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a woman with brown hair wearing glasses, and a surgical mask

Image of the blog author (a woman with brown hair wearing glasses, and a surgical mask) laying in bed giving the peace sign after a recent surgery.

As an educator, I know that learning is a complicated process requiring repetition and practice. We learn the alphabet in preschool and basic writing during our elementary years. Nevertheless, many of us spend our adulthood striving to master the power of words fully. Life lessons are not that different. Wisdom does not blossom immediately after a rainstorm; it takes years of cultivation to bloom and consistent care to thrive.

I submitted my first blog to Girls with Guts about two years ago. In this piece, titled “The Unplanned Lessons of a Former Workaholic,” I reflected on the wisdom I gained from my experience with chronic illness. Looking back, I cannot help but smirk at my choice of “former.” Maybe I was overly concerned with fulfilling society’s need for uplifting stories from the chronic illness community. Or, perhaps it was an act of optimism. Maybe I thought putting the word “former” on paper would somehow make it more real. As if years of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, social anxiety, and Major Depressive Disorder could be smoothed as easily as the sand on the beach. It is just as possible that I truly believed everything I wrote at the time. Regardless of the reason, “former” was a poor choice of words.

Now, don’t get me wrong; my first blog is not a piece of fiction. It is merely an oversimplification of the learning process. For instance, I reflect on learning to take time for myself without guilt. This is partly true. I no longer force myself to work every waking hour or stay up at ridiculous hours to ‘earn’ my sleep.

I religiously schedule at least eight hours for sleep, regardless of the number of tasks checked off my list. Further, a give myself a minimum of thirty minutes to read each night. This reading is purely for pleasure (I concept to which I used to be a stranger).

While such a lifestyle is revolutionary for me, I would be remiss to say that I am a fully recovered workaholic. The desire to be productive is constantly pulling me away from recreation and free time. Occasionally, this compulsion leads me to make potentially destructive choices.

I went for adrenal surgery this January. My surgeon advised me to take at least three weeks off from work for recovery.

Do you want to guess how many days I requested the first time I signed into my portal?

Two days! I knew I would need more, but I could not shake off the thought of taking more time than I needed. What would I do if I ended up home ‘sick’ with enough energy to actually do things?! Would honing in on my graduate school work be enough to appease the guilt?

I eventually added a week to my leave; it was as far as I could go without complete panic. I returned to work exhausted and sore, but forced myself to pull through until I caught a nasty cold and stomach bug. I remember sitting on the cold toilet in the faculty bathroom trying my best to stifle my gags.

How could I be so stupid? Why didn’t I ever learn? It was a familiar moment because I have asked myself the same question a couple thousand times.

Another promise I made in the first blog was that I would never “sweat the small stuff.” I kept this promise for about three months. Then, I received a 90% on a paper I wrote for one of my graduate classes. The grade (which is fine by the way), triggered intense performance anxiety and perfectionist behavior. I spent the next couple months carefully analyzing every line of writing I put in every essay, Blackboard post, email, or text message. I was sweating that small stuff like someone in an overheated sauna.

Again, I beat myself up for being so stupid and shallow. What is wrong with me? How can I still care about something so small and insignificant? When will I ever learn?

The problem is that I forgot how learning works. Habits do not change over night; my traumatic chronic illness experiences will not cure my anxiety disorders or work addiction. I am learning to be patient with myself and live by my new values.

I will not always live up to the promise of that first blog, but that is okay.

• About The Author
Kate Shannon holds an MA in American Studies and a BA in History and American Studies. She is currently working as a high school special education teaching assistant while taking classes towards an MS in Student Disability Services in Higher Education. When she is not working, Kate loves reading, visiting history museums, practicing the clarinet (a new hobby she picked up after her diagnosis), volunteering with children and animals, and doing yoga. Kate was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis in 2018 and had her colon removed in 2019. She is a j-pouch patient who is extremely grateful for the new life her surgeries gave her.
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