Liberation

I said I would fill you all in about my work situation, so here I go. (Warning: this may, at times, sound like angry rambling) Let’s start at the very beginning: an AmeriCorps program year runs from September 1st through August 31st of the following year, given our move, I was going to have to “exit” the program early. My question, once the move was final, was when exactly should I get out of the hell that is a directionless charter school?

Well, I may not have handled the situation as gracefully as could have been done, but I was fed up with it all and to be honest I am tired of feeling bullied by the people I worked with. As you know I have been learning to manage two chronic digestive problems (a glucoamylase deficiency and gastroparesis). The diagnosis process caused me to miss a few days or partial days of work (not without prior warning, mind you). Then we had to experiment with various meds to figure out what is workable for me (one of the common medications for gastroparesis causes heightened anxiety; they all cause an upset stomach for the first few days). Yes, some people can push through their work day while literally shaking with drug-induced anxiety, I cannot; so there were a few days that I called in the morning and let my supervisors know that I would not be there. I recognize that it was not an ideal situation, but it was also unavoidable.

When I was at work and doing my job well, even by my own high standards, I was often put on the spot when eating lunch with my students and the teacher with whom I worked: “Is that all you’re eating again, Ms. Baldwin?” How am I supposed to respond to this question in front of 16 kids while my eyes slowly well with tears and ED awakens from his nap in the recesses of my mind? In private, I explain to this teacher that I cannot eat starches and I must eat very small meals to keep these problems in check. I added that I am recovering from an eating disorder and would rather that she not draw attention to my eating habits in front of our students. I was professional about; she continually drew attention to my eating habits so I addressed the situation and was dismissed with an awkward laugh. The kind of cruel giggle that suggests an eating disorder to be sheer vanity.

I kept working for months after these encounters; I tutored students, I stood outside and broke up fist fights in the biting Wisconsin cold and I continued to put myself into an uncomfortable situation where I was not respected and often perceived as dishonest. This has been a crazy year, but the stories are true. Cancer can really strike four family members within 10 months, two people really can lose their jobs in the space of eight weeks and in the middle of it all young people get sick. Put it all together and it sounds a lot like fiction, but it is not, and when I was at the school I performed my duties with a remarkable sense of innovation and patience.

Enter: the one perk to having a chronic digestive problem. In order to exit the program early and still secure my education award I needed to demonstrate that I have “personal and compelling circumstance.” There is no way to document all the hardships we’ve sustained and witnessed over the past year and, I’m told, a family move does not constitute a “compelling circumstance.” But my own health problems are apparently “personal and compelling,” so with a doctor’s note confirming that I’ve been dealing with significant health concerns I am allowed to be done with AmeriCorps in good standing.

So here I stand: liberated.

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