I wasn't with them. Instead, I was at sitting at home watching the steady stream of "first day of school" pictures on my computer. My career as a school social worker was cut short by Lyme disease.
Two years ago, I thought I would have my job until I retired. It's rare for someone to give up tenure, a pension, affordable health insurance, paid sick days, and summers off. However, this year I opted for a part-time job as a college counselor to focus on healing. I never thought I would be the person who checks the "part-time" box on questionnaires. My entire identity was wrapped up in my career.
I know I'm not alone. I've heard countless stories of teachers, doctors, and successful business people who were forced to leave behind a thriving career when illness struck. The careers they had worked their entire lives to build were suddenly gone or placed on permanent hold. Last year the mayor of Monticello, Illinois, resigned due to complications of Lyme disease. When he resigned at a town council meeting, he said, "I do this with great regret. It's one of the hardest things I've had to do."
I couldn’t agree more.
Leaving my job was truly the hardest decision I've ever made. This past summer, I agonized over whether or not to go back. I loved my job and I was making enough money so that I wouldn't have to worry about the high cost of Lyme treatment. I'd developed lifelong friendships with coworkers and every day I got to make a difference in the lives of young people. On the other hand, I wasn't getting any better, in fact I was getting worse. On a typical weekday I went from my bed, to work, to the couch, back to bed. I was living half a life.
I'd known other people who left jobs due to illness, and I always thought, "That will never be me. I will never get to that point." I worked through the worst two years of my illness. The first year I missed 14 days of school because of doctor's appointments, being bedridden and a hospitalization. The second year I pushed through the year only to crash for an entire month of the summer. For the last two years, the beginning of the school year felt less like returning home and more like a shift back into stress, fatigue and pain.
For people with chronic Lyme disease there comes a point where you can't do the things you used to do. You may not be able to work, engage in creative pursuits, or even socialize anymore. For some people the reality is disability and incapacitation. The difficulty is compounded because Lyme is an invisible illness and outsiders don't understand why you can't work. Other people think not working or working less is a gift. They don't think about the terrible suffering, the symptoms of the illness, or the fact that many people actually want to work. They want to make a contribution to their family's financial and emotional security and feel like they have a purpose in life.
When there is a loss, you need to go through a grieving process. You need to allow yourself to be sad, confused, and even angry. For me, it's difficult, because I don't know what to call myself anymore. I hold a social work license, but I'm not doing social work. I have to grieve the loss of what could have been, then find a way to move beyond it.
Recently, I've started walking a labyrinth in a nature preserve by my house. It's a walking meditation where you walk along a circular path. It has many switchbacks and turn arounds, but you're always moving closer to the center.
I'd heard of labyrinths as a place to go when you're going through a difficult time in your life. The first time I walked the labyrinth was shortly after I left my job. As I was walking the path one day, I realized it was a metaphor for life. There are setbacks and times you need to turn around and retrace your steps, but even so, you are always making progress. I didn't know what was at the end of the labyrinth; when I got to the center, the word "hope" was spelled out in a mosaic. No matter where your life takes you, no matter the losses you must endure, whether it be illness, the loss of a job, or the loss the life you thought you'd have, it's important to know at the center of it all is that tiny word, hope.
Hope like the first day of school.
The final stage of the grieving process is often referred to as "acceptance and hope." During this stage we stop wishing for the life we used to have and accept the new normal. Maybe one day I will go back to being a full-time social worker, or maybe not. Right now, I'm trying to look at the loss of my career, not as a loss, but as a beginning. Maybe my job needed to go away in order for me to find a different path, a better path.
Chronic illness has changed me. It changed the way I see the world and changed my goals. Even if the only goal right now is just to get better, I can't think of a more noble one than that.
"There is nothing so easily remade as our definitions of ourselves." - Dinaw Mengestu
Most of the links on this post are informational, but a few are affiliate links to help maintain this website.
Imagine you're on the way to meet a friend you haven't seen in a while for coffee. You're in a good mood, the sun is shining, and then, the brake lights of the car in front of turn on and out of nowhere you find yourself in a pop-up traffic jam. Now you're going to be late, and your friend will be sitting there waiting for you, staring at her coffee, while it gets cold.
Small annoyances are inevitable and no big deal in the grand scheme of things, but they have a way of downshifting your mood, which can be hard to recover from.
You know the feeling--all the positive energy you had squeezes out of you like a tube of toothpaste, and a low level of anxiety and tension takes up the space it left behind.
Here's a list of affirmations you can say to yourself when those little things creep into your life. Take a deep breath, repeat the affirmation, and you might just save your mood. The next time you step squarely in a puddle, you can breeze right past it, and continue on your way. Those shoes needed a rinse anyway, right?
7 Affirmations for Life's Little Annoyances:
1. Stopped at a red light.
"I'm stopped so that other people can go."
This affirmation came to me one day as I was waiting at an extra long red light. I watched the never-ending stream of cars cross from the other direction and realized they all have places to go, too. They might be late for a job interview or just wanting to get home after a long day. When I thought about it that way, it was easier to wait a few seconds before it was my turn to go.
2. Waiting at the doctor's office.
"Waiting helps me clear my mind and get into a positive place before my appointment."
Wait times at doctor's offices seem to be getting longer and longer. Use that time to get in the right head-space. Organize your thoughts, and think about what you want to ask the doctor; even take a moment to write it down. If you still have extra time, do a silent meditation and get yourself in a positive place for a productive appointment.
3. Stuck behind a slow car in traffic.
"Something is telling me to slow down."
In the past when a slow driver pulled in front of me, I used speed around them to prove a point. I now look at delays as reminders to slow down. In our lives we bounce from one thing to the next and forget to be mindful. The idea of time is a human invention, and sometimes we have to be reminded that it’s not ticking away quite as fasts as we think it is. Instead of zipping around the car, take a deep breath, and go around them when you have a safe opportunity.
4. People interrupting you.
"They must have a lot to say. I will take this time to decide if what I want to say is truly important to share, or if I am just talking to keep the focus on me."
It's one of my biggest pet peeves. When I'm talking and someone butts in, it makes you feel like they were not listening to you and you don't get to finish your sentence. Sometimes conversations can turn into two people talking and no one listening. I like to be the one to stop the cycle. Really listen to what the other person has to say, and then keep the conversation moving in a constructive manner.
5. Parking ticket.
"Will this matter a week from now?"
So, your meter ran out five minutes before you got back to your car and there is a bright orange ticket flapping in the wind from your windshield wiper. My first instinct is to swear and stomp my feet, but it's not worth the physical and mental energy. The truth is, we all get parking tickets from time to time. It's a price we pay to park in the city. Once the bill is paid (or contested), let it go, or turn it into a funny story. I promise, it won't matter a week from now.
6. The common cold.
"I will appreciate my health when I get better."
If you feel under the weather use it as an opportunity to remember what it's like to feel good. The common cold usually goes away after a few days and when you are back to yourself take advantage of your new appreciation for your health. The common cold is also a chance for you to rest. Use that sick day you have stored up, and binge watch your favorite Netflix show on the couch with a box of tissue while drinking plenty of liquids.
7. Rain or "bad weather."
"Rain replenishes the earth" or "All weather is necessary for the planet."
Next time you are caught in the rain, don't curse it, dance in it instead. The earth needs clouds, rain, and even storms. It’s all part of a delicate balance, which we have taken for granted for far too long. I'm not talking about saying affirmations when there is a dangerous hurricane or flood, but when you wake up to the sound of rain outside your window, try not to call it a "bad day" before the day has even started.
When you practice reacting to daily annoyances with positive affirmations, you will start to see a shift in your life. Little things will start to bother you less and less, and you will be able to maintain a calm and happy mood throughout the day. And when days are better, life is better.
"The most satisfying project you will ever undertake - and a mark of a complete human being - is to discover how to build a sense of happiness that no one can take away from you..." - Deepak Chopra
I'm Kerry (She/Her/Hers) and I am a licensed therapist, group facilitator, poet, writer, & speaker. This is a place to acknowledge and validate our suffering and trauma, while also learning how to turn toward aliveness and spaciousness.