Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Unearthing The Past As A Key To Unlocking The Future

Teaching my own course this spring has made me realize, for really the first time, that I need to be selfish and take time to do things for myself. That’s something I’ve really been struggling with. I need to give myself time to relax, to pleasure read, to rest, to breathe. I’m sure a lot of you are reading this and saying, “Duh! We’ve all told you so.” But sometimes you have to admit something to yourself before you are willing to make a change.

There have been many times over the past few years that others and myself have had to remind me that I am a young twentysomething. With illness, it’s easy to forget. I’ve always been an old soul and tend to gravitate toward people who are older than me. Even in graduate school, the majority of my friends are more advanced students. And this doesn’t bother me. It’s something that has always tended to happen. And, you know, it’s funny. I guess over the past few years, until a few months ago, I had forgotten what it was like to have fun, experiment, go a little crazy, and maybe, be happy.

The truth is, I’m not the type of person who likes to dwell on the past. I don’t like to hold grudges, although I sometimes do. But with illness, how can you move forward when you don’t know how you’ll feel tomorrow? Ultimately, life generally is a crapshoot, it’s just that illness makes you aware of it in a way that you don’t have to be otherwise.

Recently, I was catching up with a friend, who reminded me that I had made this book in undergrad of things that I hoped to accomplish. She asked if I still had it, and suggested that I take a look at, because I could probably check some things off.

The notebook is on the shelf right above my desk. It’s in plain sight, but I had totally forgotten about it until my friend mentioned it. I had to laugh at all of the lame things I haven’t done – buy red lipstick, black eyeliner, and “really” high-heeled shoes. There’s something to be said for the days when my life was a catastrophe because I hadn’t done those things.

But there are a few things I have done; bought sexy lingerie (and yes, to wear for a particular person), learned self-defense (feebly, but I tried), done karaoke…

And this has made me realize that sometimes, it’s not about being stellar at something (I tanked at karaoke), but it’s about following through. It’s about being there and present in your own life to know what you need for yourself.

I’m really grateful to my friend for reminding me of this book, and for encouraging me that there were probably things I could finally check off the list. And rather than lament the things I haven’t done, or (on occasion) those that I have, I need to celebrate the fact that given the craziness of the past two years of my life, I’m still here. I’m still standing, some days taller and stronger than others, but standing nonetheless. Just like reminding me that I’m 23, I often find others in the chronic illness community reminding me that I’ve been dealing with illness for a relatively short time. To me it feels like forever. Baby steps…

There are some things in the book, like climbing Mt. Everest or living in Chicago, that may never actually happen. But it makes me think back to Mandy Moore’s character in the movie, “A Walk To Remember,” and her list. If someone could help her be in two places at once, then I guess anything is possible. Even if we’re sick, we have to believe in the power of our dreams and our own abilities to fulfill them.

And then there are some – getting married, having children, writing a book – that I do hope that I can achieve.

It’s crazy to think back to three years ago, to the life I lived then, and to the dreams that I had. In some ways, I see the person that created this book as being pretty mature and forward thinking. When I opened it, I didn’t feel like I was climbing into the world of a stranger. It was a familiar world, in which nearly everything in the book makes perfect sense to me.

There are some things that are missing, though, that I have to wonder if they had been in the book, but ripped out in a fit of rage. Or maybe, despite the similarities I see to this “other” me, that person couldn’t conceptualize of these things the way I can and do, as a 23-year-old with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Because I have to wonder if all this would have happened to me then, would I have been able to survive it? Maybe there isn’t a big difference between being 20 and 22, but I’m not really sure if I could have handled all of this at an earlier time in my life.

The hardest part of illness, aside from feeling like shit, has been, as I have said many times before, the hit that my self-esteem has taken at the hands of illness. But it’s nice to see that in a tangible way, my life is moving forward. I’m not in the same place I was almost three years ago when I turned the above-pictured journal into “The Book Of Confidence.” Because as much as I needed it then, I need it now. The difference is, now I’m actually working on it.


  1. How wonderful that your friend reminded you about this book - I laughed out loud at the "really" high heels part. Even though I'm a guy, I cringe nowadays when I see women walking in heels...I think it's because of all the ankle and foot pain that I feel when walking with just normal tennis shoes.

    I hope you enjoy doing more things for yourself - it sure sounds like you deserve it!

  2. For my 32nd birthday I bought myself some new shoes, heels! And then I got my latest and greatest flare which lasted almost the whole year. I was cleaning a closet recently, found the high heels and thought, maybe, just maybe I can wear these, now that things are under control. And YAY! I could wear them for a little while without problems. It really is these simple accomplishments that make everything worth smiling about.

    I find that living with chronic illness makes you more likely to take advantage of those non-flare moments to do something smile-worthy. Hopefully you will continue doing things for yourself that make you happy!

  3. Thanks RA Guy and Kirstin for your encouragement about the good that can come from being good to ourselves! And the high heel bit seemed to strike a cord. :)

  4. "sometimes, it’s not about being stellar at something... but it’s about following through. It’s about being there and present in your own life to know what you need for yourself."

    I couldn't agree more. :) Excellent post, Leslie!