Monday, September 26, 2016

A New Life

I turned 40 a month ago. I honestly didn't think I'd live to see the day, but by the grace of God, I made it to the milestone birthday. And He had to pull off some fancy miracles to make it happen. I suppose that is why I was SO excited to celebrate this year. I can't remember most of the birthdays in my 30's. I spent several of them in the hospital. But for this one, I wanted to be with the people I love and to enjoy life in ways I haven't in a long time. I wanted to show God that I didn't take this gift for granted, the gift of feeling stronger and having less pain. I wanted to celebrate this amazing body, each and every part, and the way it all works together in unison. I wanted to let my happiness glow like birthday candles and infect those who have stood by me through the good and the bad.

It was a magical weekend, and I came away with a huge hang over of gratitude. Gratitude that what was is in the past. Gratitude for the profound progress I've made, physically and emotionally. Gratitude that the future, for the first time in a long, long time, looks hopeful. And gratitude most of all for the love that surrounds me, even when I'm at my weakest.  A girl doesn't get much luckier than that. I've vowed to myself to make every effort to show the Divine just how appreciative I am for every step forward, even the teeny, tiniest ones. The best way I can do that is to make every day count.

Little by little, things are getting better. I'm getting stronger.  My pain is still there, but I'm learning how to bargain with it. I give the pain a nap in exchange for having the strength to take the dogs on a walk. What's going on in my body is much like an open-air market where my organs and diseases are the vendors, setting the prices for the delicacies they have to give. Delicacies that most would take for granted, like the ability to get through my physical therapy without too much shortness of breath. I'm the eternal shopper, looking for ways to give my body what it needs in order to give me a piece of life. I'm less fuzzy, my thoughts and memories no longer completely clouded by medicine I no longer need. While I'd gladly give back the pain, I wouldn't trade the lessons it's taught me for the world.

For the first seven years of my health issues, I still managed to sneak in a bit of living. For the last decade, I've been the equivalent of a bubble girl. If not in the hospital, I've been in my room, usually heavily sedated from the pain that ravaged my abdomen. Friends have moved on as their lives have naturally evolved.  My career faded away as it became clear I wouldn't be returning to work anytime soon.

The World has changed while I've stood still, and I've been ignorant to the events and changes that affect us all. My mind has been too numb to absorb anything but the issues and changes before me, my eyes sheltered from anything that wasn't happening either in the hospital or my home. My brother recently took me on a ride around downtown Columbus, and I was shocked to see that Clipper Stadium had moved. I was even more shocked to hear from Keith that it had moved over ten years ago. I'm thawing like a spring frost.

Healing is a journey, not a finish line. I'm not delusional enough to see my 40th as the end of my health issues. Some of them are ongoing and require routine check-ups. But it's the first time in a long time that my body has made a slow, but steady recovery. Where my pain used to be a daily 8 out of 10, it is now on average a 4 or 5 out of 10. For some, a 5 may still sound horrible, but to me, 5 is a miracle. It's like a rare comet I never thought I'd see. My physical therapy has strengthened muscles that had atrophied after being cut and weakened by surgery after surgery. I recently got a copy of my medical record. Between 2006 and 2016, I had over 40 surgeries. Three of them resulted in a stay in the SICU on a ventilator. All of them were scary, and every one brought me closer to God.

There's a peace that has come with knowing my decade of hell is over. I know from experience that there's no guarantee that my health issues won't surface again or worsen, but in an effort to attract positive things to my life, I chose to believe that better times are on the horizon. My soul feels more peaceful. There aren't dark clouds hovering over me every moment of the day. That's not to say it's sunny skies 24/7, but when a storm does blow through, I plan to embrace it as a temporary development, and to believe that whatever happens, it is part of my journey. There is a reason.

Living with a disability and multiple health issues doesn't mean that you can no longer have dreams and aspirations. In many instances, it just means you have to redefine them, come up with new ones that fill you with just as much excitement and passion as the ones that couldn't survive the storms.  My thirties were like a war I survived by the skin of my teeth. As I look ahead, I see another chance at life. A chance to make my redefined dreams come true. A chance to give back to those who are hurting and suffering as I once did (and sometimes still do.)

I'm proud of my survival. I'm rather in awe of it, in fact. Wherever I go from here, I will carry the strength from all my battles with me.  After the seventeen years of cutting and radiation and pharmaceutical dumping, it's going to take my personal ecosystem awhile to reset itself. Even then, it won't be normal, but it will be MY normal, MY life.  I'm in love with the idea of a new start, and that's what turning forty symbolizes to me. It's a chance to leave my footprints on a new beach and to celebrate this time I never thought I'd have. Life is SO good!