Accepting My Illness Doesn't Mean I Won't Work on Improving My Health
Acceptance is never something that is simple, nor something that is easy to do. Accepting a situation is not a moment in which we give in to the situation, but it is a moment in which we realize we must work with what we have in order to get to better and brighter days.
When I was just 16 years old, I had to learn how to accept. It was the most important yet most difficult lesson I have ever learned. My life was thrown some unexpected hardships. Life always throws in some hoops and hurdles, but life isn’t always a heavenly slice of perfection. If it weren’t for these obstacles, we as humans could not grow and flourish.
I had just been diagnosed with Lyme disease and several other infections. The sickness I felt every day was astronomical. Lyme made me feel so sick I couldn’t physically attend school. There was pain all over my body; it felt as if knives were stabbing me in my bones and joints and it felt like I was being beaten with a baseball bat on my head and back. The pain was unlike anything I had ever experienced in my 16 years of life; however, that wasn’t even the worst part. Due to the Lyme infection attacking my brain, I had neurological symptoms. I could no longer walk normally.
My once perfectly functioning legs were slowly deteriorating, and it was extremely frightening. Every time I stood to walk, it was a major effort. I had to prepare myself to sit up and stand, which required much effort from me not only because of the pain, but because of my brain as well. It felt as if my brain didn’t remember how to stand or walk: my knees buckled while I stood and when I walked, it felt like there were concrete blocks attached at my ankles. My legs felt so heavy. Each step was as if I was trying to walk out of quicksand, but the neurological chaos pulled me under in the end.
Each day started out the same: I’d sit up at the side of my bed and would prepare myself to stand and walk. I would get such an adrenaline rush in the hopes this would be the day my walking would be normal once again. I would stand up to the same weakness and proceed to place one foot in front of the other carefully, with unforgiving weakness and unsteadiness. Each day would end the same; I would lie awake in my bed and pray to God that when I woke up the next morning, I would be healthy again and able to walk. I thought maybe if I prayed hard enough, it would happen.
I had to use a walker to get around my house and around in public. I didn’t like using the walker, so I would just crawl around the house. In public, using the walker was awful because people would stare at me with eyes like daggers, like I was an alien. It was hurtful. Having people stare made my dysfunctional walking only more apparent than it already was. I wanted to be able to walk normally again more than anything.
As the weeks went on, my legs grew progressively worse. I went from walking with the walker to dragging myself with the walker. Each day I remained hopeful, trying more and more to get my legs to work like they were supposed to. There would be a moment each day held where I would try to dance. I had been taking dance lessons since I was 3 years old, and I didn’t want to have to quit lessons. Each turn and spin would end with me collapsing on the floor. I tried to attend my dance classes when I was feeling up to it, but it was torture. I had to watch instead of participate.
One morning, I awoke to the same exact hopes I had every other morning: to walk normally again. Only this morning was very different. This morning I could not feel anything. I awoke to only feeling half of my body. If I didn’t know any better, I didn’t have any legs at all. Anxious and frightened, I remember tapping my legs. Nothing. More frightened, I slapped my legs – nothing. I remember crying and punching my legs, slapping them, scratching them and felt absolutely nothing. Hysterical at this point, I moved my legs with my arms and propped myself up to stand. With this, I fell right to the ground and still felt nothing. I sat on the floor, feeling the scariest feeling I had ever felt: nothing.
I was so angry. Why did this have to happen to me? What did I do to deserve this? I could not understand why this was happening to me, or what I did to have this happen to me. There was sadness. I had lost my ability to walk, which meant I had to use a wheelchair and quit dance lessons. Quitting something I had done almost all of my life and practiced religiously was like taking a bullet to my heart. I grieved out of loss and disbelief that my life had changed so much…and not for the better.
I remember the day I got my wheelchair. I sat in it and felt rage boiling under my skin. Denial was setting in. I tried my best to go about my day ignoring the fact that I was paralyzed from the hips down. I had to physically maneuver my legs, but when it came to the wheelchair, I simply would not use it. When I was home, I would drag my body across the floor using my upper body. In order to get from room to room, I would do the army crawl. It was physically exhausting, but I couldn’t accept what had happened to my body.
Slowly, I began to realize I was not helping myself. I was only hurting myself physically and emotionally through not being willing to accept. It was difficult to accept that at 16 I was being tutored instead of physically going to school, that I was no longer able to walk, that I was in a wheelchair, that I was no longer able to continue dance lessons. I couldn’t accept I was so sick.
I slowly began to accept that this is my life for now. One day I will graduate from high school, I will go to college, I will have a career; great things are to come, hopefully including regaining my health. I had a new sense of life and felt renewed when I accepted my hardships. I began fighting hard for my life so I can one day have a better future.
When one is battling an illness, it’s important to have acceptance. To be able to accept that this is the way life is in the present allows you to begin moving ahead to the future. It does not mean you’re quitting. Instead of focusing valuable, divine energy on asking yourself questions like, “Why me?,” focus your energy on healing. Remember, great things are to come in your life. You will find that acceptance is the first step in your journey to wellness.
Let this be your mantra: This is my life for now. I vow to focus my energy on healing and gaining a better future. My journey will have its ups and downs; however, nothing bad in life lasts forever. Acceptance is not a death sentence!
This post originally appeared on Public Health Alert.
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Thinkstock photo via kameshkova.