Hello friends and family! So, I got an email a few weeks ago from WordPress. (For those of you who don’t know, that’s the platform I use to blog.) It said “Congratulations! You’ve been here for a year!” Holy cheese balls. I started Worry Warrior last year right after Christmas, and looking back, it’s amazing to see the progress I’ve made.
This time last year, I had just come back from France in extraordinary physical and emotional pain. I had not completed my courses abroad and was forced to leave the program early due to my health conditions. I was still struggling to get support and recognition from doctors, desperately searching for a diagnosis, and horribly anxious and depressed. I couldn’t stand for long periods of time without falling over or passing out, I couldn’t walk more than the distance from my bed to the bathroom and back, and I was afraid to leave the relative safety of my house, the place with pain killers and my bed. I wasn’t sure I could get my degree, much less go back for the next semester. I was afraid. I was lonely. I was in pain.
I wish I could go back in time and tell myself a few things. But as time travel has not been invented yet (or at least, I can only assume it hasn’t as my future great-grandchildren have not come to visit me from the future) I’m going to put it here for all my fellow Worry Warriors. Who knows? Maybe this time next year I’ll look at this post and see even more growth. I sure hope so.
Focus on the next right thing
As long as I can remember, whenever I’m overwhelmed, my parents tell me to ‘focus on the next right thing, the next human step’. We break it down to the smallest of steps so that this seemingly giant task becomes manageable. Sometimes that’s getting a pencil, or some water, or even just washing my face. Last year I was so focused on the ‘what if’s’ surrounding my illness that I was completely overwhelmed. I was looking at the big picture, the totality of my future, instead of the next human thing, which was usually taking a nap. I wish I could go back in time and remind myself that everything seems large and unmanageable when you look at it as a whole. I would go back and take it one step at a time.
Other people’s opinions of you do not define who you are
I’ve never really been one to care about what others think of me. One time in middle school, a friend informed me that this girl who rode my bus *hated* me, and I distinctly remember thinking, “why are you telling me this? Why should I care?” I dress how I want, shave what I want when I want, and couldn’t care less if you think it’s weird to dance and sing to songs played over the CVS speaker system. Don’t at me, Man, I Feel Like a Woman is a bop. But chronic illness really took its toll on my self-esteem. I was angry and upset about my academic performance in France. I wasn’t able to focus on my work, turn assignments in, or participate in class. And as my illnesses don’t have many visible symptoms, I was afraid that people would think I was lazy. That I was a poor student, that I didn’t care. I knew that wasn’t the case, but what about my professors? My program advisors? My friends?
I was ashamed and because of this, I didn’t even tell my US friends when I got home. I didn’t speak to anyone because I was afraid of what they would think. (Because of my complete and utter lack of technological understanding, my friends knew pretty much as soon as I got home because I have location sharing on for our conversations, so they saw I was in Maryland. I still don’t know how to turn it off.)
I wish I could go back and shake myself, yelling “You are not defined by this moment in your life!” I wish I could tell myself that no one thought I was giving up on my academics, and even if they did, who cares? I knew what was going on and I was taking care of myself, and dammit that’s all that matters.
You are not broken
One of the biggest challenges I faced this time last year was discouraged, depressed, and desperate for answers. Whenever I looked in the mirror and saw the bags under my eyes or had to sit down after walking half a block, I felt crippled, defective, like this illness had beaten me and I was useless because of it.
Looking back, I realize that this was a time where I was my strongest. Despite the constant pain, despite dizziness and brain fog, migraines and heartache, I kept going. I kept pushing forward. I started this blog! I refused to stop doing what made me happy, and that is not something that’s easy to do. My abilities changed, my body did too, but that did not make me broken. If anything, it made me stronger.
A year doesn’t feel like a long time, but it also feels like an eternity. I’ve spent this past year working hard, doing physical therapy, trying new medications and seeing new doctors, and overall taking care of myself.
And now, I’m entering my last semester of college! I’m getting my certification to teach English as a foreign language! I’m planning to move abroad and see what the world has to offer! And I’m doing it all, not despite my illness, but in tandem with it. Because this is a part of me, but not all of me.