If I’ve learned anything in the past six years, it’s that change is the only constant in life. We choose change sometimes; we switch careers, we go to new schools, we pick up new sports or hobbies. Sometimes, however, a meteor of change hits us seemingly out of nowhere, and we are forced to make potentially pivotal choices.
Pre-illness, I defined myself quite rigidly, as many young teenagers do. Having let my perfectionist tendencies discourage me from artistic pursuits around the end of elementary school, I decided to be An Athlete and committed to it. I pushed my body to the absolute limit every day, frequently intensely exercising upwards of 14 hours a week. My physical strength became my identity, the leading feature by which I and my peers defined me. None of us saw any problem with pigeonholing me in this manner; until that feature was forcefully stripped away from me. My physical being deteriorated; the biceps and tan that I had been so proud of replaced with protruding ribs and pale, discolored skin. And I felt lost.
With every traumatic hospital experience, anxiety sank in a little further, my former friends drifted a little further away, and, with no identity outside of my athleticism to chase, I floundered a little more.
When all of my high school friends left town to pursue post-secondary education, I was left behind having not even completed high school and too ill to leave my bedroom in my parent’s basement. At this time, art came back into my life, and I started to experiment with sketching and watercolor paints. On nights that I was left alone with my thoughts and my pain, I would scribble and listen to music. I continue that habit to this day.
Slowly, I began to realize that my painful experiences and thoughts could hold meaning and that my body didn’t have to define me. I realized that I had the ability to exist within single moments in time, and create beautiful things from the lessons I learned from them. I learned to define myself less rigidly. I learned that my failing body couldn’t take away my ability to form beautiful human connections. I learned that simply letting myself exist is often necessary to get through hard times.
We ultimately cannot control every aspect of our lives, but we can control what matters: our reactions. I learned to let myself be; I hope anyone who reads this can find the courage to do the same.