I feel lost.
Hmm….That’s not right. Isolated, maybe? No. That’s not it either.
I feel like I don’t fit in. Not in a middle-schooler desperate to wear the right clothes and say the right things to be one of the popular kids kind of way. It’s not that type of fitting in.
It’s …out of place. That’s it. It’s an awareness of feeling out of place in the exact places that were my comfort zone not long ago.
The building is the same. Most of my colleagues are still here. There have been changes –new principal, new state mandates, more paperwork –but the school is pretty much the same. The same lunch tables line the cafeteria. The same signs tauting manners and healthy eating habits decorate the walls. That distinct, damp empty school smell permeates the air.
Yet, somehow the people I have worked with for 15 years feel foreign to me. I have danced at their weddings, watched their children grow up alongside mine, held their hands at loved ones’ viewings. Many of them have actively supported me and my family through my illness. They sent warm casseroles, thoughtful gifts, and oodles of get-well cards. Some have even prayed for my healing. This entire cafeteria is replete with good people who are genuinely happy to see me sitting here today in this faculty meeting, my first day back to work since Halloween.
In the space between the end of fall and the beginning of summer, my world changed. Doctors, medication, hospitalizations, tears, frustration, anger. My priority shifted from my job to my health. I traded hours upon hours after school of grading papers, writing lesson plans, and broadcasting athletic events for hours and hours of resting, reading, and rethinking those priorities. The busyness of our overbooked schedules was replaced with quiet evenings at home.
I am different now. As hard as I fight to get back to the person I was before Lyme, I wonder if I’ll ever find her. On the outside, I look noticeably different. Shorter hair, extra pounds, droopy eye, a shuffle instead of saunter. Earlier, I was out of breath just walking from my classroom to this cafeteria; I certainly couldn’t jog the three miles I once did. I wonder if I’ll ever get back to running or if that’s just one more thing stolen.
Beyond the visible changes though are the ones that cause my emotional distance today. As teachers in this meeting, teachers I love and respect, voice their concerns and complaints, I find myself becoming more and more agitated. Their problems seem so….trivial. I keep my mouth closed, but my mind races with silent sarcasm.
You are upset because no one answered your phone call? Who cares? Do you have a post-it taped to your dashboard just in case you can’t remember how to get home after work today?? Yeah, that’s what I thought. You’re lucky.
Oh, you don’t think we should pay for student of the month sweatshirts? Do you have hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical expenses? Yeah, didn’t think so. You’re lucky.
I know their concerns are valid, and nine months ago, I might have been one of the vocal grumblers. But today, I just feel indignant and resentful. Twenty minutes spent discussing time sheets translates to a mental smack down. Were you physically able to go to work today? Did you wake up at 3:00 this morning with excruciating pain? Yeah, zip it. You’re lucky.
Friends come up to me after the meeting, celebrating my return and instinctively embracing me. I don’t tell them that physical contact hurts, that my spine is screaming with every hug. They say things like “You look so much better,” and my brain quips make up works wonders. Or how bad did I look before? Some say “You look sooo tired,” which is another way of indirectly pointing out the purple circles under my eyes.
Then there’s the classic “I didn’t even recognize you.” Ugh. Was it the extra twenty pounds or the way my right side draws up?
Conversations are difficult. My Lyme brain struggles to keep up. I’m distracted, partly because I’m over-analyzing every word, every facial expression, every gesture, and partly because the topics simply don’t matter to me anymore. I just don’t care how tardies are handled first period. My friend has multiple seizures a day and is wheelchair-bound at the age of 23. That is important. Treatment, research, vaccinations —those conversations I can do. Whining about who got a $50 gift card and who didn’t?? I don’t care, and I don’t have the energy or desire to pretend like I do.
Am I the only one feeling the awkwardness? Do their eyes look at me differently now, or am I just being paranoid? I realize every comment, though intended as positive, twists into a negative retort in my head.
One of my colleagues, a close friend with whom I’ve shared countless lunches, says, “Oh, your poor eye. You’re getting a migraine, aren’t you?” Nope, that’s just the way my eye looks now. Thanks for pointing it out.
Please understand. I love this woman. She is one of the most giving, thoughtful individuals I know, and I adore her. This bitterness inside me is simply feeding on every comment. Compliments are turned into jabs by my insecurities. My anger is not directed at her, even though my internal satire reflects it. I am not angry at these people, my friends who have tried to understand my confusing disease. I would want only joy and health in their lives.
But I am ticked off.
I’m angry that the things that once filled me with happiness and pride now seem unimportant.
I’m angry that my passion no longer seems to be in this building.
I’m angry that I feel uncomfortable in my own skin, out of place in midst of people I love.
I am ticked off …at a tick. A teeny tiny tick that I never saw, that snacked on my blood and forever changed the trajectory of my life.
I want to escape. I want to drive home, curl up in the safety of my bed and watch mind-numbing television until this anger has subsided. I want to cry until I feel better. I don’t like myself today, this constant negativity is not the normal me.
I don’t want this life. I want my old one, the one I didn’t realize was so freaking great until it wasn’t anymore.
As much as I feel the need to run, my body and my stubbornness will not allow it. I have to stay, to listen, to try to return to my life. The problem is we don’t see things as they are, we see things as WE are. The climate of my job hasn’t changed drastically. I have. I now look at life through a Lyme filter, and I can’t UNSEE it from that perspective.
On my old SLR Nikon camera, before the modern era of digital photos and instant gratification, I’d attach a filter, like coral or sepia, before snapping the photo. This was back when we developed roles of film, so I was more frugal, not wanting to waste a shot. Filters weren’t an afterthought designed to mask wrinkles or improve a sunset. Photographers planned ahead and selected filters based on what effect they were hoping to achieve. No single filter was universal; they had to be switched often so as to enhance the lighting, tint, or saturation of a shot.
In the camera of Life, my filter is stuck. The threads are stripped, and the filter is screwed on so tightly I can’t get it to budge. Unlike Instagram filters, I can’t switch it up. I can’t sample the twenty or so digital filter options to see which is more flattering. Every single shot is taken through that Lyme filter. Every photo, every memory, every event is tainted.
And that is why I’m angry. Not at the people in my pictures. On the contrary, I’m immeasurably thankful that they have stuck around, especially when I’m not exactly easy to love.
I’m angry at the fact that every moment is tinted Lyme, and many of the things that were important to me before now feel frivolous.
I’d guess that other people have jammed filters, too. Lymphoma filter. Dead daughter filter. Invisible illness filter. Aging father filter. Failed career filter. Mother-less filter. Divorce filter. There are heartaches that cannot be turned on and off based on the situation. We continue living and breathing and fighting, but all of it happens through a filter that can’t be removed.
Occasionally, there are moments made more beautiful by the filter. After all, that’s what filters are designed to do, to improve the photo, to enhance the memory. Certainly there are aspects of my life that are richer because of the Lyme filter. I have more gratitude these days. I thank God that I can still take pictures, even with the Lyme filter, because the alternative is not appealing. I’ll settle for tainted over no photo any day.
I know I am lucky. Yes, even with this mean, expensive, controversial disease, I’m lucky.
But today, I am also a little bit bitter.
And frankly, I’m wondering if I’ll ever be the woman I once was, if I’ll be able to care about the things I once did –with this new filter forever altering my view.