My old teaching job is posted.
That same job that shaped me and helped me to recognize my life's calling is available, and those wonderful people I used to call coworkers and still consider family reached out to me to let me know that the position was open.
Three times this month, in fact.
This is not an isolated occurrence. They have not kept an English teacher since I left the post in 2014, and they have told me over and over that the job was mine if I ever wanted to return to it.
It is flattering to be wanted. It is tempting to return.
But as much as I would love to go back, I just can’t, and I hate the reason: I am dependent on government disability.
I broke down and applied for disability coverage after working a half-time load proved to be too much for me. My initial application was rejected, but my doctor recommended that I apply again. I didn’t want to, but I finally came to a place of acceptance and admitted that I needed it. I took my case before a judge, represented myself, and won.
I was awash with emotion: relief and hope tempered by the taint of shame.
Because I had waited so long to reapply for disability (two years after losing my driver’s license), I was only working a half-time schedule when I won my case, so my disability is capped at that level. I can work some, so I sub and direct the plays, but if I were to ever go past that cap--even for one month--I would be deemed "fit to work," and I would be immediately kicked out of the disability program. That means I would lose my health insurance.
Um, I need that insurance.
My medication--the stuff that I need to literally NOT DIE--is over $1,500 a MONTH. That is more expensive than my MORTGAGE. Those pills are so freaking expensive and precious that I have literally dry swallowed one covered in dust bunnies and hair and cobwebs after dropping it on a nasty Old Navy dressing room floor, just because I wanted to make sure that it would do its job and shut my brain up long enough to focus on the 40-mile drive back home without malfunctioning.
In the seven years since my diagnosis, I have been on eight different medications, and this is the only one that has worked long-term. Unfortunately, it is also the most expensive.
I need this medication, and I am relieved that my disability coverage makes it affordable. But If I took on a job--even a long-term sub job (I am asked to do those all the time, too), I’d be gambling away my coverage on the hope that I’ll maaaaaaybe be okay, all the while knowing that there is an MRI-confirmed knot of scar tissue in my brain that is still active, a dormant volcano of repetitive hand motions, mumbled gibberish, altered consciousness, and convulsions.
One seizure, and it’s all over.
I would lose my driver’s license again, and I would be back at square one. I would have to reapply for disability, a process that took me two attempts over the course of five years. I was rejected the first time, even though epilepsy is a condition that automatically guarantees coverage. (I found out that nearly everyone is denied the first time, regardless of their condition.) I have had to run the gauntlet of government bullshit to get this coverage, and I am not about to gamble it away on a chance that I might be okay if I return to work.
That volcano of seizure activity has been there since I was two years old, sometimes active, sometimes dormant. It is not going away.
It is part of who I am.
I feel tremendous shame about this.
I feel shame that I am a college-educated, battle-hardened teacher who can’t accept a job because her brain can’t keep its shit together.
I feel shame every time I say no to these opportunities to do what I love, what I’m good at, what brought me such fulfillment and joy for seven great years.
I feel shame that I am only turning down these opportunities because I am afraid of tipping the scales, of piling too much straw onto that proverbial camel’s back and breaking it.
I feel shame when the kids I sub for now flippantly ask me: “Why don’t you have a real job?” “Why aren’t you an actual teacher?” “Why are you just a sub?”
I feel shame that I have become “just a sub.” I used to be more, I swear.
I feel shame when my friends joke that it “must be nice” to not have to work. Not gonna lie--in the beginning, it was. But that luster has long since worn off. I’m nearly 37--my peers are advancing in their chosen careers, becoming managers and supervisors, and I have the schedule of a teenager. Now, instead of feeling like a luxurious, never-ending vacation, being unemployed is a strange combination of boredom and embarrassment and loneliness.
I wish I could go back to work. I want to. I miss it. I miss the kids. I miss their chaotic, teenage energy. I miss pep fests and fundraisers and chaperoning dances. I miss helping kids slog through Nathaniel Hawthorne and make sense of e. e. cummings. I miss hearing them absolutely murder Julius Caesar and Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet by reading them aloud, and then helping them to make sense of them. I miss lesson planning and reading essays and grading papers, even the awful ones. But I really miss the kids.
I miss being a teacher, not just a sub.
I want to go back. I would love to.
But I just...can’t.
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