Leaving My Job Was The Hardest Decision Since My Diagnosis

Teaching is my calling. I’ll never forget my years as a paraprofessional because I always wanted to be the teacher. They all inspired me in different ways and in August of 2018, I finally became a special ed teacher. I always saw the possibilities of students with disabilities. They are my heart and soul and I will spend my life showcasing their strengths, not their deficits.

My first year of teaching was hard, but not because of an illness. I thrived under pressure and I loved every second of it until May came around – and I started throwing up.

My first summer off as a teacher was hell. I pictured myself bathing in the hot sun enjoying my fair share of piña coladas and instead I spent most of the summer in cold ER rooms with confused doctors. I had a severe migraine the entire summer, couldn’t eat or see in one eye and spent the majority of my time throwing up or crying. Most teachers don’t want summer to end, but I couldn’t wait for it to be over. When August 2019 started, I threw up for a week and in September, I was symptom-free eager to teach my second year and put the roller-coaster months behind me.

The roller coaster wasn’t over. When mid-October rolled around, I experienced a month-long migraine, went half-blind, and ended up in the hospital for a week. I was finally diagnosed with Devic’s disease (or NMO) after my MRI scans showed five brain lesions, blindness, and positive blood results. NMO mainly affects the spinal cord and the optic nerves – the nerves that carry signals from the eyes to the brain. As a result, the disease can cause paralysis and blindness.

Though enduring this disease is truly one of the most difficult and painful things I’ve ever faced, sometimes pain isn’t always the worst part about chronic-illness.

My illness has left me feeling inadequate as a teacher. The time I missed from work was time stolen with my students that I’ll never get back. I started to forget my students laugh and missed the warmth their hugs brought to my heart.

I started a chemotherapy treatment called Soliris and though it has prevented another attack, it has made me weak no matter how much I’ve changed my nutrition. I felt like a brittle stick ready to break, and still do. I felt horrible day after day by how much time I missed and not being there for my students. So with a broken heart, I had to say goodbye to them and a school that became instant family.

They became the kind of family that when I had a mental breakdown nearing a panic attack on the floor of my classroom, my assistant principal was by my side in a minute holding my hand trying to get me to deep breathe. It was those moments that kept me holding on till the end.

The thing about being a teacher with a chronic-illness is that you have to learn when you’ve done your part, and when it’s time for someone else to step in to give your students the best education possible.

There comes a point when you realize your students deserve better than what they’re getting from you no matter how much you will miss them. Yes, I miss their smiles, their questions, their struggles and their aha moments. And I pray the next teacher sees just how unique and wonderful each of them are.

I know I cannot control what this disease does to me, the side effects from treatment, or the fact that I am visually impaired, but deep down I know I can give so much more and this is why I left. Right now, I’m in the thick of this disease figuring out what works and what doesn’t – and I need to rest. Even if that only lasts a month – I need to heal and trust that God will provide another job soon much closer to home. The hour drive weakened me before I even made it to work. I dragged daily, barely able to pull one foot in front of the other and it showed. Feeling embarrassment while walking the hallways was inevitable.

And so, I will wait. I will heal. I will be strong for the students in my future because they will deserve no less.

I know color will come soon where there is a whole lot of grey.

I know I will be Mrs. Wall again.

Why This Hospital Photo Is Bravery At Its Finest

In the summer of this year, I experienced a migraine that lasted two months, vision loss in one eye, and endless vomiting with no answers every time I ended up in the ER. I tried everything to rid my migraine and went so far as to get a painful daith piercing, but nothing helped. In October, I experienced the same symptoms that drew me to the hospital once again, except this time, they found five brain lesions and an inflamed optic nerve that’s caused me to become half-blind. I was diagnosed with a rare disease called NMO that requires infusions every two weeks to prevent another relapse.

It’s taken everything in me to get up in the morning. Work has become an endless struggle. I’m supposed to be the strong one, but right now, I feel like a failure – a disappointment in so many areas of my life.

Then I saw a photo of a little girl in the hospital on Twitter that stunned me. Her name is Akane, and she was diagnosed with NMO in November of 2018. She’s lost vision in one eye and she has to have monthly infusions as her treatment. It broke my heart that such a young girl is going through exactly the same thing I am as an adult and yet – she’s smiling.

She is the epitome of bravery in its finest form.

Akane didn’t ask to be sick. Like so many other children diagnosed with an incurable illness, the time they spend in hospitals should be time spent running outside without a care in the world. They should be role-playing make-believe nurses taking care of sick dolls instead of being a sick patient themselves. Life isn’t fair sometimes, but Akane is showing us that though life throws curveballs, we can still be grateful.

Through Akane’s bravery, we too can smile in our pain. We can be brave like her.

Despite the pain that I know Akane is going through because I’m breathing it right now, her smile is teaching me that I don’t have to focus on my pain because I have it. I can ask for some sonic and a board game on my next hospital visit and be content that I’ll have someone to play with. Whether it’s my husband, friend, or mother-in-law, someone always shows up because no matter what, I’m loved. I’m loved like Akane is loved by her mother, Crystal. We have people with us, holding our hand through scary times, and this is what matters- not doing this alone.

It doesn’t matter how bad the pain we are feeling is, as long as we can still feel the love of those that love us, we will survive that pain, again and again. 

Though life threw me a curveball, I can still be grateful I have my husband who keeps me warm at night, a job that pays the hospital bills, friends that have been there for me, my twin who never fails to make me laugh, and a house to come home to.

As this year ends, despite being sick with a scary, unpredictable diagnosis that has changed a lot in my life, I will be OK because Akane is OK. And if a seven-year-old can be OK in her diagnosis, so can I.

If I know anything about what bravery is, it’s because of Akane.

*Photograph for this article is used with permission from Akane’s parent.

*Donate to help find a cure for NMO at the Sumaira Foundation for NMO here.