I was beginning my senior year of college volleyball when everything changed. I fell ill suddenly and my life fell into a downward spiral as I was hospitalized for 20+ days, no closer to a diagnosis, as my condition continued to worsen. I became wheelchair-bound and debilitated until I was finally diagnosed with a form of dysautonomia. As I reflected on this year of my life, I discovered the significant lessons that came with it and how they could help those experiencing their darkest days.
1. It’s important to give it all you have while you still can.
I was just in the middle of life when my fight began. As a college athlete, I complained about a myriad of things: waking up for conditioning, long practices, the state my body was in, and the exhaustion that came with it. Lying in my hospital bed, I found myself wishing away the monitors and needles in exchange for another mile on the track and another three hour practice with my teammates. I never stepped foot on the volleyball court again, but in the months that followed, I found myself content with the fact that I had given my all while I could. If you find yourself fortunate enough to do something that other people dream about doing, give it 110%. For yourself and for the people that dream to be in your shoes.
2. You don’t have to be able to walk if you have people who will carry you.
On September 25, 2015, I woke to find that I had lost the ability to walk. In just a short 21 days, I went from being a division one college volleyball player to a girl bound to a wheelchair and completely dependent on others to do the easiest of things. The first seven days were the worst, until I learned this: I would make it because I had people to carry me, both literally and figuratively. My mother wiped my tears and my father made sure I had the best care possible. My friends spent countless days in the hospital with me, doing anything and everything to make me feel like a normal twenty-one year old, even if just for an hour. Our family friends went above and beyond to make our lives easier and to bring sweet moments of joy to us all, even on the most unbearable of days. These are the things that carried me through the days filled with pain and uncertainty. If you have people in your life that will carry you through the darkness, you have all you need.
3. You do not have to bear the mountain on your shoulders; you just have to climb it.
There were days when I was weighed down by sadness, guilt, grief, and a mass of other emotions. My sickness was a mountain I was struggling to climb day after day. There were days when I could manage smiles and there were days when I couldn’t manage to get out of bed. A very wise friend told me that I was only supposed to climb this mountain, not carry it. I realized this burden of sickness was too heavy for any human to bear. It was in that moment that I made up my mind; I would climb the hell out of this mountain, and no wheelchair or treatment would hold me back. As the weight was lifted, my spirit was too. Sometimes you don’t feel the weight of something you’ve been carrying until you feel the weight of its release.
4. A disease cannot define you, but your attitude can.
For many months, sick was the only thing I was. I spent most of the day answering questions about how I was feeling and fending off the sympathetic looks from people around town. There were many days where I wasn’t proud of my emotions. I was hard on myself about staying strong. The one thing I am proud of is the attitude I developed towards my condition. I chose to not let the symptoms and ailments of my condition get me down. I made it so I was no longer defined as the really sick girl and instead was defined as the girl who fought off that stupid sickness. Many of my doctors were skeptical when I said I would be returning to school, but I was determined to get back to my life. I can proudly say that I did, and am officially a college graduate. It’s the small percentage of people who choose optimism over pessimism that are remembered. Remember that.
5. It’s okay to be changed.
As I began to get my life back, I slowly realized that I was different. I had been broken and put my pieces back together differently. When I finally got back to life, my perspective had totally changed. Things that once mattered so much now meant so little. Things that I had once under-appreciated became my number one priority. I hated the experiences that had shaped this new me, but I slowly realized that I was still me, just with a different heart. My heart, although it didn’t work just right anymore, had become more empathetic, more understanding, stronger, and braver. You may not understand why you’re going through the things you are, but eventually God will reveal the reason.
6. It can be the worst year of your life, and still be a good year.
People look at me like I’ve grown two extra heads when I say that the worst year of my life was also one of the best years of my life. I learned more about life and how to live it in that year than I have in my whole life. I was shown the unconditional love my family has for me. I learned the meaning of the selfless, wholehearted loyalty that is true friendship. I discovered my passion to help those who are as sick and in pain as I was. I didn’t understand at the time, but this was God’s plan for me and I am content knowing that there is always a light at the end of every dark day. You can choose to be the light.