How Chronic Illness Changed My Answer to 'What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?'

Like any child, when I was growing up, I often thought about what my life would be like when I got older. Images of a big, beautiful house, a shiny sports car, and singing on stage in front of thousands of people on my world tour filled my head. When I got into college and realized I wasn’t going to be the next “American Idol,” I began thinking a bit more realistically. I wanted to be married, have a good career, my own home, kids, and most importantly, to be happy and healthy. I knew there would be struggles and not everything would be easy, but I had no idea I would be chronically ill and ultimately have to start a new life when I turned 30.

I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia two years ago, but I’d continued to push myself. At my most recent job I was on my feet for 8-9 hours a day, and the pain was unbearable. When I got home from work, I had to get right in bed.

For whatever reason, right after I turned 30, everything changed. I went on medical leave the day after my 30th birthday, after I had a panic attack in the parking lot of my job. My anxiety, depression, and fibromyalgia pain I’d been fighting and pushing out of the way for so long finally beat me. My body and mind were telling me to stop and face my illnesses. I thought after a month or two, I’d be fine and could go back to work and pick up where I left off. I was wrong. My anxiety had gotten so bad that I could barely leave the house. My pain and depression kept me in bed the majority of the time. I was prescribed medication and began going to therapy, but after the two months when I was scheduled to return to work, I wasn’t “better.” Unfortunately, I had to resign and focus on taking care of myself.

Suddenly, my life had taken a U-turn.

I was 30 years old, unemployed, and while attempting to manage my physical and mental illnesses, I had to decide what I wanted to be when I grow up. I felt so lost. At my age, I’m supposed to be working my way up, not down. The same thoughts kept repeating in my head like a broken record. “What happened to me?” “I’m completely worthless right now. I have nothing to contribute to society.” “What am I going to do for work?” “What will my family and friends think? Will they
understand?” “I’m such a failure.” My therapist and my support system, which includes my husband, parents, and a few other friends and relatives, were helpful. There is no way I could’ve gone through all of that alone.

I’m now several months into my “new life.” I still haven’t found a job and I still have some bad days, but I manage my illnesses much better than I used to. I don’t go places that will trigger my anxiety. I spread out housework and errands so I don’t overexert myself. I make sure I give myself “good distractions” throughout the day, such as my favorite music or TV shows. I surround myself with only the good people in my life. I’ve also learned to accept my limitations. For now, there is only treatment for fibro, depression, and anxiety. Many people go through a grieving process right after they’re diagnosed with an illness, but mine was quite a delayed reaction. I pushed myself so much that I fell apart and I’m doing my best to pick up the pieces.

So what do I want to be when I grow up?

Happy. I would love to be happy.

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