Today I scrolled through Instagram and saw friends and colleagues from college celebrating milestones at their job and posting about their successes. (All of them well-deserved of course!) I felt proud to be from the same program as these brilliant professionals, but then I felt a serious ping of jealousy because I want to be in their shoes. I want to be succeeding in the field I am so passionate about and advancing in my career. However, I had to exit my dream career almost a year ago to allow myself to heal. It wasn’t a decision I made lightly, or one I even really made for myself. My health was spinning out of control and I began missing weeks of work for hospital admissions. I lost my ability to manage both a high-stress job and high-stress medical issues. Even though I loved the work and felt satisfied in my position, I had to accept that my health was more important.
I left my job mid-September 2018. It broke my heart. I felt like a failure for being unable to keep up with all the work assigned to me. Through therapy and self-reflection I accepted that it was not because of a lack of intellect or will power, but merely the byproduct of being nutritionally depleted and horrifically ill. My last weeks of work was concurrent with the worst colitis flare of my life – I was experiencing such severe and frequent diarrhea that I required the bathroom 8-12 times a day. I could eat 5 foods total, knowing any deviation from that strict diet would increase that first number to 15 or 20. I was losing all my nutrients through my GI tract, therefore lost normal brain function. It was hard to hold my head up because I was so weak and it was difficult to find the words I wanted because my brain was foggy. My disease at this point was debilitating. So exactly one month later, I had my colon removed (November 13, 2018.) I knew when I couldn’t do the thing I loved the most -working in community health care management and development – I had to make a change.
I took a part-time position at the company my husband is employed at. They needed help in the mornings and that gave me the opportunity to rest, heal, and follow up with doctors after surgery in the afternoons. I started slow, only working 12 hours a week, and gradually grew to being there 20 hours. The work was interesting and I felt good about what I was accomplishing, but it wasn’t in the health field and I actively longed to be involved in medicine again.
Only problem was that I still was not strong enough to enter the field in the same capacity. So I went back to something I am skilled at, medical scribing. I was a medical scribe all through undergrad and continued during my masters degree. Scribing offers incredible access to working with physicians and I grew a lot during college in those positions. However, it’s not what I thought I would be doing, but it’s something I am good at. The company I chose to work for has great benefits, like working from home. That helps me when I am exhausted and sick, because I just have to move one room over and I am at work. But even this job, that I am well prepared for and trained in, is too much for me. I can barely handle the small hours I am scheduled for now.
I have been off work for over a month because of my recent hospitalizations. My company has been more than gracious in allowing me the time off, but I can’t shake the feeling that I am not even healthy enough for this job right now. That thought carries further and then I fear I will never be healthy enough to get back to the type of work I dream of doing. I look at job postings for jobs I would love to do and would be well qualified for, if it wasn’t for the fact I can’t stay healthy long enough to be out of the hospital each month. It truly is a depressing thought that everything I worked so hard for and studied so long for could remain out of reach because of my health.
Society has conditioned us to believe our worth as a person is directly tied to the work we do. I admit I think this way too sometimes. Especially about myself. I felt important and fulfilled because of the work I was doing for under-represented communities in healthcare. Now that I am barely working and may require disability, I have lost my sense of purpose. I feel deep sadness and despair thinking back to the life I could have right now if I wasn’t plagued with being sick. It makes me want to revolt against my body. Sometimes I think “if I push harder, I can accomplish more.” But honestly I am pushing myself damn hard just to have enough energy to get to my doctors appointments and do small tasks around the house. I am actively battling my body and my brain to feel better, but healing is a long, arduous process.
I am trying to shift my prospective as to what “success” is. I am playing with what it looks like for me. It cannot, and will not, be a high-powered job with multiple meetings and strategic development anymore… But it could be this blog post. It could be showering tomorrow. The stability of my marriage. The joy I find in cooking. The little things that I used to not have time to notice or enjoy. And it definitely will be continuing to fight for my health to return to a state of normality.