By Ellen Lenox Smith, Columnist
Leaving your career due to chronic pain and illness can be heartbreaking, but for some of us it’s a necessary step.
There was never a day in my life as a teacher that I didn’t love getting up and going to work, yet that career had to end due to the progression of Ehlers Danlos syndrome and sarcoidosis. I felt so lost and not sure who I would be without the career I had.
So, one day before retiring, I went for a walk at the Scituate Reservoir in Rhode Island with my dogs at the time, Corey and Carmel. I made the decision to not think about all the emotions entering my mind -- trying to push those negative thoughts away so I could de-stress. I only allowed myself to look and listen to nature.
Within minutes, I started to have words and thoughts come into my head. Before I knew it, I had to come home, sit at the computer and start writing. The first of what turned out to be over a hundred poems poured out of me. I always laugh when I share this experience, for I am not particularly into poetry.
This was the first of my eventual one hundred poems, which helped cleanse my emotions and prepare for announcing my need for retirement and a life with two progressive conditions:
I Attended a Concert This Morning
It was that time to escape, to go for an adventure. We were attending a concert. All ten of our legs got into the car to begin the trip. No clues had been provided to us to prepare for what an impact this performance would have on the rest of our day.
We arrived, opened the door and got out, some of us more easily than others, and then shut the door off from life as we knew it…
It seems that we were late for the concert. It was already in progression. We knew when we arrived that we would have to follow the rules. We had to turn off everything from our lives; the cell, the TV, the radio, computer and most importantly, “the mind”.
We began to walk and quickly heard the concert. It felt loud and overwhelming at first. It felt crowded listening to it despite a lot of space provided. It was too much to hear, too much to absorb. And “the mind”, it wanted to come on, even though it knew it wasn’t invited. But it seemed to finally learn how to respect the rule.
As it cooperated, the concert began to take on a new dimension of sounds and feelings. It became soft, clearer, calmer and incredibly comforting. This concert became exceptional, being absorbed in every space of the mind and body.
And all that was needed to feel this was to just turn off everything else.
The concert never came to a close, but it was time we return to the car and journey back to home as we know and love it. But, we knew we had had an experience that gave us strength and renewal to our lives.
Corey, Carmel and Mom all took a moment to enjoy nature and listen to the truth of life. It was a concert that will never be forgotten. A lesson was learned, “turn it all off”, attend the concert of nature. It’s there for us all and is open at all times.
Looking back, I learned that writing about my emotions helped me face the changes that were happening to my life. It was a very cleansing process that I entered and I continue to do it.
Here are some tips if you are also dealing with the loss of your career:
- Try writing down emotions that are swirling in your head. You will gain more than you might realize with this process. Many write to the US Pain Foundation for help and I respond to them, but often I do not hear back from them. I believe this is because they’ve cleansed their emotions by just writing down their story and frustrations.
- Accept that you will have to redefine who you are. I was a teacher by profession, but have discovered I am still teaching, just in a different way.
- Remember you are not alone for many have also had to face the loss of their career. Try to find comfort in knowing this. I talk to myself and say that if they can do this, so can I!
- Mourn your losses. You are human and allowed to do this, but remember to move on from this loss too. You are more than your career. There are others things in life that will make you feel worthwhile and productive. It will take work to figure out what you will do next, but it is a worthwhile effort.
- Try to not get stuck on “Why me?” Instead, try to find a way to move on with acceptance and grace for others to learn from. I always remind myself that although my four sons are now adults, they are still observing how I handle my life, including this process of letting go and redefining. I want to be remembered by them for trying, fighting and not giving up.
I know it is heartbreaking to have to step away from a career, especially if it is one you love. But you also have to remind yourself that you have one life to live, and you need to redefine yourself and find things that will bring meaning, joy and happiness back, despite the loss.
I know this is hard to do, but the effort will pay off in the end. Despite illness, you can discover new things about yourself and have a positive impact in life. Be strong, reach out for support and may you, too, discover there is life despite your huge loss.
Ellen Lenox Smith and her husband Stuart live in Rhode Island. They are co-directors for medical marijuana advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation and serve as board members for the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition. For more information about medical marijuana, visit their website.
Ellen recently published her new book, “It Hurts Like Hell!: I live with pain -- and have a good life, anyway.”
The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.