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When I Learned to Love the Detour My Life Took After My Illness

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I took my own story to Boston College in February to show students that a detour is not a dead end. Somehow I’ve managed to cram more surgeries than I can count into a one-woman autobiographical musical, a presentation on mental health, and a takeaway that difficulties can truly make you stronger. Ten years of uncertainty and setbacks were frustrating and difficult, but the lessons I learned from that beautiful detour — yes, you heard that right — are truly immeasurable.

You’re on a road, and you have to make an unexpected turn. Sounds like life, right? I’m the only person in the world that feels this hopeless. How can things ever get better? I feel so alone. These thoughts raced through my head for years.

These were thoughts I had when my “thought-out” life took a detour. What’s a detour? A detour is a curve in the road, a bump in a path, a big sign in the middle of your trip that says sorry, you have to go that way. Nobody expects a detour to happen in life. It’s what happens when we think we have things planned and all figured out, and then we’re thrown a curveball.

Artwork created by Amy.

Believe me, I didn’t expect to be in a coma my senior year of high school. It’s a mouthful, I know. That was my detour. I thought in just a few months, my path would lead right to college.

The most important thing I learned about a detour? You can still live a happy, healthy fulfilling life. I even got to college — at 25!

But the great part about a “detour?” You get to travel a route you never would have expected. The road may be tough, long, winding and seemingly out of the way, but what I finally realized is that it’s the twists and turns in life that ultimately make us who we are. Now that I’m in my third year of college, I’ve realized that physical and mental health issues are things we all think about, even if we don’t label what we experience as an “illness.” We all need to learn how to cope when life doesn’t go like we expect it to. We all could use a few tips on learning how to love who we are.

I turned my detour into the best trip ever
Artwork created by Amy.

We all have detours in our lives, and we become empowered when we trust that we can travel those detours and come out OK — and even better! This “detour” in my path has turned into the richest time of my life and I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. That’s why I call it my “beautiful detour.”

The secret to finding my way on a detour… was sharing my story. Seriously. “Gutless & Grateful,” the honest one-woman musical story of my life, shows the great and not-so-great aspects of a “detour” in life. How I traveled my “detour” was by trial and error — and it still is. But what I realized is that when I finally spoke up, asked for help when I needed it and shared my story, I was finally able to heal and move on from it. “Gutless & Grateful” is the story of how I became a “Detourist.”

Why am I sharing my detour? It takes “guts” to talk — and sing — about my sexual abuse, my anger, my guilt, how I lost hope in things ever getting better. But I share to show that things do get better with patience, trust and resilience. I share to give courage and a sense of belonging to people who are struggling with all kinds of mental health or physical challenges, but also to help build a campus that gives everyone the kind of awareness and generosity of spirit that makes that world a better place. If we all share our “detours,” we see that our detours are not detours at all. Every road leads somewhere — we just need to hang in long enough to catch the flowers along the way. The more I share my detours, the more I realize I’m not alone.

Just talk. Share. Sing a song, do a dance — or if you’re not a theatre ham like me, draw a picture, journal or tell a friend. Heck, post it on Facebook (but careful with the oversharing.) Your story — your detour —  is worth sharing. You never know if someone else is struggling with a very similar detour — or at least feeling the same kind of uncertainty when a path doesn’t go as you expect.

My detour took me to Boston College on February 29. From there, well, the beauty of a detour is I don’t where it might lead. My advice is to:

  1. Show up.
  2. Trust that you are capable.
  3. Be curious to see where the detour may lead.

Detours can lead to new, unexpected and amazing opportunities. What will you find on your detour today?

Follow this journey and learn about Amy’s #LoveMyDetour movement on her website.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Originally published: April 8, 2016
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