Back to Real Life: Hard Decisions

I’m set to go back to my program and start teaching in January, which is a little exciting but mostly terrifying. To be honest, I know that I’m capable, but I’m not sure if I’m completely ready. I’m not totally not ready, though, so I feel like I should push ahead.

There are, however, a few complicating factors besides the fact that I’m not, surprise surprise, “cured” of the various things that ail me. The first is that I’m adjusting to a new medication (again). The second is the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit.

On Monday, while I was on my way home from a stressful appointment, I got a call from an “unknown” number. When this word flashes across my iPhone’s screen, it almost always means that someone from a hospital or from a specialist’s office is on the other end of the figurative line. Sure enough, it was the scheduling person at the EMU. She was wondering if I could come in the next morning. Like, the next next morning? I asked. Yep. My heart started racing. I had gone from having just returned to Toronto from an amazing vacation to grappling with the anxiety-provoking idea of returning to work to facing the possibility of being admitted to hospital with almost no time to prepare, which would also involve cancelling our upcoming trip to NC: though I’d be discharged a few days before Christmas, I’d be in the process of getting back on my anti-epilepsy drugs (they’re discontinued in the EMU to maximize seizure numbers), meaning it wouldn’t be safe to travel, especially not out of country. I asked for half an hour to talk to my husband.

I realize that I’m pretty damn privileged when compared to vast swathes of the world’s population, but life nonetheless seems so unfair sometimes. While I knew that the possibility of this holiday-season hospitalization existed, I thought I’d have more warning and, I guess, that I’d be able to ride my post-vacation high for more than forty-eight hours. Though this blog doesn’t always reflect it, I do try to maintain a certain degree of positivity, and I’m relatively successful, believe it or not, in many situations. This wasn’t one of them.

After discussing the pros and cons with A, we came to the mutual conclusion that an immediate hospitalization wouldn’t be in the best interests of my mental health: among other considerations, I’d have to miss the end-stages of an important program in which I’ve been participating since July. Since with the recent increase of Topamax my seizures have been pretty controlled, waiting a bit for the EMU seemed, on balance, like the wisest choice. I called to make sure that by declining the bed I wouldn’t be bumped to the bottom of the list, I was assured that I would be offered the first one to come up after we get back after Christmas, and that was that.

Juggling various chronic conditions is tricky business. What needs my attention now? What can wait? How am I supposed to prioritize? Attempting to figure all this out can be overwhelming, and on Monday, everything happened so quickly that it was doubly challenging for me to properly process my options. I was choosing between this monitoring and care related to the other set of problems I’ve been focusing on managing during this leave of absence, and, in retrospect, I recognize that I had an instinctual urge to protect myself: I could sense just how easily what I’ve fought to achieve could be undone, and I was resistant to letting that happen. Maybe that’s a sign that I’ve made more progress than I give myself credit for.

I was, and am, relieved. Still, I have lingering doubts as to whether or not I did the right thing. (I always second-guess myself, though, so it’s not shocking that I’m continuing to engage in some good old-fashioned rumination.)

But my decision not to drop everything eighteen hours after getting off a plane in order to start wildly preparing for the hospital leads to another one. If I get and take a bed in the EMU right after Christmas, it’d likely eat into the first week of classes—not the best way to start my first semester back. How would I handle this, logistically speaking? If I don’t, I’ll have to wait until the end of April, when my teaching duties have finished—taking two weeks off before then wouldn’t be responsible.

And that decision is, in turn, connected to another, much bigger one. Namely, is this the right time to return to school? I worry that I’ll never be fully comfortable with the idea of tackling my dissertation again, but given that chronic illnesses are chronic, I’m going to have to bite the bullet at some point, whether I want to or not. I’m not sure how to distinguish the “I’m feeling uncomfortable in this moment but I gotta deal in the short term and things will eventually be fine” from the “this is a genuinely bad plan abort mission.” No matter the uncertainties dancing in my head right now, and no matter the inevitable bumps, I’m inclined to think that the gratification of teaching and the structure of school currently constitute the better of two less-than-ideal alternatives.

But who knows, really.

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