From Employment to Unemployment to Meaning — Ch. 12: Can’t Work If I’m Dead

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In 2003, I separated from my then husband and father of my children. Ten years of a difficult marriage had taken its toll. Counseling for an almost as long duration saw no change. And a constant cycle of one to two struggling-to-be-decent weeks followed by months-long nightmares in the day, horror shows at night, despair relentlessly defeating hope, and weeping that endured for too-many-to-count 24-hour cycles… By year eight, the slow increase in chronic illness, had become full blown. I spent the next thirteen months in and out of hospitals, doctors’ offices, imaging centers, and more. For the first time ever, I also lived on daily drugs.

Tested for brain tumors, and other who knows what, I existed with protracted pain, and lessening ability to function. Endless pain would do that to you. In the end, my diagnosis was simply, chronic stress induced status migraine headaches. The drugs only made me loopy and gave rise to a slow motion experience of existence external to my own body. I hated those drugs. I hated being dependent on them. I hated them not taking my pain away. I hated how nothing was giving me back clear mind to celebrate each day with my precious sons.

Leaving the hospital for the last time, with a husband who had just knelt at my bedside telling me that things were going to change, and knowing with an unalterable calmness that nothing was going to… I arrived at home and within five minutes, began again to see and hear the same dreaded time loop existence play out. The problem was I could not just turn off the TV or walk out of the movie theater. Standing in the kitchen, with my husband, I serenely accepted my chief role in that Groundhog Day movie. In that moment, I knew I had only one choice. I had to break my contract. I had to get out. There are many different kinds of death, you know — spiritual death, emotional death, psychological death... My physical death, for the past thirteen months, was only representative of these other walking deaths I had wedded when I said “I do.”

No blame here. My ex’s demons were his then and are his today. I had to take responsibility and find my own resurrection. Over the next few weeks, I did. Within three months, I brought up my college graduation date, told my husband I wanted a separation, met with a lawyer, had papers drawn up, and established timelines for moving out and more.

So it was with my boss and the never-ending unethical practice time loop, in too many areas to count. There was constant chagrin over every ethical code of conduct violation, regular biting of my tongue, self-requested closed door meetings that responded with silence, and advocacy efforts that only once got the angry response, “What’s your deal with ___?!” There was more too. I came to know the underside of the bus very well, the tattoos of the threads of the bus’ tires on my abdomen, forehead and chest, and the weight of the bus, every day, on every muscle in my body. Eventually my entire body was in chronic pain.

That pain was familiar. Twelve-thirteen years earlier I suffered from the same syndrome.

Thirteen years earlier, I went on useless drugs. One year later, I found the cure. I remember going to my neurologist and declaring I had flushed all my pills down the toilet and that I was pain free. “I found the cure… I got rid of my husband.” I have not needed a neurologist or that kind of pain medication since then. At least, not until last year.

Last year, my doctors prescribed pain meds, then sleep meds, then other meds. Two doctors also referred me to a physical therapist. I repeatedly told them all, “I want to quit my job. I want to leave my job. My boss is killing me. I cannot stay there and be silent about what is happening.” My physical pain had become so great that my therapist could not touch any part of my body without excruciating eruptions. My physical pain had become so great that I used up all my sick leave days between September and mid-October, so that by the latter, I had only been present for nine school days. The day I returned to work, was the day I handed in my initial resignation. The moment I handed in my resignation, I began to see the light.

In extending my departure — which I foolishly and fearfully did — I began to think about the recently prescribed drugs that I had already dumped. I went to the pharmacy for refills. Three days into the extension, I knew I would not survive. The stress and panic attacks that had resurged in dam breaking fashion were surely going to be my draining and my death.

I love education. Teaching is my thing. It unfolded over time, but it is definitely my heart and my passion. There is this wonderful flow of energy and life in the mental exchange of ideas and committed collaboration in service to our children. I simply could no longer work with the boss I had. I’ve had other bad bosses, but this is the first one that made me so physically ill that I had to leave my job.

Someone asked me recently, “But why did you leave? Why not wait till the end of the school year?” I replied, “I can’t live if I’m dead. I can’t work if I’m dead.”