Last week was Chronic Illnesses week. Last week was also the first week of classes at my institution, so time and energy for reflective blogging was at a pretty low ebb. But perhaps it’s in keeping with the theme of that week that posts like this happen when the poster is able rather than by some goal written on a calendar.
Like many people I know, I live and work while dealing with a chronic illness. These illnesses come in many flavors — mine happens to be Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. A few years ago, my CFS was so debilitating that I seriously contemplated quitting my job and moving in with my parents to be an invalid on their couch for the remainder of my days, and I honestly hoped that those days would be few in number. I had no realistic hope for improvement and no energy to live. Basic things like chewing were often too tiring to contemplate. Breathing was a chore. Work? I was doing my best, but students were beginning to comment that I looked mostly dead, my supervisor kindly removed me from every project and committee I was on in one fell swoop, and my poor colleagues took up more of my slack than was fair (and did so without complaint, for which I will be forever grateful).
Thankfully, things have improved since then. I can’t work the 60- and 70-hour weeks I worked years ago, but I can put in a full, enthusiastic day at work as long as I don’t do anything else that day. I can’t keep a spotless house, but I can keep a functional one if I work carefully and efficiently. I can’t do a lot of galavanting with friends, but I can make some plans and even keep most of them. And for the first time in 7 years, I have hope that I’ll be able to keep up with life and with work.
Because of the amazing support I’ve received from family, friends, and colleagues, and because of the creativity of my medical team (which includes my unbelievably helpful mom), I’m doing ok.
It’s almost guaranteed that you have someone you work with who is living with a chronic illness of some kind or another, and many of these illnesses are invisible to the casual observer. It’s likely that this person is at the end of his or her rope most of the time, desperately hanging on to some semblance of normalcy. It’s likely that this person is scared and feels like a failure a lot of the time, simultaneously worried about receiving accommodations and about not receiving them, constantly rewriting their sense of self.
You really can make a difference in that person’s life just by being patient, gentle, and kind. I don’t have words to thank the many people in my life who have been and continue to be vital supports for my fragile body and battered psyche. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. You have made my life possible in the most real sense imaginable.