This is the time of the year my editors are asking for holiday and New Year’s articles. While it may be early for you and me to think about these things, these companies are doing what they are supposed to do, which is plan. As I start writing my articles and start to close out yet another year of my life, I start to look back on how much growth I have accomplished in the last year, two years, five years and even ten years.
Chronic illness has changed my life more than I ever could have imagined. Some of that has been hard and some life altering, but I have managed to weather each and every storm with strength and humility – and that has taken a lot of work on my part. I have evolved into a different person, especially compared to the one I was before chronic illness came into my life.
Flash back ten years ago when my health didn’t suck. I was married with a nine-year-old and a newborn. I wasn’t happy in that marriage and I eventually walked away. Months prior to walking away, I had lost my younger brother to cancer and the pain of his loss lingered for years after. My mom had a stroke months after my brother’s death and her health spiraled downward until we lost her last year. From the time of her stroke and onward while her health was deteriorating, I did everything in my power to take care of her with every setback. Eventually, all her health issues and my brother’s death took their toll and we lost her two summers ago. Her death was the biggest wakeup call of my life.
I had already been transforming as a person with chronic illness, as a single mother and single woman, someone’s daughter, someone’s sister and aunt and someone’s friend. I had spent a lot of the past 15 years of my life taking care of others and after my mother’s death, I came to realize that all of it had taken its toll on me. Now, don’t get me wrong. It was my pleasure to take care of my mother and everyone else who needed me. But I forgot to take care of myself in the process. I stopped putting my needs first and asking for help when I needed it. I allowed people to take advantage of me and it was my own doing, I wanted acceptance and I thought putting everyone’s needs ahead of my own was the answer.
My mother’s death stopped me in my tracks. My mother was gone, and I had put distance between myself and some family members – not because I was angry at them or because of something they had done. I put that distance between us because my mother was the reason I allowed myself to put up with so much. I made choices because of my love for her and because I believed these were the things she wanted and expected of me. Granted, I don’t know what my mother wanted or expected. I did what I thought was expected of me and her loss sent every thought and expectation into a brick wall. I was alone without her. And I had to learn to live a life without her and without the influence of my family because I was so unhappy. And it was NOT just grief.
I was the strong one in the family – that is what everyone told me for so long. Because I was the “strong one,” I believed I had to bear all my burdens alone. And I did and guess what? No expected me to ask for help and they were used to me not asking. But they all asked me for help and I helped – always. I probably never will ask for help because well, I am supposed to be the strong one. But I did seek outside help after losing Mom and I found out that I don’t have to be the person every expects me to be and that I can be happy even if it means doing my own thing, living up to my own expectations and being the person I have always wanted to be.
I have always faced by life with strength and grace, never backing down and never letting anyone see my hurt and pain. When I finally let my wall down, I realized that letting it down meant letting people in I could rely on, who would allow me to be the person I was destined to be, who would accept me as I truly am, and who would love me despite all the flaws I see in myself. And I face the New Year, I am facing it without fear of judgment, or losing, or making the same mistakes as before.
I am finally living my life on my terms. And if I keep my distance, it is not because I am angry at anyone, it is because my choices and life aren’t open for debate. The person I am today stopped trusting somewhere along the line and has simply chosen to find better ways to make sense of her life and cherish the important people in her life. I love the people who have always been a part of my life, but if the last year has shown me anything, it is that I can be happier finding my own place in this world and looking to a life that continues to get better and brighter.