Jay Lake: Writer

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[Cancer, Work]

[cancer|work] Today is my last day of employment

Today is my last day of employment. Ever.

As of tomorrow, I’m going on Short Term Disability. After the 90-day clock runs out, I’ll transition to Long Term Disability in late September. At some point, I may go on SSDI as well, though that’s not clear to me.

I have a great deal to say about this process, but as the applications and approvals are still ongoing, I’ll hold my remarks until after everything’s settled, or least progressed to a stable point. What I want to observe today is that this is the first time since the summer after high school that I have been voluntarily without work.

I worked my way through college, with an assist from my parents that was substantial as a freshman, declining to minor as a senior. That was their way of fostering my transition to self-supporting adulthood. They were successful.

Since then, I have always worked, though I’ve been laid off five times over the years — one of the perils of a career in high tech — and left jobs for other jobs another handful of times. Except for a long period during the post-bubble tech crash in 2002-2003, I’ve never been unemployed for more than a few weeks. I’ve never not been either looking for a job or working at one.

So this feels very, very weird.

It’s not about being lazy or milking the system, though the disability application process clearly assumes both of those things on the part of me or any other applicant. It’s about being too sick to work, with no expectation of getting better. I can no longer stand and walk easily. I can no longer grip things, or move objects of any heft around. I tend to fall asleep in the middle of the day. I am experiencing meaningful and measurable cognitive decline. I am weak, tired and always in at least mild pain. I spend hours each day on the toilet. None of this will ever get any better. All of it will get worse over time. Any of it is likely to get worse at any moment. Not to mention the new symptoms and side effects that will continue to emerge.

I am not my job. My job is not me. But in the mainstream of American culture, we identify strongly with our work. “What do you do?” is one of the most common questions to ask a stranger.

Me, what do I do now? I’m a professional cancer patient. I’ve been one for years, but now I’ve gone full time. It’s a rather close-ended career, sadly, and even more sadly, it’s the one I’ve got.

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