Preface on this story: I went to a writing retreat the weekend before Thanksgiving. We had a challenge to write about the biggest obstacle we’re facing and then read it in front of everyone. I went through a lot of emotions during the process, but afterward, I was SO GLAD that I shared. Now I’m being vulnerable and sharing on a larger scale.
“It’s so nice to be able to have events like this again,” a manager at my company said.
The warm Texas sun invited a feeling of hope and relaxation as a group of us stood together catching up after not seeing each other for over a year. Even though I didn’t actually live in Austin, I happened to be there on the day that my co-workers decided to have their first get together since the pandemic started. I was also meeting some people for the first time.
“And we’ll get to have more of these,” said my mentor, a more senior co-worker that I admire. “Especially after today’s announcement.”
A rush of apprehension flooded through me. An announcement? What announcement? I hadn’t been online at all that day because I’d been traveling from California. I’d literally just gotten my rental car right before arriving to the happy hour.
I had a feeling it wouldn’t be news I wanted to hear.
“It’s a good thing too,” my mentor continued. “It’s about time this became a requirement.”
My chest tightened and my stomach clenched. I suddenly realized that if the people in this circle knew about me, they would shun me. Just like others I care about had recently refused to see me when I had disclosed my status ahead of time. It made me feel contaminated. Like a leper. I understood where they were coming from, but it still hurt.
I couldn’t look at anyone. I was stunned. My mind was reeling. Thoughts raced in my mind: “Will I still have a job in December? How will I support myself?” Any satisfaction, stability, and contentment I’d found in my job had been yanked out from under me in just that quick conversation. My throat became clogged up and I couldn’t speak. I felt so small and vulnerable.
As soon as I could, I said my goodbyes and walked back to my car. I pulled out my phone and logged into my work email. I read the announcement for myself. I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths. I put my phone away and I resolved to focus on the reason I had come to Austin in the first place: to work on myself and learn more about holistic health.
I’ve always trusted that things will work out the way they need to and in that moment, I reminded myself of that. I thought, maybe this is a sign. For what, I wasn’t sure, but I had a deep, penetrating feeling that a turning point was ahead of me.
In the days since the announcement, it has never occurred to me to comply. I decided to request accommodation for my exemption. I’ve worked from home for almost two years and my team lives all across the country. Continuing to work remotely is more than reasonable.
At the same time, I’d never felt more isolated in my life. This stance I took has uprooted me from almost all of my loved ones, causing a rift deeper than our physical distance. I’ve never rocked the boat. I’ve always done what everyone expected of me and conformed to societal expectations.
I felt there was no one to talk to. How could I talk to anyone about this? It’s such a charged topic. My company offered little guidance on the accommodation process and, because of the legality of it all, I had to be super careful what I put in writing and even what I said to people.
I figured there HAD to be other people going through the same thing, but how could I find them without risking my position? I tried posting anonymously on Reddit (because that’s always a good idea…) and they said things like, “just do it” and “how do you think you could convince your company to care” and “you’re the problem with society right now.” I felt even more alone.
Figuring out this submission process became a full-time job. I spent hours and hours just trying to figure out how to keep my job. And still, I couldn’t talk to anyone about it. Once I finally completed the first step, I found out about an internal group of people supporting each other. I wasn’t alone anymore, but I learned that I’d only taken step one of a much longer process with unclear guidelines and uncertain outcomes.
At the very least, this process has brought me closer to the Divine. It was an opportunity to reflect and really hone in on what I believe. For that, I’m grateful. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it’s clear I no longer can hide behind my screen.
This is my stand. This is where I ruffle feathers. This is where I go against the mainstream. This choice has become the tool that the new me is using to carve my mark onto the world. It declares, “I am different and this is me.”
For better or worse, I’ve made my choice. Now it’s out of my hands.
In my new life that I’m creating, I’ve started finding people who think similarly to me or who are open to other possibilities. Now that I’ve declared myself, it’s up to those that I love whether or not they still accept me. I choose how I present myself and how I respond to others. How people respond to me is out of my hands. I just have to accept that.
So this is me: I am awakened. I think differently. I love myself. I have never been healthier in my entire life. I am proud of and excited about my journey.
And lastly: I am unvaccinated, not infected.