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The Powerful Lesson I Learned During the Hardest Year in My Health Journey

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Life is really hard for me, given my health struggles since I was born. One would think that I have “gone hard” from all the smacks to my ego that my latest struggle has brought.

After I had just graduated, one of my newer friends and I were out in the small town where I grew up, soaking in the quiet of 3 a.m. as we munched on sandwiches and sipped from juice boxes. It was one of those fond memories you look back on and just enjoy.

As we prepared to say goodbye until next week, he asked me about my surgeries.

Everyone knew the latest medical news in my life. My parents worked in the schools and would pass on everything that was happening in my life. Adults I didn’t know would come up to me and ask how my legs were feeling and if I was healed from my waist-down reconstruction surgery.

Knowing that a vast amount of people were so invested in my life started off awkward, but as my pain increased, I tried to find comradery with them as I passed on my latest lessons in life — things that never could be taught, except by the adept hand of experience.

That first day of my sophomore year — when I arrived to class in my wheelchair after spending the year before walking — caused more suspense than I was used to. People didn’t seem to know how to react, and with a laugh, I would always answer their questions. I came to find that people were so much kinder to a little girl in a big wheelchair. I needed their kindness more than they realized. Strangers happily took time from their day to wheel me to my next class, joking about the summer I was so obviously scarred from.

I took pride in my scars — and still do — because I happily but painfully earned each one.

“Do you cry a lot?” my friend asked me. I make it a point to never lie, so I replied “yes” with a lump in my throat.

He said, “I think it would be healing to be able to sob for a long period of time and cry out all my sorrows and pain.”

Oh, if only he knew, I thought. I replied, “Trust me, you’d never wish for that.” I thought back to all the nights I spent sobbing in pain. Yes, healing came after — but only after an event that terrified me and would leave a big scar.

During my year of surgeries, one teacher in particular I thought would be the hardest one to handle. Surprisingly, though, she was the kindest and even sent me “get well” cards when the surgery on my right leg didn’t go even slightly as well as the one on my left.

“This year, you learned something I couldn’t teach — your surgeries taught you to relax,” her card read.

I was offended at first because I worked so very hard to finish and turn in all the work my teachers gave me to make up. Some even gave me more than my friends actually had to do. I was so angry, and I was struggling to handle so much pain and a whole new view of life. I was trying to keep my head above water with pain medications that muddled my brilliant brain. Yet without them, the pain from my legs being broken in eight places and twisted to be straight was more than anyone should have to get a grip on — let alone a barely-15-year-old.

By the end of that year, though, I realized what my teacher meant.

Life may twist and turn in ways we may never expect, and so we may need to learn to find some semblance of peace in between happiness and struggle.

I may have worked harder than ever before — not just wheeling my wheelchair all over a large school but also academically. “A” grades were easy to get, but I never had so many papers to juggle as when I could barely remember the day before.

Looking back, it is totally incredible to me that I succeeded at all — let alone so much that I was fourth in the class.

Alas, because of all that stress, I also had to learn to enjoy the good more. Knowing the homework to come, I actually got to appreciate the weekends. Before, they were just another day in a bland week.

That year, I was stretched more than ever before in every way possible. I met a lot of new people, learned to handle an incredible amount of pain, went to physical therapy, and used new gadgets I previously thought elderly people would usually use.

I lived two lives — two very different lives.

There was the life my family saw — where I would cry into my pillow every morning and night as ice covered my swollen, scarred legs. There was also the life my friends and peers saw — the life of a smiling girl with curly blonde hair, a girl who wheeled her wheelchair with an expert spin and searched for as many reasons to laugh as she could.

Even almost 10 years later, I look back and think upon the lessons I learned.

The biggest lesson quietly whispers, “In your pursuit of happiness, don’t forget to smell the roses.”

Getty image by mammuth.

Originally published: April 5, 2022
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