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When You Learn to Master the Art of Losing

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I recently watched the movie “Still Alice.” For those who don’t know, it’s about a woman who develops early-onset familial Alzheimer’s disease. It’s the story of her decline, the struggles of her family and more importantly, the struggles she faces. In it she quotes Elizabeth Bishoponce, who said, “The art of losing isn’t hard to master: so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster.”

She goes on to say that as a person with early-onset familial Alzheimer’s disease, she masters the art of losing every day. As a person living with multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic infections, an unexpected death in the family and an amputation I, too, master the art of losing. Losing control of my body. Losing control of myself when flashbacks strike. Losing my big sister to brain cancer. And of course, losing my right leg.

In that same speech she says that for now, she’s still alive and has things she wants to do with her life. Though she has bad days, she also has times of complete happiness. She makes it clear that there’s a distinction between suffering and struggling, and that she is struggling to remain connected. She has learned to live in the moment and to master the art of losing. Her speech grabbed me and stuck with me.

The day I watched that movie I’d been in a bad place mentally and emotionally. I’d gone to my PTSD therapy session depressed, exhausted and feeling like I had nothing left. My therapist made me look at him and asked, “Are you saying goodbye?”

I’ll be perfectly honest that I’d gone into that session believing I would be saying goodbye. Instead, as he put a hand on my arm and looked me in the eye I realized I wasn’t quite as “done” as I thought I was. During that session I discovered that I still have the ability to make jokes (sometimes morbid ones in relation to my struggles). I still have the ability to smile and laugh. What makes me the person I am is still inside me. I’m still here. I’m still Meg.

I’ve changed. Who wouldn’t while facing the obstacles life has put in my path? I’m not the same person I was when this all began. I can’t be. I’m a new and different version of myself, but I’m still me. I walk on crutches or use a wheelchair now. I struggle with PTSD: the flashes of anger, reliving events as though they’re happening here and now, the anxiety, fear, hyper-vigilance, nightmares, times when I’m just numb, the intense and scary reactions to triggers. I struggle with having lost my sister to cancer and all the intense feelings connected to that. I miss her dearly and would give my other leg to have her back. I wear her thumbprint around my neck every day and find myself touching it and fiddling with it often because that talisman helps me feel her close to me. Her cancer and death was a fast-moving train that we never saw coming as we stood oblivious on the tracks.

She would implore me to continue the fight I’m in and remember to live in the moment. I think that she would be proud of me for so many things but definitely for learning to master the art of losing. With everything I’ve lost I’ve continued on and seen every event as a speed bump on my journey through life. She’d want me to continue to do that, so I will.

Many people would say I’ve lost more than any one person should have to endure. Many would say I have suffered more than any one person should. Perhaps they are right. However, those were the cards I was dealt. I can’t reshuffle the deck. Instead, like Alice, I will appreciate the moments of complete and overwhelming happiness and continue to struggle to remain connected to this world and to those who are important to me.

I’m a different version of the person everyone thought I’d become one day, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’m still here, and I’m still me. I plan to continue not to allow my struggles to steal my essence. The journey through life can be tough, and events and people will no doubt change you.

Remember who you are and no matter what, remember that you’re still here. You’re still you. Just as I am still me.

Originally published: December 22, 2015
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