So I don’t mean by the title of this post ensuring a future in which you end up chronically ill. What I mean is, ensuring that despite chronic illness, you have a future.
For the past few years since I got sick, I have done a lot of soul searching. Who I am? Who is the person that I want to become? What do I want to do with/in my life? What are the important things that I want to focus on and give what little energy I have to? These are just a few of the myriad questions I have asked myself. And finding the answers hasn’t always been easy or clear cut.
But there was one thing that I did put my mind to. That I am going to finish graduate school, regardless of what anyone says or does to make me think that I can’t. But this comes with a pretty big caveat…
I can’t give 110% anymore. I can’t get seduced by the idea of it. Because if I want to survive, if I want to have a future, I have to have balance. I have to be able to distinguish between the various aspects of my life. I can’t let one single identity become the only one that I can relate to.
That person and that life don’t exist anymore. They can’t. They are not commensurate with being happy AND as healthy as possible. The person that lived that life was a naïve college student who believed that the future was limitless, full of possibility, and more important, full of an infinite amount of time. But for those of us who are chronically ill, time is a luxury we simply don’t have. So if I seem to get hung up about how long it is going to take me to finish graduate school, how old I will be when I have my PhD, if and when I will get married and have children, it’s because time is elusive and fleeting. And I know that because in some ways, I have been forced to think about my mortality in a way that other people my age haven’t.
When I gave 110%, I had no life outside of school, not another single identity that mattered, and look where it got me. Sick. SICK. So what was the purpose of working myself to the bone? To ultimately learn that it wasn’t worth it? That it took me getting sick to realize that there is more to life than how well you perform in school or how successful you are at work? Honestly, for me, coming to this realization has made me feel like a weight has been lifted off of me. Like I don’t have to live a lie for my entire life.
One thing that I thought I had been successful at conveying, but recent conversations make me think that I haven’t, is that my graduate school career is not going to be typical, and that’s okay. I am not the “normal” twenty-something who only has graduate school to worry about. I have two full time jobs to contend with. Because in order to be competitive in a rigorous academic environment like the one I currently find myself in, it will be at the expense of my health. Because if I am going to be in that kind of environment, I am going to want to be competitive, but being competitive means putting career first and everything else second. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned (the hard way) since getting sick, it’s that putting my health second to anything is only to my detriment.
I have accepted my reality. And now it’s time for others to do the same.
If my head or my heart hasn’t seemed like it’s 110% in graduate school, it’s because it’s not. And it can’t be. My life has taken a series of turns over these past few years, and honestly, I’m amazed that I’m still standing, let alone trying to finish up in graduate school what I set out to do.
But if graduate school means ignoring a part of my life that is a full time job in and of itself, well, then it’s pretty obvious to me what has to go.
My actions, living my life the way I see fit, isn’t a dis to my committee or me thumbing my nose at the profession. It’s me trying to ensure that I have a future. And while that future might not take me on the “prescribed” routes based on the degree that I will have, it doesn’t mean that my future can’t be equally as bright. But if I’m sick to the point of not functioning, or I’m dead, well, that means not really having a future at all. And the responsibility for that will fall squarely on my shoulders.
As much as I can control the future, I have to guard myself from the naysayers and the Debbie Downers. I have to live my life the way I want to live it, on my terms. I’m breaking with the past in order to guarantee my future. And that means fighting to maintain balance, even though there are always things trying to tip the scales.