A man lays flat on a bed of sharp pencils.

Due to AS Symptoms, I Chose to Quit My Job

I was diagnosed with AS while I was an English teacher.

From 2009-2017, I had the great privilege of teaching high school students how to express themselves, how to appreciate works of literature, and how to discuss their opinions with evidence. I helped them understand what it was to think critically. It was my dream job. Every day, I showed up in every way possible. As a new teacher at the school, I needed to prove my worth, both to my fellow teachers and my students.

I devoted all my time and energy to my job

I woke up every day at 4:30 a.m. to get all my planning done, to make time to walk the dog, and to run with the cross-country team – I was the assistant coach. I returned home to eat some leftovers, walk the dog again, and grade papers for the next day. I was devoting all my time and energy to my job and my students, and as a result, I had no time for myself.

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When the pains began, I pushed them away, thinking:

Huh, that’s weird. Why are my legs buckling beneath me?

Interesting. I seem to have developed a limp on the right side. 

Why does it hurt to sit down today? And now the limp is on the left side…Strange.

Fascinating how my back is as stiff as a board between the hours of 8pm and 6am.

I’m too uncomfortable to sleep. Maybe something is really wrong with me?

How strange to develop iritis several times this year.

Maybe I should actually get my blood tested like they’ve been telling me.

For several years, I didn’t make the time to attend to my health. I was in denial. How could I have health problems at my age? I was 27 at the onset of the pain, but at 34 years of age, I was more open to the idea that something was wrong.

I thought: enough is enough. I needed to make the time. I needed to take charge of my health. I got the blood work that each and every ophthalmologist (eye doctor) had recommended to me.

The results are in

The results came back. Combined with several MRIs, the bloodwork revealed that I had ankylosing spondylitis, a disease that could never be cured, and I’d be managing it my whole life.

My youthful invincibility had been shattered. My diagnosis was at the same time devastating and enlightening. I was awakened to the fact that I wasn’t bulletproof, and I needed to take care of myself to make up for lost time.

Like many, I attempted to reduce the pain through a variety of methods – medication, diet, and stress reduction. I could take the right medication and stick to an anti-inflammatory diet. However, there was no way to control the work-related stress I was experiencing. Jobs are stressful in themselves, but teaching was one of the most stressful and physically taxing jobs I’ve ever had.

Nothing about my job was sustainable for my health

Understandably, every job is stressful, but teaching was tough for me. As an introvert, I had to interact with at least 200 people daily, and basically perform in front of them as if I was on a stage all day. I never excelled at public speaking, but teaching forced me to learn how to do it. I had to be on my feet, running here and there, tallying 15,000-20,000 steps daily. Teaching is a delicate dance of knowing the material, transferring it to students, and managing paperwork, parents, and protocol. Nothing about my job was sustainable for my health. Maybe teaching isn’t sustainable for anyone’s health. Perhaps other teachers would agree.

I quit to prioritize my ankylosing spondylitis

In the end, I chose to leave teaching to prioritize my health. I miss the academic environment every day, but I’ve found ways to incorporate small educational challenges and learning opportunities in my daily life. Now in remission from my AS symptoms, I’m able to guide my two young sons through life as their first teacher. Often, I come across a parenting challenge that reminds me of my teacher-self, and I’m glad for my past work experience as it is helping me thrive in the present in so many other ways.

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