When Your Life's Timeline Is Interrupted by Illness
Today is my birthday. Twenty-five years old seems to be a big milestone, but it’s one that I’ve been dreading for the last few months as it’s approached. When I’ve mentioned this to people they didn’t seem to understand why I wouldn’t be looking forward to a birthday, or why instead I could be dreading it. Isn’t 25 supposed to be one that’s celebrated, for now I can rent a car? I explained that it felt like I was old, but that wasn’t the true reason. It’s felt like a reminder that I’m halfway through my 20s and there’s no end in sight for my pain.
One thing about having a chronic illness that has surprised me is that every holiday, including birthdays, holds a bit of sorrow. As a holiday rolls around, I remember where I was last year and that my hope had been by the next one I would be making progress and be closer to remission. And when I’m there and still in pain, still hurting, it makes my heart a little broken. The plans I had wistfully planned in my head are again put on hold as my life revolves around healing my body. The crushed hope that the next one would be without pain and finally being able to live into my potential dangles right in front of me, a reminder that my life feels hijacked and this prison of pain holds me still.
And the reason why my birthday seems more difficult than other holidays is that it holds the reality that time does not stop for my illness, or for time to heal. No, it continues on, while many days I feel stuck back at age 22 where my life changed forever. I see another year gone by where I wasn’t able to move forward in my career, go back to school, talk about starting a family, or travel the world. I watch my friends move on with their lives, accomplishing what I thought I would have by now. I’m halfway through my 20s and yet the last 2.5 years hasn’t been what I thought my 20s would be like at all.
There is so much pressure in our society to meet the timeline that’s expected of us. To graduate college, get married, buy a house, have kids, save for retirement. It’s a timeline that chronic illness doesn’t fit into and where my daily life seems to not be accomplishing any of it. I don’t get the luxury of thinking about starting a family right now because if I wanted to have a baby soon, I would most likely have a sick child on top of being sick myself. I don’t get to go back to school because I am in too much pain to sit through full time classes each week. I don’t get to work on saving for a house, for retirement or even paying off my student loans because every penny that my husband and I have goes towards bills and medical expenses.
If I’ve learned anything in the last year though, it’s that I am not stuck and my life is not hijacked. This timeline that I feel like I need to fit into does not mean anything – it’s only a social construct that creates guilt in the many of us that don’t fit. I’m learning to be OK with not fitting into the ideas of what I had for my life. I’m embracing this time where I am learning to be brave, to fight for myself even when I want to give up and call it quits. I am becoming a warrior, changing my belief systems, refining my character and building something beautiful from the ashes of old dreams. I don’t recognize who I was before I got sick, but that doesn’t mean that I am still stuck back at 22, even though some days it may feel that way.
I am Liz Ramos, the Lyme disease fighter who wants to go to medical school someday. I am 25 years old and God is creating something beautiful for the rest of the years to come, whether or not it will include sickness. I am in the trenches every day in the dark night of the soul and refusing to give in to the darkness that seems to come with constant pain.
I am also not Lyme disease, I am not an illness. I am a healer, a giver, a listener, an empath who has gained so much insight into the heart of the struggles that is so prevalent around us. And when someday the dreams that seem to be put on hold right now come to fruition, I will be a better person, wife, mother, friend, and professional from what I have gone through. I may not be able to have kids for another five or 10 years, but when I do I will be able to tell my child that they were worth the fight that it took to get me healthy enough to have them. It won’t matter to them that I’m not a “young mom.” They will know that I had to fight for them, and I will continue fighting till the day that my dreams of having a family are able to happen. And when I can finally go back to school for the new dreams I have, I will be unstoppable because the desire to help others will be a unquenchable fire that will keep me going. No longer will I be complaining about homework.
So, today on my birthday I’m choosing joy over dread. Not because everything is better or the pain is gone, but because I see that my destiny is bigger than any bug in my body. I have not lost the last 2.5 years, I’ve gained a fierceness and strength that I didn’t have before. And on the worst days that’s what I’ll hold onto, because this fight isn’t over yet.