What would you do if you had to start your career all over again? Would you be happy for the opportunity to head in an entirely new direction? Do you hate what you do for work and you groan every day when that alarm clock goes off? Are you sorry that you made the choices you did in your life and now you feel like you are stuck in this rut that you can’t get out of? Do you watch the clock all day waiting to punch out? Do you work only to collect a paycheck so you can have a life or is your job your life?
On the other hand, do you love what you do and you can’t imagine doing anything else with your time? Do you feel like this career path was truly your calling in life and you jump right out of bed in the morning when that alarm clock goes off? Do you get great personal satisfaction from the contribution that you are making to society every day? Are you surrounded by people who value you? Would your life be less fulfilling if you didn’t have the job that you do?
Now imagine if one day you didn’t have the choice to decide anymore. Imagine if no matter what your answers were to those questions above, your body would not allow you to continue in the profession that you dedicated years of hard work towards accomplishing. One day you were cruising along doing your job, collecting your paycheck to provide for your family, utilizing skills that you may have spent a decade of your life perfecting in school when suddenly you are stricken with an illness and you can no longer work. All at once, everything is gone in an instant and it was completely out of your control. Now tell me what your first thought would be?
Some people would say, “Hallelujah! I hated that job anyways. I needed a vacation. I can finally lie on the couch if I want to and get caught up on my rest!” That feeling lasts for about the first two weeks until the panic sets in that the paychecks have stopped but the bills keep coming. Then the frenzy to find employment begins as you realize that you were not prepared to lose your job. You begin to grapple with the concept that you are too sick to go back to work, your benefits will only last so long, you now have enormous medical bills compounding the financial crisis and you have no idea when you will be well enough to return to a job ~ if ever. You begin to wonder, “Did this illness just cost me my job or did it cost me my career?” Reality has begun to set in.
Other people who may have loved their job would say, “I am devastated. How could this be happening to me? Not only am I sick but I have also lost a major part of who I AM. That job was so important to me. I felt like I made a difference in people’s lives with what I did for work and now I have lost that too. There is a huge piece of my heart and soul that is missing now.” If this sounds like you, then you will also be on the couch worried about the bills coming in, the lack of finances and questioning what the future holds but you have lost something even greater. Your job was not just a paycheck. It was your LIFE. You made a choice to place your career very high on your list of priorities and now that sickness has ripped it away you are literally grieving. The loss of your career will be a devastating blow when you know in your heart that you just lost your calling in life.
People with Chronic Lyme Disease are forced to face this exact scenario every day in this country. Sometimes we willingly walk away from our jobs because we know that our health is failing and we can no longer continue. Other times we are relieved of our duties because we can’t keep up. There are situations where the parting is amicable and the employers have done everything in their power to support the chronically ill person for as long as possible but it’s obvious that their health is interfering with their job performance. I have seen situations where employers have gone to great lengths to change workloads, given flexible schedules, allowed extra days off, visited employees in the hospital and extended health insurance benefits even if the person has gone to part-time hours. However, those situations are few and far between.
Unfortunately, the chronically ill are usually forced to fight for everything they are legally entitled to in the workplace. They are trying to continue their normal work hours with failing bodies while compensating by taking copious notes, taking naps on their lunch hour and consuming loads of caffeine to battle the overwhelming fatigue. They stay later at night to finish the work that would have taken them half the time to complete when they were well or they bring work home on the weekends. They struggle to fit in doctor’s appointments, medical treatments, specialized diets and medications without letting it disrupt their work life. They battle for benefits owed to them by law and pay exorbitant health insurance premiums so the corporations can keep their costs down. But the greatest travesty of all is that the employees cannot be honest that they are sick. If one word leaks out that they are suffering from a chronic illness, it will get them an express ticket to the unemployment line.
Gone are the days where loyalty was the most important attribute to an employer. We no longer live in a society where we retire from a job after spending 40 years with a company and the CEO makes a warm speech at our huge retirement party. We can no longer count on the security that when we become chronically ill our employers will hold a position for us, wish us well, check in on our progress and welcome us back with open arms after we have recovered. It is ancient history that the company’s health insurance will cover ALL of our medical expenses at no cost to us, simply because we are cherished employees and we have their insurance card in our pocket. The burden of chronic illness now falls fully upon the individual and nothing is guaranteed when it comes to our future in the workplace.
As we lie here in our beds suffering from intense agony, our physical state pales in comparison to the mental anguish we are experiencing as we wonder how we will ever rebuild our lives. The road to starting over will be different for every person who is stricken with a chronic illness. For those of us who have lost a career that we loved, a profession that was more to us than just a “job,” the pain is even more intense. It will take time, a great support system and a strong will to slowly crawl our way back into the working world but it can be done.
There is no question that you are a different person now than before your life was turned upside down. However, you have just walked through the fires of hell on earth and survived. You definitely possess the power to reach all of your goals for the future. Use this time of convalescence to heal your bodies and open your minds to the new possibilities that lie before you. Even though you may not be able to return to the career that you once loved, you still have so much to offer this world. You have just been given the opportunity to stop the frenetic pace of life and focus on what is important to you. Consider this a gift that not many people have the chance to experience. Learn from this time of chronic illness and use it as you move forward in creating your new life. Starting over may be the best thing that ever happened to you.