After 5 Years and a Double-lung Transplant, I’m Back at Work
Our vulnerabilities should be celebrated, but they seldom are in the workplace. Hiding our disabilities may feel like the only solution at times.
After losing my previous job, I never thought I’d get another interview, let alone be hired again.
It’s been five years since I’ve been active as a professional therapist. Being so sick and close to death prevented me from holding down a traditional job during that time. And with the nightmarish experience of having been previously fired for being sick, trusting that my body can handle working in the world again has been anxiety-inducing.
This time around, I wanted to be brave. I wanted to embrace my life fully and not hide my disease in shame to gain fake acceptance. I wanted to set a new precedent of sharing my life story without leaving out the uncomfortable parts.
The first interview with my (now) supervisor went great. It was an informal conversation about my clinical experience and my approach as a therapist. I shared that I had to take time off because I had a double-lung transplant three years ago, and now want to ease myself back by working two days a week. His nonchalant response boosted my confidence. Maybe sharing my story wouldn’t be that scary.
My second interview with the school went positively, too. I spoke with four people, and the conversation flowed naturally. Again, my health came up, because I can’t talk about myself without including this elephant in the Zoom room — ha! This time, they responded: “Oh wow, OK!” And then moved on to another question. Reassuring, to say the least.
When I heard I got the job as a school-based therapist for children, it was a surreal moment. Knowing that others see my value beyond my disability felt so encouraging. It reassured me about my ability to provide therapy for kids in need, and I’m happy I get to make an impact on their young lives.
In the past, my health has been used to discredit, exclude, and disqualify me in multiple arenas. My experiences have been discredited because people didn’t understand the magnitude of my health issues. I’ve been excluded because some consider me to be “high maintenance.” And I’ve been disqualified because my body couldn’t perform at the same level as those with able bodies.
This has produced copious amounts of anxiety, shame, and guilt, which are valid feelings given my experience. However, my experience also has allowed me the opportunity to grow beyond those who have treated me this way. The expectation that everyone is like those who used my disability against me isn’t fair, either. I’ve had to heal past these traumatic experiences. Now I use my story as testimony that we can rise above the noise of society’s standards.
Just because I’ve had a transplant doesn’t mean my body functions normally. Giving my body permission and grace is how I’ve healed from the expectations of people that aren’t in my situation. I don’t need sympathy, I need empathy for what I’ve been through and am still going through. Surrounding myself with people capable of providing this is essential for my personal definition of success.
The pandemic seemed like the perfect time to go back to work. Everyone wears masks, is required to stay at least 6 feet apart, and sanitizes everything at the school. It’s a dream for those of us with suppressed immune systems.
The mental and emotional parts of this have been heavy. I’ve been going through the process of desensitizing myself to the trauma of losing my previous job because I was sick, while preparing for a new job. I didn’t know how I would be able to go back to work. Would I have the stamina to keep up with my students? Could I keep up with the grueling pace of the school schedule?
The pit of anxiety grew in my belly leading up to my first day. I wanted to perform at an even higher level than everyone else so I would stand a chance at keeping my job. But then I stopped and reminded myself that I don’t have to prove my worth. It’s not my place to force anyone to see my value. I know that I’m doing my best, and that will always be enough for the right people.
It’s been overwhelming going back, but I’m so grateful I took a risk and jumped in with two feet. Three weeks into my new job, my heart is so happy. I’m surrounded by amazing co-workers and a supportive supervisor. I have the honor of working with incredible kids.
I am finally so proud of showing up with joy on my workdays. And I’m even prouder that I’ve learned the art of rest in between. I’d call this a big win worth celebrating.
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