"Growing up is never easy to do. Some days you feel happy and carefree, and others you feel sad. Some days you feel confident and self-assured, and other days you feel unsure. Life can seem upside down, because you're changing so quickly, but your life is made up of what you believe about yourself. Believe in your ability to succeed, and you will. Believe in your ability to meet every difficult challenge, and you will. Believe in your ability to give and receive love, and you will. Believe in yourself. You are a wonderful, unique person who is beginning to find out what the world is about and searching your place in it. Have patience with yourself and love yourself. Growing up isn't easy, but you'll make it." ~ Donna Levine
This weekend I'm celebrating my twenty fourth birthday. Well, whoop-de-doo-da-freakin-doo. I'm not the least bit excited about this occasion (grumpy even) for a couple of reasons. Reasons that only those who have lived through these feelings can completely understand. The mere thought of turning twenty four is terrifying. I don't want to turn another year older, it scares me. Inevitably, I'm growing up, but I feel I've been robbed of the chance to actually grow up.
When I was a teenager, I would fantasize about my life as an adult. I spent a great deal of time meticulously planning and painting a picture of how I wanted my life to pan out. I knew what I wanted, I knew what I had to do to get there and I would stop at nothing to achieve what I wanted. The world was mine, and I set dreams with high hopes. And then along came chronic illness, throwing a spanner in the works. At the age of eighteen, life as I knew it changed completely. My life turned upside down.
Since being diagnosed, my life has gone in a different direction than I had planned (of course) and I've had to give up on several goals, and I've watched dreams slip further and further away from my grasp. I've had to deal with the grief of losing the old me- the healthy me; and I've had to face the fact that my life will never be the same. I've had to grow up with illnesses that not even medical professionals understand. I've had to transition into adulthood with illnesses that severely interfere with my daily life and impact on every possible part of growing up imaginable.
Your twenties is a decade to immerse yourself in every single thing possible. I've wanted to travel, explore and experience different things, and so far I've only managed to immerse myself in the lives of characters in day time television. Had my life gone as I intended, at twenty four, I would have obtained my teaching degree, and would be settled well into my chosen career- teaching kindergarten kids. I'd be either married or at the very least be in a relationship. Instead, I've watched my friends build a name for themselves, travel to amazing destinations, go out with cute boys, get married, and do all those things that proper grown ups do, while I find myself stuck at home watching reruns of Grey's Anatomy. It saddens me to know that I'm missing out on what should be the best years of my life.
Suddenly, life seems to be passing me by and panic is setting in. Twenty four. No degree. Working a pathetic three hours a week and just trying to survive. Social life down the toilet. No career. No boyfriend. And no signs of these things changing anytime soon. Of course I have hope, but that doesn't mean I'm scared of suddenly being thirty with both siblings married or moved out of home. Hope isn't going to give me back what I've lost- time with family and friends, experiences and the list goes on. Six years that I can't get back. It's a lot to bear.
The transition into adulthood with chronic illness in toe has been tough. I hadn't even realised how so until I sat down to pen my thoughts. People don't even realise just how difficult it is. I know this from the comments I receive in response to hearing about my health. All too often I am told how I'm too young to be sick, as if it will bring me some sort of comfort. "Oh, but you're so young, this shouldn't be happening to you". State the obvious, why don't you. Chronic illness is no respecter of age. Chronic illness doesn't care if it's your birthday, it's not going to stop causing you grief because you are turning another year older.
The most common comment I cop? "You're so young, you've got the rest of your life ahead of you". This one really grates on my nerves. It's insulting. People don't mean it to be, and probably won't understand why that is, but it is. It disregards everything I've had to sacrifice, it minimises all the emotions and everything I have been through and am still going through.
Just lighetening things up a bit with some humour.
And then there's the statement "Just be thankful you're sick now". Really? REALLY! I know that it could be much, much worse than what it is. I know that. And I am thankful that I don't have much else to worry about like raising a family and financial security and all that, but there is no age that's a good time to be sick. Just as an elderly person is struggling with illness, I too am finding it frustrating. My struggles are just different because I am at a different stage in life. And to be completely honest, there are times when I wish I got sick later in life, because I would have at least been able to live a little. Being ill at any age is difficult. Different, but difficult.
Being a young person hindered by fluctuating fatigue and a shopping list of symptoms is hard when career paths establish identity. It's almost impossible to keep your self esteem intact when answering "So, what do you do?" honestly. It's frightening having to figure out who you are and where your place is in the world. The normal stress and pressure of early adulthood is daunting enough without having to deal with invisible illnesses and lack of understanding.
Receiving pressure from doctors who want me to return to either work or study when fatigue hinders my ability to take on too much, is darn difficult- it's frustrating that no matter how hard I try, I cannot get them to understand how this bone crushing fatigue feels, and how hard it is to fight through the brain fog. If I were a pensioner, they wouldn't be fussed in the slightest about what I was or wasn't doing.
Then there's the social stigma, the isolation and the loneliness.. Young people can't grasp the meaning of the term chronic illness. They cannot comprehend that a healthy looking supermodel can actually be sick. There's the lack of support and understanding, too. Young people are not equipped to deal with the fluctuating nature of a chronic illness.
Think it's easier to be sick when you're young? Think again, because it's certainly not. Yes, I have my whole life ahead of me, but I have a very different life to that of a healthy person. I have to find new dreams and I have to accept that no one can tell me when I'm going to get better and gain my life back. I have to come to terms with the fact that my life for now, has come to a grinding halt. I have to accept the uncertainty and the unpredictability. I have to accept that I'm growing up, fast, and that my best laid plans are still completely out of my control.
It's not easy.
Essay written by Emily Ruth © ChronicallyCreative.net, 2012.
PS. For more creativity, fun, positive quotes, humour and blog updates, make sure you join the facebook page.