Thursday, June 12, 2008

Saying goodbye to your job ... Finding a new sense of purpose

One of the most difficult times in my life with digestive motility disease was when I had to accept and come to terms with the fact that I could no longer work. This came as a big blow to me as I absolutely loved the work that I was trained to do.

Many people with motility diseases may come to this crossroads in their lives. The emotions that transpire can be overwhelming. Accepting that the illness is real ... it is not going away ... that you will be giving up a major part of who you are and what you do ... that you will no longer be able to contribute financially or physically to many of the things that you once could ... and you must say goodbye not only to a job, but to a life that you once had while entering a new phase of your life riddled with uncertainties, illness, and all that goes with it.

I was a teacher and musician. When the illness invaded my life, I struggled to attend my classes and hide how I was really feeling and how my body was betraying me. I concertized, but it was becoming more and more difficult. Soon, the symptoms overtook the battle and I was forced to resign from all my positions. At one school system where I taught, they refused my resignation. I was told that they would put the position on hold and that I was always welcome back when I got better. This gave me hope. I was brightened by the prospect. But the light eventually dimmed and as I spent more hours in the bathroom, more hours in pain, more hours in despair, reality gave way to hope and I accepted the fact that I was no longer going back.

Life changed. Now, I contributed to the growing debt of our household because of all the medical bills. Now, I not only was battling illness, but battling feelings of guilt because of the debt and the impact that my illness was having on my husband and family.

These were difficult times both physically and mentally. Through the years, however, wisdom has replaced all the old feelings. I understand that all that I once did actually prepared me for what I do now. I still teach ... but I teach a different subject ... I perform, but to a different audience.

I can recall years ago a voice crying on the other end of the phone. Her name was Carol, she was a nurse and she also had chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction like me. She was sobbing because she had to leave the job she loved ... nursing ... helping others ... all because of her illness. She worried that her sense of purpose would be lost. After years of learning, living and experiencing illness, I remember telling her that I understood how difficult it would be for her. However, she would still be using the same skills ... just in a different way. She would now be helping others with digestive motility diseases and disorders. Her tears stopped, and she suddenly felt a sense of peace. That was such a monumental moment in both our lives.

Leaving a job that you love because of digestive motility disease is not easy. You may experience anger, sadness, emptiness, loneliness and even depression. But let me reassure you that your sense of purpose becomes even more important. I truly believe that all of us who suffer from digestive motility diseases and disorders have a purpose of educating others and helping those in need. I can't think of anything more rewarding.

Think of it as a job change. A change in life ... a chance to share your voice with others who are new to the world of illness or even to veterans like myself who have been traveling similar journeys along the way.