My office in New York
Photo: ©Richard Johnson
One of the most challenging aspects of coping with chronic illness is grieving loss. And one of the biggest was losing my ability to work and do the kind of work that I loved. I suppose this is due to how hard I worked to establish myself and build my career in public relations and how fulfilling my work was, but it is also because I identified myself so much with my work.
As a small town girl from Erie, Pennsylvania who started working at the age of 16 in an ice cream parlor and grocery store, yes, two jobs at 16!, it wasn’t until my first year attending community college that I became more serious about career options. I decided to study journalism (over becoming a lawyer, a psychologist and criminal justice investigator). I chose a career in PR because it offered the ability to develop a wide range of diverse skills beyond writing, an opportunity to be creative and serve the public.
I loved practicing PR because I was exposed to many industries (including for and non-profit), and learned about business, and it helped me grow into my potential in ways I never thought possible.
I paid my dues to gain the necessary skills to establish myself in this demanding and competitive field, one not easy to break into, with several internships and many years of hard work. I started out with a smaller firm working my way up to a position at the world’s largest PR firm in New York servicing global corporations working with some of the brightest talent in the industry.
Later, in Copenhagen, Denmark, I managed PR for a highly successful consumer electronics brand initially in a global role, then later Europe, Middle East and Africa. It was tremendously rewarding to do this kind of international work.
I had been working professionally in PR for just over 10 years when I had the misfortune of becoming ill and it changed my life radically. I had to leave my job due to the after-effects of that illness and my life hasn’t been the same since. It will soon be 13 years and it’s taken a long time to figure out how to move forward with my life. During the first few years following the illness, I didn’t know if I could work again or if so, in what capacity would be possible. I kept testing myself (and still do), working on different projects, some successful others not.
I’ve had to make a lot of adjustments to my life and find a “new normal,” but it can still feel like I’m walking around in the dark sometimes. I’ve long since accepted that I had to let go of what I had with my job, and I thought I had, but there’s been a deeper level of grief that I just haven’t been ready to face.
What I am currently realizing is that I have been holding on to a false hope that “maybe someday” I will be able to resume my work in a similar capacity and pick up where I left off. I think I created this belief early on because the thought of losing it all was just too painful. Part of this truly was due to the uncertainty of how the impact of the illness could potentially change over time but part of it was false hope.
I kept the hope that maybe I would be able to return to this kind of work again as a way of protecting myself from the pain of the reality, which is that it truly is over and has been for a really long time. It’s also scary to realize that my job security has been take away and there’s be so much uncertainty about the future.
Sadly, it’s time that I give up that hope for good. It’s not that I have to give up all hope that I won’t be able to do something else at some point that will be fulfilling, but now I can gently give up the hope that I will be able to go back to what I used to. By doing this my new hope is that I can now find a way to be at peace with my situation and find new meaning. It is in this surrendering that I can truly begin to Create a New Life.
My focus is and always will be on health and healing, and I will never give up hope that things will change, but today I say a final good-bye to what once was and accept what will never be again. I keep gratitude in my heart for what the experience gave me and take with me all that I gained. It has served me well, and will continue to do so, and I will forever be grateful for it.
It’s simply time for me to close the door on that chapter of my life once and for all, and open myself to something else whatever that may be. Perhaps my biggest lesson of all is accepting the losses that go along with change, no matter how painful, and evolve and embrace new possibilities knowing there’s also things to gain with losing.