Monday, September 12, 2011

When Illness Slaps You In The Face

When Brittney posted her theme for PFAM, my reaction was great topic, but it doesn’t really describe me right now

But oh how the mighty fall.  I was totally wrong.  Her theme fits my life perfectly right now.  Here’s why. 

I’d been feeling pretty good, despite having a busy travel schedule and some ups and downs. 

But then school started.  And the weather was cold and rainy. 

And the fatigue, the fatigue has come back full-force.

And it was Thursday afternoon last week.  I was exhausted.  I spent the afternoon on the couch.  But the biggest part of my week was still ahead.  I had to teach on Friday, three one-hour long classes, back-to-back.  

Last year I was on fellowship, which meant that I didn’t have to teach.  I got to cruise and do mostly what I wanted, while still receiving my stipend.  In theory, last year should have been uber productive.  But it wasn’t, for many reasons.  Mostly there was some serious family stuff that went on and then my breakup, which really brought life to a screeching halt for awhile. 

So I should have accomplished a lot last year, and I didn’t.   

And I honestly believe, and in fact now realize, how much teaching takes out of me.  It’s crazy because with attending the professor’s lecture (three hours a week), holding office hours (two hours a week), and my actual teaching time (three hours a week), that’s only eight hours a week that are completely spoken for. 

Then there’s my two hours a week of volunteering and my hour of kickboxing.

So that’s not really a lot of my time that is actually spoken for.  But then there’s teaching prep, which can take a while given the dinosaur of a copy machine that I have to deal with. 

I know that a lot of times I take on too much, and my days are filled with meetings and other commitments that come up throughout the year.  But I don’t feel overcommitted right now.  I just feel like I am not capable of handling what I’ve taken on, which right now, is at the bare minimum.    

In the past, I’ve been taking classes and teaching.  And with the way I feel lately, I honestly don’t know how I ever did it.  Maybe because I was already not feeling well, I pushed through, and didn’t pay attention to the fact that what I was doing was contributing to my un-wellness.  But this time, I went from feeling relatively well to feeling pretty awful. 
Ironically, illness’s way of slapping me in the face, of telling me to wake up and face reality, is by making want to sleep all the time.

I didn’t realize, or maybe I didn’t want to realize, that teaching is something that puts me more into illness mode than I was before. 

But it’s not as if I have a choice.  Right now, this is my livelihood. 

Clearly, I will have to find a balance so that I am able to get the things done that I need to accomplish. 

Leaving campus at 5:30 p.m. or later puts me at a deficit.  I really start to lose energy consistently around 4:30 p.m. on days when I haven’t had a chance to nap.  By the time I get home, it’s all I can do to make dinner and then sack out on the couch. 

I think the thing that makes teaching so exhausting is that it’s a performance.  You have to be on all the time.  You can never let your students see that you are having a bad or an off day.  And as someone with a chronic illness, I tend to have those kinds of days more than most.

But the thing that I forget the most, it isn’t the pain – although I’m certainly glad when the pain is gone or lessened – but it’s the emotional toll that pain and not feeling well takes.  It’s the laying on the couch on Friday night, my head is pounding, my ears and throat hurt.  I’m curled under a blanket, alone with myself and my thoughts and my pain.  And that just sucks!

You can’t be complacent.  You can’t let illness get ahead of you.  But then again, you can’t also get too confident or cocky, because when you let your guard down, when you least expect it, illness rears its ugly head, and slaps you in the face.

So when illness slaps me in the face, privately I mourn the period of wellness that is now gone, but in public, I plaster a smile on my face and act like everything is fine.  To not do that would mean opening myself up for an endless onslaught of student complaints.  It would mean making myself vulnerable to student disdain and dislike.  And that’s worse than feeling like shit.


  1. Yikes, I am so sorry you're feeling so gross. I just put in my notice at my current job as a manager at a hotel because there is no way to do that and go to school. Doing that alone over the summer was enough, and it is far too stressful and negative on my body. I hope that you find something that works better for you.

  2. I am so sorry you are feeling so horrible. I remember when I was working full time in a "regular" job (I now work for myself) and willing myself to get out of bed each morning when I didn't feel well, my feet were so sore I couldn't walk and I was to fatigued I couldn't keep my eyes open. Feel for you.

  3. I'm sorry this is all being so hard on you. I don't know if you have any control on when/what days you have office hours or teach or what ever. Are you able to spread things out so you don't have monster long days? Or is it better for you to do killer days somedays and have what I call my jammie days? I find I can often muster through a monster long day if, like this week, I manage to block out a day or two afterwards to stay home, in jammies, and not force myself to do anything.