Have you ever been asked the question: “If you had a superpower, what would it be?”
My answer was always, to fly.
I have never wanted to become a pilot; no, that’s not the flying I wanted to do. I wanted to be Peter Pan! I wanted to fly around at night and flip and twirl and sail through the air!
In 2003, I came as close to flying as one could possibly get: I became an acrobat. Talk about a rush! I was able to launch myself over 30 feet in the air from a giant swing set and do double and triple flips and land in water! The best part of it was: I got paid for it!
I was living on a high everyday and loving every minute of my life. How did I get so lucky? This is what I want to be doing forever!
Then, on June 30th, I woke up, fell out of bed and suddenly had excruciating pain running down my legs and I could barely move them… by the end of the next day, I couldn’t walk at all. I was paralyzed.
After a few days in the hospital, which were a complete blur, I found out that I had a bacterial infection in my blood that was cutting off the nerve communication with my legs and almost took my life.
The doctor came in and told me I would not be returning to work. I said, “No, I need to get out of here, I will be going back on Saturday”. To which she replied, “You will never be going back again. We aren’t even sure if you will walk again”.
This couldn’t be. This was my life!! This was everything I dreamed of! It was magical, it was fun, it was exhilarating! You’re telling me I may never walk again? No. I should have just died then. I wish this had just killed me.
If you’ve ever lived your whole life and trained your whole life to do something and your identity rests on what you can DO, then when that is taken from you, you are left feeling like nothing else really matters. Maybe you don’t matter.
I started to feel very depressed and deeply wished that the bacterial infection had just killed me…
Why didn’t I just die?
Then… There was Kellie.
Kellie was a dear friend of mine, I dare to say; I called her my sister, because her brother and I dated for 4 years and we became very close.
Just a few months prior, Kellie had been diagnosed with cancer. It was rapidly spreading from her colon, to liver, ovaries… all over. Kellie had a few surgeries; half of her liver removed, a hysterectomy, and now there were tumors all over her intestines. Her prognosis was bad.
In fact, just weeks before my hospitalization, I had chopped my hair all off, in preparation to shave it for Kellie’s chemotherapy. We were going to show our support.
I got out of the hospital a month later; using a walker. I was still bitter, angry and overwhelmingly depressed about what I was now going to “be” if I couldn’t walk. I spent days crying and taking more pain pills, because I hurt so bad, but also because it would help me sleep and forget. I wanted to just disappear in a morphine sleep and never wake up.
I went to live with my mother, so she could take care of me.
Kellie asked if she could come over.
I remember scooting to the door, with my walker, out of breath and hurting and sad. Kellie came inside, she looked at me with pity, and she said she felt so bad for me.
“This isn’t fair! Why did this happen to you? I am so sorry.”
Kellie? Feels bad… for me??
Kellie… who everyone knows is going to die?
Way to feel like shit.
To say that was the last day I felt sorry for myself would be a lie… but when Kellie left that day I cried and cried and cried. I cried for myself, some more, I cried for my friend’s compassion, I cried for forgiveness because I just realized that I had been given a gift: to live.
And she didn’t have that choice.
I cried because I realized that I had to make a choice to either let myself stay sick or I could choose to work with what I had left and find meaning in my life even if that meant I would never walk again.
I wanted to give up over and over and over again.
I stopped my pain medication and that was torture, but I didn’t want to become dependent on it or become an addict. (Which was highly in my nature)
Every time I had the thought, “I wish I had just died, instead of having to work this hard”
I would think of Kellie.
I started to notice other handicapped people. I saw other people in wheelchairs and walkers like mine. They weren’t complaining.
I realized that my “worst nightmare” of being in a walker, might be someone in a wheelchairs DREAM. I started to be thankful.
Thankful that I was alive.
Thankful that my infection was treatable.
Thankful that I could even use a walker.
I started to look at other people differently. I would look at the excuses of most people and realize that they have NOTHING to complain about. That many, many people in the world would give anything to have their “problems”.
Mostly, what I learned, was that life is a gift. We are each given our own challenges and we must learn to deal with them, but there can always be something to be thankful for. I also realized, that even if I had never been able to walk again, there was still a reason to fight, to not give up on myself and that I have so much to offer this world. Sometimes we aren’t quite sure what our purpose is here, but don’t let the hard work stop you from doing THE work.
Never, ever, ever, ever give up.