When I was a young, shy and dramatic child, I longed for something to happen in my life that would give me an interesting story to tell.
In kindergarten, when one of my best friends broke her arm, I felt an odd pang of jealousy as everyone rushed to sign her cast. I would frequently turn aches and pains into injuries—not only to get out of playing basketball but also because I wished for a big, dramatic tale I could relay when someone asked what was wrong.
When my sister broke her wrist in a basketball game, oddly enough, I resented her for it—not because she would be unable to swim for the rest of summer but because she had something interesting happen to her.
When you don’t live a particularly eventful life and you are a storyteller, you have to wish for something—anything—to occur so there will be a story to tell. After those days of longing, I later found myself with a story that I never wanted to be mine.
I was no stranger to loss and pain before my 18th birthday. Unlike some of my friends who had never been to a funeral, I had been to many. I had lost grandparents, friends and people who were like family to me.
Despite growing up in a community where the most exciting thing that happened was when someone walked through the town with an airsoft gun, forcing the school to briefly go into lockdown, I was not exempt from the enormity of grief and pain that came with sickness, old age, mental illness and the randomness of life. Only after being diagnosed with a chronic illness that kept me in constant pain did I understand how pain could propel me forward.
I was not exempt from the enormity of grief and pain that came with sickness, old age, mental illness and the randomness of life.
This was never the story I expected to write about. If I’d had my way, then I would be a professional snowboarder or wakeboarder, chasing the sun and snow wherever they went all year. Instead, I found that I was missing out on things I loved. I felt alone and isolated in my pain. I couldn’t explain it, define it or express how deeply I hated that this had become my story—agony, hopelessness and anger.
I denied my illness to myself and hid it from those around me without even meaning to. I wanted to be normal and to feel the way I had before my diagnosis. I wanted to feel like myself again, mostly, like the girl who had no real cares in the world and had her whole life awaiting her with endless possibilities.
Most days, I swung between the extremes of accepting that pain and pills were a part of my daily life and believing that one day I would wake up and it would all be gone like the common cold. I cared nothing about growing or moving forward. I just wanted my life back.
Still, I found that my pain had changed something within me. I felt more compassion for every person I saw as I walked my college campus, knowing that they could be fighting an invisible illness the same way I was.
I learned to advocate for myself. I fought to believe that my best days were not behind me but were still yet to come. In doing so, I became more hopeful and less upset with the world.
My passions and purpose have become more clear to me without the massive and overwhelming cloud of endless possibilities hanging over me. I prioritize the things I really love more because I do not know if or when they will be taken from me. I do not know if one day I will no longer be able to wakeboard, type page after page of my writings or practice yoga because my body won’t allow it. While old possibilities may be gone, I see new ones every day and love to dream about what comes next.
While old possibilities may be gone, I see new ones every day and love to dream about what comes next.
It is true that this is not the story I thought I would be writing for myself, but my physical and emotional pain has moved me toward empathy, compassion, emotional awareness and a clearer mind. I am more certain now than ever that pain can be a catalyst for growth. All I had to do was choose to keep living.
What have you learned from the hard parts of your story? What unexpected growth has come out of personal adversity?
Image via Tara Grant, Darling Issue No. 14