A few nights ago, I went to a dinner where a dear friend of mine was one of a number of honourees recognized for her career-long contributions to our country. I felt very proud being there to witness a celebration of her achievements. She has accomplished so much in her life it takes my breath away just imagining the commitment and hard work it took for her to meet the goals she set for herself and how she kept reaching higher after meeting each of them. Her humility is also inspiring because she doesn’t see herself as having done anything exceptional beyond what was required of her to contribute to society and give back because of opportunities she was able to seize.
In my life, I was motivated to work hard and make my mark, because of what I’ve seen her do with her life. I learned from her that I could pursue a conventional 9-to-5 career, but also volunteer my time and find creative ways to use my knowledge and skills to help others. It has been wonderful learning from her example that as an ordinary person I could do so much with just the willingness and desire to make a difference. My friend is someone whose life and work I’ve been fortunate to be influenced by and I can’t think of anyone more deserving of the honour and recognition bestowed upon her at that event.
However, as proud as I was to support her, being at that event was difficult for me physically and emotionally. In the three years since I’ve been ill, my career and plans have been on hold. The issues I had chosen to focus on and put my efforts and energies behind to make changes within are moving forward without my contributions. The few moments where my work gained recognition seem so far behind me. With each painful passing day, I am losing touch with people and the progress they are making to affect tangible changes in the world. All of this was amplified as I ate my dinner choice, while trying hard to focus on all the conversation and activity around me for a painfully long four hours.
It’s been hard to accept that the life I planned for myself has changed so drastically. Instead of days bustling with activity to deliver services and resources to people in need of them, I now spend my time working hard to stay awake through the haze of pain medications and building tolerance to bear my pain. I’ve been trying to figure out ways I can still contribute and affect change, without breaching the contract of my disability benefits, but that isn’t really my biggest obstacle: my body is. How can I take part in the industry I wanted to change so significantly without working as hard as I know is required? How can I clear the fog from my mind long enough to work on lengthy projects or deliver coherent presentations or research issues? Just thinking about the demands of the work exhausts me and raises my awareness to the presence of my pain.
Furthermore, I don’t know how long I can be away from my career before what my education and experience taught me become obsolete. I don’t know when I will fade from the memories of the many people I worked with, shared ideas and helped to stay hopeful. I don’t know if I can be satisfied with my past contributions knowing I may not be able to make more. I don’t know when this unexpected interruption in my life will end, but I do know that when it does, it will be hard work getting back on track to where I was once projected to go.
McFadden & Whitehead – Ain’t No Stopping Us Now