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Punishment or Potential?

2015-01-29 Posted By Jenna

Punishment or potential, that is the question...when it comes to staying on top of your health. Shakespeare said it better.

Or at least that was the question until I was being beckoned into the light in 2011.

You’d think that after 21 years of spending hard time in the medical system would’ve made me able to navigate it in my sleep. You’d think that I would’ve been able to figure out all the tricks of the trade, the short cuts. You’d think so, but you’d be wrong. No, my friend, just the opposite happened. All of the years ended up compounding on each other, making the next issue feel worse and more overwhelming than the last.

I got tired of the life of having to schedule doctors appointments and surgeries during school “breaks,” so as not to miss school, but missing it anyway when things inevitably went wrong. When I was at school and able to socialize with my peers, it would be them asking me, “You’re having surgery again?!” Or letting me know how I let them down for group projects via nasty emails about them being “sorry you’re brain-damaged” (their understanding of my shunt issues).

It was nearly unbearable feeling so much responsibility on my shoulders to stay healthy, desperate for the chance to trade anything for the “carefree” lifestyles of everyone around me (not yet realizing that everybody has something). I felt like I had no choice, no timeouts. One missed pill - infection, purposely ignoring the (all-too-familiar) warning signs to squeeze in one more bit of normalcy into my life - …don’t ask, but trust me, it’s bad news. Seemingly always in the eye of the storm.

Dealing with health issues - punishment or potential? What do you think my old answer would be?

But why am I telling you this? You wouldn't have caught onto the fact that I said, “my old answer,” leading you to believe something’s changed in the way I see the question, did you? You caught me! Well, before I get to why I’ve changed my mind (at least most of the time, nobody’s perfect), I wanted to make sure you know that you’re not alone in maybe thinking life isn’t always fair. I also want to validate (for your sake and mine) the fact that when you’re dealing with health issues you usually don’t just have to deal with the physical repercussions, but the emotional, mental, and psychological ones all at once - it’s never as simple as it looks. And I guess one last reason why I’m letting you in on what has been a…difficult part of my life is because, I hope you can learn from it so it doesn’t happen to you, and you see the light sooner than I did (though, how often are we really able to learn from other people’s mistakes without wanting to see for ourselves?). Wait, I didn’t mean I wanted you to see “the light,” like I did in 2011, I just meant seeing the potential more than the punishment side of things! Oy, I’ve got to watch my wording! But seriously, if I’m really being honest with you about how I learn my lessons, it’s that it usually has to be done the hard way to really learn meaningfully. And maybe that’s the same for you, and that’s ok. Except for learning not to eat the yellow snow, when you’re told that - you listen!

So, what have I learned that helped to change my mind? I’ve learned that it doesn’t help anyone (especially me) to fight my health issues, to feel like a victim. Sure, there are times that you need to grieve, that’s your right. But every once in a while I find it helpful to check in and see if I honestly need some more time or if it’s time to move on (as daunting and scary as it can be). Another lesson - all those times I thought I was sticking it to the people around me, who I felt were making sure I adhered to treatment plans, by not adhering - I was really sticking it to myself. D’oh! Let's not forget - when confronting my health I have to realize that by identifying where my strengths are, where I need support and accepting the reality of it all, has me getting on with my day quicker and proving to the world that my health issues do not define who I am and who I can be. Yet another lesson - there are times I have to swallow particularly foul-tasting medicine or circumstances, I can acknowledge that this sucks but I promise myself I'll move on. On the flip side, there are times that I have to stand up for myself, to put in motion a plan of action that engages my strengths so that I don’t feel like I've failed before I've even begun, because everyone else wants it another way. Finally - it’s ok to admit you need help (or take the time to actually heal) before trying to take on the world again. IT DOESN’T MEAN YOU’RE WEAK.

And so, having said all that I’m proud to have started the #PunishmentOrPotential campaign through a series of 1-minute videos ( Hopefully you’ll find them keeping you honest when you need it, motivating you when you need it, supporting you when you need it, and awakening the phoenix inside of you when you’re ready (because when it rises you’ve got to be able to back it up with a whole lot of fight and a whole lot of attitude). As we say at Phoenix Attitude - What’s Next?

I’d love to hear what you think! Let me know at

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“Overcome the notion that we must be regular... it robs you of the chance to be EXTRAORDINARY ”
Uta Hagen
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