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The Disabled Enabler!

The Story of Why I Continue to Teach After A Life Shattering Diagnosis of Ankylosing Spondylitis.

By VNessa ErlenePublished 2 years ago 5 min read
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The Disabled Enabler!
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Life is full of defining decisions, and it would seem that mine is fuller than most these days. I was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis in 2019. The news that I have an incurable autoimmune disease with only one goal, putting me in a wheelchair, would have been enough, but oh no, I got a diagnosis of Celiac in the same week.

I am a teacher, and the first thought I had was "choices, Vanessa." I did have choices, but none of them were choices I wanted to make.

Choice number one was to ignore the diagnosis and continue with my life as planned. I had just completed my second master's degree in education a year prior, and this was the first year of my doctoral program.

My first thought was, "oh no, all this money invested in my brain/education, and the brain fog will continue to worsen." I quickly dismissed this thought because this was "MY" brain, and I was "different" from everyone else...right? I spent a few months continuing my education and being in denial of my worsening condition. However, my next birthday reality set in, and I was forced to admit that choice number two should be considered.

Choice number two was facing the reality that I still had three children and two grandchildren that depended on me providing for them, and I might not be able to work full time ever again.

I made the gut-wrenching decision to apply for disability. I was approved for SSI in twenty-eight short days, much to my horror. I read the first paragraph of the letter and burst into tears. Then I continued reading the remainder of the letter! I owned two vehicles, and because of this, I was disqualified from receiving the approximately $800 a month allowed for SSI.

My next option was to get a lawyer and apply for SSDI. Luckily my statistical brain set in before I could make this decision. My youngest was thirteen at the time, so realistically, the thousands of dollars I would receive per month would only last five years, and then I would be back to about a thousand a month.

I was halfway through my Ph.D., and was this what I wanted at the end of my journey? I would be in the top 2% of the world in my educational accomplishments while spending my life going from the bed to the sofa on disability. The thoughts of spending the rest of my life doing this made me sick to my stomach!

I put the approval/denial letter in a drawer and forgot it ever existed.

I have been taking Humira and Sulfasalazine for almost a year now. My health is the best it's been in over twenty years. I still have high inflammatory markers, but everything else is practically perfect!

I made the life-altering decision to start teaching middle school this fall. Was this decision followed by a series of events unfortunate events? I thought so as the first event was to find out my classroom was upstairs!

I have been trying and dying with the stairs for over a month. I finally mastered the stairs about a week ago, and now I purposely go downstairs just for the exercise.

Last week was the worst week I have experienced so far. I received a phone call Sunday that my friend of thirty-eight years had passed away, and the cause was still unknown. I went to work Monday assured that no one would know this or how it was affecting me.

However, every teacher has that "one class."

My "one class" is at the end of the day. About four students make this class so unique, and I have them two periods back to back! I will let all you other teachers use your imagination as to how my day went. I cried the entire thirty-minute drive home.

Tuesday was a little better, but not much. However, things changed on Wednesday, and a couple of students who should have never been in my class were removed!

Wednesday afternoon, there was a parent meeting, and all the student's teachers were required to attend. I sat through the entire discussion in shock. The statements I was hearing could not possibly be about "my" student. This student had been having issues since the beginning of their academic career. However, in my classroom, they were perfect!

I soon realized why. There had been an incident at the beginning of the year. I was the second adult to respond to this student. I was so shocked at the events that occurred during the incident that I was worried I would overstep my boundaries as a teacher and interfere with my not completed psychology background.

I realize my readers don't know me well, that worry lasted about two seconds, and I had a very heart-to-heart conversation with this child—my exact words: There are about seven billion people on this planet and only ONE you! You have to love and respect yourself more than anyone else you encounter, and realistically, you will probably not even remember your fellow students in ten years.

I had completely forgotten the conversation until the meeting on Thursday. When the meeting was over, the parent lingered until no one was left except the principal and me.

We all know COVID has rendered handshakes and all forms of normality useless, so the fist bump between the parent and principal was understandable.

However, when the parent turned to me and hugged me like a bear, I was hard-pressed to hold back the tears! Why? Because after six years in school, someone had finally "seen" their child!

This hug, my friends, is how I know that there will always be more important things in my life than my uncurable disease and self-pity. This one hug is why I teach children.

I will be faced with the choice soon of whether to end my career teaching adults at a university, doing educational research, or continuing to impact the lives of children. I am confident I will make the right choice.

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About the Creator

VNessa Erlene

A Ph.D. student and Celtic Priestess who is an explorer of knowledge, spirituality, and political incorrectness. Your voice and knowledge is your power!

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