2015-03-11 Posted By Jenna
What a day! What a journey!
But before we talk about that, let me introduce you to someone - a little girl. She’s been through the wringer in her short life, but you wouldn’t know it by her sheer bounce back potential (luckily, she was born with a hard head). She loves to socialize and be a friend you can count on, without fail. It’s so easy to make her laugh, exposing her wheezing and snorting when she really gets going - oy, not very graceful! She’s been lucky to have a strong network of support around her to teach her that: just because she might not be able to do everything like everyone else, she can still find a way (her success(es) - achieved through regular means or creative ones - count as much as anyone else’s). This little girl never even thinks to question these lessons, as many of them have been instilled in her by world champions in Karate - if she wants to argue, it better be worth the risk of her being told to drop and give somebody fifty! And then I…I mean, the little girl…starts getting a little older, and her light almost goes out completely.
To be honest, I didn’t even know this person existed until I was gushing to my mom a couple of years back about the kids I got to work with (who have Spina Bifida, too). I told her how these kids had unimaginable resilience, an outstanding openness and a zest for life. It was refreshing to see them rarely doubting their ability to get things done (because hey, if things got done - why is that not the end of the conversation?) - wheeling, walking, limping, crawling, scooting on one’s tush were all just a means to an end! And despite the fact that I had a pretty good idea of some of the trauma they had and would face - you’d never know it because of their spirit, it was downright tangible!
I was so excited to see what I thought was a new generation of kids dealing with health issues, not likely to be taken down easily. I lamented to mom about how the medical system must have changed (since my days as a wee patient) and that society was finally seeing the value in engaging people’s strengths without as much focus on their weaknesses.
However, my mom wasn’t surprised. She pointed out that I had been the exact same way. If you know me well, or for 5 minutes, you know it takes a lot to render me speechless but this did the trick - what was she talking about?! How did I not remember this about myself? It was as though my diagnosis of off the charts depression at 10 years old had erased the part of me who knew how to be open without shame, how to be focused on what worked for me, and to be authentic in my pursuit of…everything.
The tricky part (as you might imagine)…
Growing up in the medical world, life can compound on itself very quickly and confuse your sense of what you’re capable of doing (having to spend the bulk of your time focusing on what’s “wrong” with you). You can be affected not only physically, but emotionally, mentally and psychologically, as well - the makings of a self-esteem perfect storm (when self-esteem issues are already a part of the deal of growing up). The effects of which can’t help but spill over into the other areas of your life.
Where does that leave you?
If you’re me, you take in these experiences and work on overdrive to prove your worth. You feel awful when your issues impact others, from members of your group projects to not feeling like an adequate source of support for those you love (who are dealing with their own…stuff, and need someone in their corner, too). You pray you can be seen as a contributing member of society, when life takes you down a different path; you pick up a unique skill-set that never seems to be what the decision-makers are looking for (rats!). You start to wonder how you’ll make your mark, when the opportunities seem few and far between. It can end up occupying your every waking moment.
I’ll admit, this was essentially my reality from about 10-19ish. Then, very slowly, I started drawing people in that saw the potential in me - patiently waiting for me to see it in myself, drowning the doubt. I started owning my unique experiences and skills, learning how to utilize them to help me stand out from the crowd (my way). All of the sudden (ok, not as suddenly as that) I found myself having essentially come full circle - prepared to be more open without shame, more focused on what works for me (despite what others say), and realizing that it may not always be easy but authenticity is the way to go. Welcome back, inner glow!
What a ride! Some times I have to pinch myself to be convinced that this isn’t the result of a concussion (like Dorothy that brought her to the land of Oz); I find myself some times wondering if this all happened to teach me I had more control over where my life went than I gave myself credit for (it takes some people longer to get “the message”. Click your heels three times, pop-a-wheelie three times - tomato/to-mah-to!
My next stop?
You may have already heard that I have been nominated for the Young Woman of Distinction Award through the YWCA, which has left me honoured and humbled.
It was a surreal experience getting the call at the end of the day (on a Friday). After a month and a half of working on the application, trying to summarize my life’s work and lessons learned into the allotted space - giving it every ounce of my heart and soul - I knew, no matter what (in the end), I had tried my best. That is all anyone can ever do - their best (while thanking their lucky stars for the people in their life that had each worked their own unique brand of magic not to let me quit when things got tough).
Let’s all say it together - “OY! *sigh of relief* What’s next?”