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How My Illness Taught Me That Broken Things Can Still Be Beautiful

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Life is a fragile thing. In an instant, it can be destroyed by a circumstance beyond your control; the existence you knew shattered like glass beneath your feet. No matter how hard you attempt to piece back the fragments of that previous life, there’s no restoring it to exactly as it was before.

I remember my life-fracturing moment vividly; it consisted of one hour that changed the entire course of my being. October 21, 2011, I was diagnosed with an incurable and fatal illness called systemic scleroderma. I remember walking into the rheumatologist’s office equipped for the worst, but I was still unprepared for the news I received. In that hour, I was told I would be fortunate to live another 10 years — and that was only if my circumstances were favorable.

At the age of 20, I should’ve been attending college and beginning to contemplate my career path. Instead, I was facing my own mortality. I left the office with pamphlets to read, treatments to start and a new way of life to begin. I was warned of the path my disease would take, and of the horror I would soon endure.

My health forced me to watched idly by as my fellow high school graduates left for college, received their degrees, started budding careers and even began their families. As they progressed through the natural events of life, I was alternatively attached to events such as chemotherapy, long hospital admissions, support group and never-ending chronic pain.

Slowly over a course of three years, my body began to deteriorate, vital systems started to shut down and organs began to fail. By the age of 23, I was being kept alive by a surgically placed feeding tube, supplemental oxygen, dangerous chemicals and a team of specialized physicians.

As a young adult, you have so many goals in your life, and you honestly believe you have 100 years to achieve them. Suddenly, I was given a sliver of that time and a body that couldn’t handle even the simplest of tasks. I focused on nothing but reclaiming my shattered pieces, of sweeping up and attempting to place them exactly the same as they had been before. I believed I could attain that pre-diagnosis life if I just situated all the shattered pieces back together.

But I quickly found out that that is not the way life works. Many of my pieces no longer existed; they were crushed beyond what I could realistically repair. Just like shattered glass, I found I couldn’t perfectly align the fragments to resemble the flawless and unbroken product.

However, during my journey, I discovered those splintered pieces could be fashioned into something quite new and extraordinary. While this current finished product may have cracks, protruding edges and be held together by messy glue, it has certainly never been more dazzling.

Chanel White the mighty

True joy is letting go of what you believe your life is intended to be, and, instead, revering all that it is. Once I accepted this new existence, alone with every alteration and imperfection, I began to enjoy my life again. I began to enjoy who I was again. I no longer focused solely on recovering what I had lost but on creating something new. I focused on the small victories and minute satisfactions found in my day-to-day routine. I took the time to enjoy every breath, every word and every moment.

Although my existence doesn’t seem like anything to be cheerful about to the typical observer, I’ve found so many incredible moments to revel in. My life may not be glamorous, or as long as I intended it to be, but it’s one full of simple pleasures and an understanding of how broken things can still be beautiful.

A version of this post originally appeared on A Day in the Life of a Tube Fed Wife.

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Originally published: June 16, 2015
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