I’m retiring from teaching cooking
September 12, 2016 by Julie Negrin
It breaks my heart to say it out loud.
I know it’s weird but my work has been the love of my life for the last twenty years.
Unfortunately, it’s time for me to admit the truth: my body can’t handle the manual labor that goes along with culinary work.
I was also in denial when I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis when I was 17 years old. I acted like other college students, drinking alcohol and eating cereal for three straight meals in a row. I lived like that for four years before I was ready to take responsibility for my health.
Denial is part of the healing process.
The stakes are higher this time, of course.
Three cancers and the impact it’s had on my body requires my full attention.
And yet, I still managed to live in denial for two years after surgery!
It’s hard to let go of something we love, especially when it’s a huge part of our identity.
When people ask me what I do, I don’t say nutritionist or author, I say “cooking teacher.” It’s how I perceive myself first and foremost – and always leads to delightful conversations.
And now I have to let it go.
I’m retiring from teaching cooking.
There, I said it out loud.
I’m retiring from a career I adore while living with my parents, broke, beaten down and fighting for normalcy in any area of life I can.
I wish desperately that I could work like a normal person. But I’m at doctor appointments 4-5 days per week. Fluids take up two half days per week, visceral massage, acupuncture add up to another half day. I usually see a specialist of some sort – or this week, I am meeting with a survivorship person at the cancer center. Last week, I met with a gynecologist oncologist – between driving, waiting for an hour, the administrative crap, my appointment took a total of 3 hours. One appointment!
And this doesn’t include how crappy I often feel or how emotionally draining some appointments and cancer screenings are.
I’m often so exhausted by 4pm, that I crawl into bed and stare out the window.
Some days, I wonder what I’m fighting to get back to, where I’m headed. If I’m in a particularly dark mood, I think about the fact that I have basically no retirement, no way to support myself in upcoming years, my parents can’t keep working forever. They won’t always be around.
What will I do then? What if more cancer comes back? I have my siblings, of course, but they have their own families to support. I could win the lottery. I could finally grow the fuck up and choose a partner already. But still, nothing is certain.
There are no guarantees.
It’s hard to live with such uncertainty.
At a time when most of my peers are firmly locked into careers, homes, and families, I feel completely untethered.
I don’t have anywhere to be each week except for doctor appointments that I could cancel at any time.
My friend pointed out that I can create anything for my life now. This is huge reason I never settled down: I loved reinventing myself, starting a new career chapter, moving to a new city, discovering a new lover.
That’s changed now. Feeling untethered when everything else in my life is so uncertain makes me feel anxious instead of free, overwhelmed instead of buoyant, afraid instead of confident.
I guess that’s why it was so important to me that I start this blog before I moved back to Seattle. I needed SOMETHING to focus on, something to connect me to the outside world.
Otherwise, where do I exist? What is my purpose on this planet?
I don’t know where I’m headed. None of us do, of course.
But most people’s uncertainty is a dull dinner knife pressed against their fleshy backside they can ignore most of the time.
My uncertainty is a razor sharp fisherman’s knife digging into my jugular.
One wrong move, one bad diagnosis, one fatal test result and I’m gone.
It’s a strange way to live, untethered, uncertain, unattached to normalcy. No money. No career. No partner. No kids. No home of my own.
My community has always been important to me.
But now it feels like my lifeline.
You are my family. You are my work. You are my loves.
That’s all I got right now, are the people in my life.
More and more, it’s becoming clear that it’s the only thing we need besides food, water and oxygen.
When all you have is love in your life, you hold onto it pretty damn tight.
Of course, it’s only when everything else was taken away that I could see this. The longer I live without tangible adult identifiers (business owner, renter, girlfriend, employee, freelancer, professional, traveler, gypsy) the easier it is for me to see the real treasures buried underneath the labels.
The people and the love.
So now when someone asks me what I “do” for a living, my response will be simple:
“I’m in school, I’m learning how to be a better human being. I may be failing a couple of subjects but I love it. I love learning what’s important. I love gaining better perspective. But most of all, I love learning how to love.”