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When I Faced My Fear That I Couldn't Achieve My Dreams After Becoming Ill

When any illness moves into town, generally our dreams, hopes and goals for the future are put on hold. We hunker down, take the medicine and rest soundly with the knowledge that at some point when health decides to return from its vacation, the dreams, hopes and goals will return as well to pepper our days with thoughts for the future.

When you have been given a potential life sentence of illness, without parole or time off for good behavior, these dreams, hopes and goals for the future quite suddenly disappear into the fog. To think of any of them makes the heart ache. When you cannot get through a single day without pain, exhaustion and nausea, how do you make plans for tomorrow? Let alone next week or next year. I am never quite sure how my day is going to go. There are some days I will be able to get my son to school, do some chores and make dinner. I know — crazy stuff! Other days, all I can manage is getting my son off to school and the rest of the day is spent horizontally, or very close to it.

As for day-dreaming about adventures or the many awesome things that I still wanted to do with my life that required a healthy body… For a long time it just fueled my depression, thinking of all things that I believed I would never get to do or participate in. For a very long time, I forgot how to think of the future. I forgot how to dream.

Enter stage right — my husband Dan. Dan has always known that one of my lifelong dreams was to not only own a cool car, but to race it on a racetrack. I have always loved cars. I have always loved driving. Fast.

My dad introduced me to cars at a very early age. In his garage most of the time on the weekends tinkering with engines, random machines and/or inventions of his own making, I spent quite a bit of time wandering around a garage as a kid. Dad was usually engrossed in his projects, so I would try not to bother him, but at times I could get in a question or two about this or that. I liked the oily, gritty smell of the garage. I still do. It was one of the only places that I saw my Dad relaxed and enjoying himself.

As for the driving-fast part… Well, in my opinion I think that anyone who has a true love for cars, not just an appreciation here – I’m talking about a car feeling like your soul-mate kind of love – wants to drive those cars like they just stole them. I know I do.

The Christmas before my health left town, hubby Dan gave me a gift that would change my life. A gift coupon to go to a racetrack near Montreal the following spring to drive a Ferrari and a Mustang GT! I was so thrilled by the gift – this was a dream about to come true! Squeeeeeeeee! I seriously thought I would burst from the excitement. Before going to the track that day I warned him that he was putting himself into a very precarious position of opening a Pandora’s Box by encouraging me to do this. However, Dan was brave and there was no turning back for me. Driving those cars that early summer evening opened my eyes and heart to something I had only ever dreamed of. I had never in my life experienced that kind of euphoria – where you seriously can’t believe how much fun you are having. I recall laughing and screaming at the instructor in the car, “You have the best job in the world!” There was absolutely no way that I could live the rest of my life without doing this again. And again! I was hooked.

We started searching for a car to buy almost immediately. A car that I could not only drive to a racetrack, but drive – on the track! It all felt so unreal. My dream was going to come true. This was going to happen! Dan would send me emails featuring potential candidates and we would discuss the pros and cons of each…

And then I became ill.

Those emails that had previously given me so much joy, became painful to see in my inbox. Once I had learned how serious my health issues were, they became reminders of the life that I no longer had, and would no longer have. I deleted these emails with a sadness and heaviness of heart that only someone who has felt their dreams slip through their fingers will understand. All thoughts of a car and racing were over.

Until. Seven months after becoming ill, Dan began talking to me again about various cars he had noticed online. I didn’t want to talk about it. End of discussion. It only hurt more when Dan would bring up these things that I could no longer do or have. Dan was insistent. The “you-really-need-this-whether-you-want-it-or-not” kind of insistence that I knew he would not let me squirm out of. During a rare moment, when I was able to listen, and actually hear him, Dan said, “We have been shown how short life can be and how quickly it can all change. You need to do this. Now.”

Fast forward to today. My baby (car) is a 2004 BMW E46 M3. For those of you that don’t know, this car is super cool! Made by BMW specifically for the track. And the sound! With an after-market exhaust on this car, it is loud and obnoxious – perfection! Have I mentioned that a large part of my attraction to a car has a lot to do with the sound it makes? This car literally takes my breath away. The intensity of that straight-six engine when pushed into the higher RPMs is music to my ears.

At this point in time I have had enough instruction that I’m able to get on the track without an instructor in the passenger seat, and let me tell you – it is the only place on this planet now where I feel truly free. Free from the confines of my body, free from the constant pain, free from the label of being chronically ill. When I am on the track I am just a girl in her car, having fun. I am strong again in that car. I can be fast and aggressive. The wheels are my legs and the engine my heart.

This dream, this car gave me my sense of joy back at a time when I had lost the ability to smile. Making this dream come true gave me hope and confidence that not all was lost; happiness and fun could still be mine. I wasn’t just a chronic illness any more, I was still capable of doing cool things.

Upon review of this story by my husband, I asked him when finished, “Is there something I am missing, or should expand on?” He looked at me with a surprised look and said, “That is a really big question, but yes. You need to relay just how much courage it took for you to face your fear of not being able to do anything anymore, and you faced it head on in that car. It wasn’t just a case of you buying a car and taking it to the racetrack, it was so much more than that. I was, and am, so incredibly proud of you.” Wow. Yet another reason why I love this man so – he continues to believe in me, and sees me, even when I don’t.

When I reflect upon my feelings at that time, I don’t remember feeling particularly courageous at all. In fact, I felt more nauseous and scared than anything else. I was certain that I was either going to hurt my car, hurt myself, or heaven forbid – someone else and their car. But despite my doubts and extremely limited expectations of myself, I knew that taking that leap would forever be, at the very least, a memory that I could treasure. And I needed to try – not for anyone else but me.

There is a quote by Amelia Earhart (the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean) that I came across a long time ago. Where I found it, I cannot remember. It is one of those bits of information that has become a part of my memory rolodex, and continually speaks to my heart whenever my mind flips to that card.

“Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.”

Truth. Right there, people. And this was a woman who clearly knew what courage is all about.

It was the very first time that I would be on the track without an instructor beside me in the passenger’s seat – this was the moment when I felt that if there was ever an ounce of courage in my heart, this was the moment that I needed it. I had semi-convinced myself that I could only drive well on the track if there was an instructor with me. I really, seriously, doubted my abilities, even after having two very experienced drivers evaluate my driving, and had given me excellent reviews with the “sign-off” to be solo in my car. I was scared. Really scared.

So I watched “Turbo.”

If any of you have not seen this movie – you need to. I love this movie. Especially now. It’s about a tiny snail that overcomes his fears and succeeds with a racing career. That day before the lapping event where I would be solo for the very first time in my car, this movie bolstered my spirits, and made me feel that I could maybe catch some tomatoes too. Seriously, you need to watch this movie. It will put a smile on your face.

I have told Dan, in all seriousness, that when I die, he is to have me cremated and placed in a coffee can, at which point he is to strap me gently against the car’s engine (there is room, I have checked!) to ride around in my M3 forever more. Twisted. I know.

But before my eternal joy ride… What are my new dreams, goals and objectives for the future? Taking into consideration the realities of who I am now, including the daily physical and mental challenges of chronic illness – how do I shape my future? I am working on that one. One day at a time.

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