drowning in invisiblity

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What do you do? I’ve spent most of my life trying to be invisible. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve wished I could melt into the background completely unnoticed. There have been occasional longings for someone to rescue me from the deafening invisibility, but largely I feel naked without this blanket of security.

Now I’m experiencing invisibility in a new light.

I’m drowning in it.

And I’m finding that I don’t know how to swim in it.

I don’t see anything wrong with you… People look at me and see a fully functioning individual with nothing outwardly wrong. If they look closely enough they might notice the ever-growing bags beneath my eyes. But looking long and hard at me won’t reveal the agony of over a month of not sleeping well. They can’t see how the cogs within my mind become disengaged from one another for days at a time, preventing me from performing my best at school, from speaking in a coherent manner with my boss at work, from reading a book with ease.

You look so perky! There are some things that they could potentially see. The muscle fatigue that overcomes me as I climb two sets of stairs, the thing that has temporarily robbed me of my ability to run handfuls of miles each weekend, they could see that. The exhaustion that slams my body and mind like a rip current each day, they could see that. The violent mood swings that cause tears without reason, fury without warrant… they could see that. They could even see that I shed and add layers of clothing based on my body’s inability to tolerate varying temperatures. But they don’t see it. Because I don’t let them.

With an invisible illness, you fake it ‘til you make it. Or break.

What are you up to today? I make coffee every morning now. I have never had to rely on caffeine before this mess began, which is something I was very proud of. Now I have modified my caffeine intake to help me balance the exhaustion so that I can at least make it home before I’m too fatigued to do anything. I make my way to school or clinical, more often than not feeling overwhelmed and over stimulated by the bright taillights and headlights of the morning traffic. I take each class in half—make it through the first, brain break, second half, another brain break. I try to focus in class, but not become emotional when I can’t remember something the professor said that I want to put in my notes. Depending on the day, I go to work—where I try my hardest to work as fast as I can to maintain a sudo-normal speed—or I go home. Once I’m home, I melt in the shower and let my mind go; a short reprieve before I ask too much of it again. Then the clock is really ticking. Depending on the quality of my sleep, I may be able to work on homework for a decent chunk of time, other times it’s a dismal and embarrassing amount. I’ve texted my instructor in shame several times this term, asking for an extension and explaining that I simply have to go to bed. It’s a good day if I haven’t cried or unnecessarily lashed out at anyone. These days are rare. The alarm is set, and the dice are tossed: what quality of sleep will I get tonight?

How are you? I’ve grown to dread the conversational question because I don’t want to lie, but I don’t want to be honest, either. I don’t want to tell them how I am. I don’t have the energy to tell them how I’m doing, because they don’t know what I’m going through. They don’t understand that my bad night of sleep is not comparable to their bad night of sleep. They brush off my embarrassed and humbling admission of, “I cannot think about this right now,” as nothing more than laziness or a desire to not talk about something. And that’s frustrating. More frustrating than it should be because I can’t control my emotions.

How are you? I’m crumbling. I’ve shut out most people in my life. My parents don’t know what I’m experiencing. I’ve cut off all but one of my closest friends. With the exception of this friend, the only other people who have a glimpse of what I’m dealing with daily are my professors, my advisor, and my classmate who also lives with invisible illnesses.

How are you? I don’t know who “I” am, right now. I am someone who’s very open and who takes pride in the fact that I’m comfortable enough to share my true self with the world. But that “I” is gone. She’s withdrawn; barricaded deep within, safe behind the storm doors and locked in. “I” don’t know this person. This person whose eyes well with tears over senseless things. This person who nearly snapped at a school secretary. This person whose walls are built so high, this person who worked tirelessly to add layer after layer of brick to protect herself once she saw that outside understanding was not easily found.

You can’t think? Oh, that’s like my Monday! I know how you feel. I have worked my ass off to get where I am today. I have poured countless hours of my life into my studies, into learning material that could save someone’s life and to avoid costing someone their life. When the quarter started, I thought it was weird that I was reading my books slower than normal, but I didn’t give it much thought beyond that. Once I started finding myself spending days trying to learn the same material over and over without success, I knew there was something wrong. To stare at my textbook and find that not a single word makes sense is an incredibly humbling experience. To read an email for work and find that I’ve reached the end of the email but have no idea what it was about is horrifying. To listen to someone provide instructions and have to ask them to repeat it again and again, or ask them to explain the meanings of simple words or phrases they used? That’s mortifying. To be so exhausted and fatigued at 2pm every day, to the point that I’m ready for a full night of sleep? That’s not just a Monday. That’s my every day now. And it terrifies me.

Well, what’s wrong with you? To “operate” in this manner for a month or more without knowing what’s causing this conglomeration of hellaciousness is aggravating, to say the least. I’ve carried around my little notebook all week jotting down symptoms and questions as I think of them, not trusting my brain to think of this crucial information. My only lead was shattered today. My primary care provider and I suspected my thyroid as the culprit of these symptoms, but the endocrinologist today informed me that my thyroid is not to blame. I spent the entire drive home wondering if I’m crazy. I brainstormed different mental health diagnoses to research to see if any fit. I’m back at square one with one less possibility and a greater amount of frustration.

Can I help you? I’ve withdrawn. I do not trust myself to make any big decisions or say anything that could potentially hurt or change somebody, because this emotional wreck I have become is not me. I’ve told people that I can’t put my energy into anything besides school. There’s so much truth in this statement; I truly don’t have enough energy right now to complete all of my schoolwork, so there’s no way that I can handle any return drama. But in this statement that I have repeated so many times is another bit of silent information: “I’m building a wall and I’m placing you outside of it. I’ll pass you information when I feel like I can trust you with it or when I don’t feel inexplicably and unreasonably angry at you.”

Until I can finally learn to swim, I’ll try to stay afloat on the small bits of flotation that are given to me by those I’ve trusted with part of this burden. They are my Coast Guard, they are the reason I keep treading water. They are the reason I haven’t drowned yet.

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fort rainbow

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As many of you know, I have had Crohn’s disease for about two and a half years now. Last week, I got to be a counselor for Camp Oasis. Camp Oasis is a week-long summer camp program for kids who have Crohn’s disease (CD) or Ulcerative Colitis (UC). All of the kids have one of these diseases, and this week at camp being surrounded by kids just like them is truly an oasis for them. It’s a week where they don’t have to explain why they’re tired all the time, or why they go to the bathroom so often, or why they take meds four times a day. It’s a week of complete acceptance, support, and normalcy. 

I was extremely fortunate with my assignment for the week: 16 year old girls in the Leaders in Training (LIT) program. I spent eight weeks working as a summer camp counselor at Camp Orkila a few years ago, and I have never before been so lucky to work with such an incredible group of young women. They all knew each other from different years of attendance, but had never been in a cabin all together at the same time. They could have fooled me. They jumped right into catching up, joking around, and picked right up where they left off during their last summer at camp. This camaraderie continued throughout the week, and was a continual source of inspiration for me as the days flew by.

In my eight weeks at Camp Orkila, I attended eight Dork Dances. The Dork Dance is a chance for every camper (and counselor!) to dress up as crazily as possible, and dance like nobody else is watching. At Camp Orkila, I was too self conscious and too fearful of judgement to do anything more than door duty. This week, at Camp Oasis, I rocked the onesie with bright orange running shorts over top, suspenders attached. My hair pulled up into a ridiculously high ponytail, the look was completed with a pair of Real3D glasses with the lenses popped out and a piece of masking tape wrapped around the middle. And let me tell you, I danced the whole time. And yes, there is photo evidence of my dancing. I credit this leap in strength and confidence to my cabin of girls. They motivated me to do more, be more, and achieve more.

On Monday of Camp Oasis, we all did swim checks and we hung our bathing suits and towels over the back porch railings. By Tuesday afternoon, it was very clear that our stuff wouldn’t dry thoroughly outside. Luckily, my co-counselor had so brilliantly thought to bring twine with her, so we were able to hang everything inside our cabin. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was when Fort Rainbow was named. On Wednesday, my campers asked me to write a story about the creation of Fort Rainbow, so I did. Thursday night after the Dork Dance, everyone crawled into bed and I read my story to the girls. I will tell you that I got through about two-thirds of it before I started crying. Here’s Fort Rainbow:

It may not look like much, I think to myself as I try to envision what someone from outside of Leckenby Cabin would think of it. I’m sure they would notice the blue and white string one of our counselors secured from a dollar store prior to camp, carefully entwined between two bunks and carefully overlapping strands to provide more stability. They would notice the blue polka dotted towel and the rainbow striped towel with pink stripes instead of red ones. They would see the bathing suits which were seemingly damp, even though they were hung two days before now. If their eyes happened to drift toward the window behind the fort, they might even notice the colorful signs labeling the structure. 

What they won’t see is that Fort Rainbow is actually something more than an array of soggy swimwear and towels. They won’t see what I see. Every time I look at Fort Rainbow, I smile and I light up, because I know that the physical fort was constructed in five minutes, but Fort Rainbow was built long before Camp Oasis of 2014. 

While we all have our differences–which make us unique–human beings share several needs that go beyond the basics. One of these is a sense of belonging. What may be “belonging” for one person may look very different from the next person’s “belonging,” but no matter which way you look at it, we all need it. From the moment these girls walked into the cabin at the start of camp, there was an overwhelming sense of belonging in the group. It doesn’t matter if the topic in question is IBD, music, or something else entirely; everything and any opinion is openly accepted. Everyone is brought into this safe space and included without question. Everyone is needed, everyone is welcomed, and everyone is valued.

Fort Rainbow is a place where no explanation for our life-long IBD battles is needed. It’s a place where everyone is comfortable with the symptoms that can be embarrassing in the outside world, simply because they don’t understand. It’s a place where each personality can flourish and bloom, where strength can be both found and given. It is a place of freedom for the spirit, peace for the mind, and relief for the heart. 

For me, Fort Rainbow is a place of bliss. I have never before seen such an inspiring companionship as the one I see here. Many people only dream of finding relationships like the ones these girls have: the kind where they are able to jump right back to where they left off after a year away from each other. The bond between them in unbreakable, and I sand in awe of them each and every day I’m here. I have learned so much from these young women, and I’m sure I can’t even fully comprehend the lessons they’ve taught me so far. It will take a while for the weight of what they’ve shown me this week to sink in, but this I know:

I am so unspeakably fortunate to have been placed with this group of young women. They’ve shown me strength that I never have seen before, they have shown me courage, resilience, acceptance, drive, and determination that is unparalleled. I only hope that, one day, I can be as wonderful as they are now. 

In the meantime, I can tell them how proud I am of them. How, each time I see them help a fellow or younger camper, I beam. How, every time I see them take on a leadership position, I am their loudest cheerleader. How, every time I’m with another counselor, I brag about “my girls.”

At the end of the week, the towels and swimsuits will finally be dried and packed away, and the string will be rewound. The signs will come down, and everyone will return to the real world. As much as I dread the day, I have faith that these incredible young women will go home and move mountains. That they will inspire countless others as they have inspired. me.

finding true north

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They say that all good things must come to an end. Why? The only thing in this world that is consistent is change. As much as we may not like to see something we love come to a close, it is a necessity. It is with a heavy heart that I learned today that the wonderful workplace I have called my own for the last year and a half is closing its doors.

My boss called me this afternoon and told me that, effective yesterday, Compass is shut down. He explained his reasoning-all legit and understandable-and tried to talk with me about it a little bit. I wasn’t able to say much; I was choking back tears and trying not to cry while on the phone with him. I had so many thoughts flying through my mind and a feeling of failure weighing on my shoulders.

Compass began in 2006 as a one person start-up out in our small town. My younger brother was actually in the first group of kids to go through our summer camp programs. His teacher that year, my boss, had been an elementary teacher for several years and discovered that he was unable to work with the kids in the way that he wanted to. The restraints of the public school system prevented him from challenging the kids the way he felt they should be. He found the greatest success in getting his students out from behind their desks, working hands on, being active, and in doing activities that weren’t aligned with the traditional topics covered in the classroom.

The year he had my brother in his class, he gathered a small group of kids to come out on an adventure as his guinea pigs. After some incredible adventures, Compass was born.

Compass has existed on the belief that we learn through failure, that we grow exponentially when we are pushed into our challenge zones, and that we are so much more capable than we think we are. We worked with both kids and adults in facing and overcoming fears, and providing the opportunity to explore, discover, and learn. We know that humans remember things much better when they learn and make their own connections, and we have been set apart because we capitalize on this knowledge. Through outdoor adventures such as mountain biking, geocaching, hiking, swimming, school field trips, and corporate events, we have given every participant the space and place to become a stronger and more experienced individual.

A large handful of our kids have been in our programs for several years, and the changes that we have seen in them over their time with us is absolutely astounding and motivating. The most rewarding thing we get to see is when a kiddo becomes confident. Many times we are the first exposure our adventurers have to geocaching, mountain biking, etc. Not only do these kids learn new skills, but we see them apply their skills to the school work and other extracurricular activities. We challenge them to hone their leadership skills, work as teams, and to begin thinking outside of themselves.

For me, I was brought into Compass a year and a half ago. My boss was a guest on the radio show I used to do with my mentor, and recruited me from there. When I started, I knew nothing about biking or caching… I was hired to run the back office work, but my boss wanted to get me out working in the field. Though it was WAY outside my comfort zone, I did end up learning a lot from it. I pushed myself physically, mentally, and emotionally. I have gotten to experience first hand what our programs offered our kids.

And up until today I didn’t realize just how deep my passion for our work was. As I sat on my bed listening to my boss, I wondered: if I had worked harder, would we be closing down? I know that, given all of my responsibilities, I have done everything I possibly could, but there is still a part of me that makes me feel as though I have let down a lot of kids. As much as I am heartbroken by the end of such a wonderful thing, I know that everything happens for a reason. I am so unbelievably grateful that I’ve had the chance to work with a business that has so much meaning.

We have made such a difference for so many kids, and I know that I will never forget the lessons I have learned from my time at Compass. I have just one regret: that we weren’t able to do more for those we served. But, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.” This is just the beginning for the individuals of the Compass Crew. We may go our separate ways, but we will all incorporate what Compass has taught us all in turn. Brace yourselves, here we come!

in the name of education

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This is a letter that I wrote and gave to my Anatomy and Physiology instructor after an outstanding quarter with him. I asked his permission to post the letter on my blog and he agreed to it wholeheartedly. “It is about time people start seeing what the future of teaching is.”

Education is a fickle beast in our society. It is an absolute necessity, period. Whether we learn through hands-on experience, in a classroom, or through our own trial and error, we, as human beings, would not be able to carry our world as we do without education. However, it is so fundamental, so basic that many seem to overlook its importance. Unless one is actively involved in the system, it just gets wrapped into the big blanket of things that have to be done, like laundry and grocery shopping. This, I believe, is a contributing factor to the decreasing funds and support for schools.

Then of course, within the schools there are the instructors. Through my experience as a student, I have clumped them into three categories. There are those who are safe, the tenured staff who essentially have free reign and are untouchable. To rid a school of a tenured teacher in the state of New York, there are dozens, if not over one hundred steps to take before they are dismissed. Sometimes these teachers are great, but most of the time I have been overwhelmingly disappointed by them. Then there are the decent/ok instructors. They convey (or attempt to) the material, give exams, maybe have students give a presentation or a complete a report for variety. I call these “the shovelers.” There isn’t really any passion in what they do. They might get excited about a favorite chapter or unit, but the energy just overall isn’t quite where it needs to be. There also is a sense of urgency to cover enough material, to stick to the syllabus whether the material is actually learned or not. Then there are the greats. The exceptionals. The instructors that can make your least favorite subject the one you look forward to the most.

Last quarter I struggled with Anatomy. It was challenging for me because I didn’t walk away from lectures with anything. I learned nothing from my instructor. If you were to ask me about the lectures, I would pull a blank. I was anxious about this quarter when I came to class the first day. I had heard you lecturing in the hall before and knew that you like to call on people randomly (something that makes me ridiculously nervous), and had a very intense style. Looking back now, I can say that every day in class has been a comedy show, extraordinarily memorable, and I learned so much. It still astounds me how much I have retained just from lectures. You are one of the exceptionals.

I have always felt so comfortable in class. Yes, when you start calling on people randomly my heart starts pounding a little harder. Aside from the occasional myocardial infarction, I’ve never felt more at home in a classroom. I’ve never felt that I have to let on that I’m studying more than I actually am, never have felt the need to make my knowledge base seem larger than it really is; I have been able to be myself. If I don’t understand something or know the answer, I don’t feel ashamed to say that I don’t know. Which, by the way, is something that has never happened for me before in a classroom. You have allowed your students to feel, and be, human. And largely it’s because you allow yourself to be human before us.

Most importantly you understand learning. You understand that there comes a time when the brain cannot absorb any more. You respect the need to take mental breaks. You help distract us from the intensity of an upper level summer quarter science class. You have helped us learn to utilize our time and our minds more efficiently. You take the time to get to know your students. You absolutely go above and beyond for us. Getting our tests back to us within half an hour of turning them in? Never have I ever had another teacher who does that! Letting us go back over a test and redeem points so that we actually learn the material? So unheard of! The good and tenured teachers would just add a curve to raise grades. But that’s just the difference. You’re not in it to create grades. You’re in it to create a foundation that we can later translate to wisdom.

You are the individual that moves mankind forward in strides. Your undying devotion, passion, and livelihood drive your students to excellence. And excellence in our desired field has such an intense payoff for the greater good of humanity. Words fail to express the gratitude I wish I could express for all that you do. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from you these seven weeks. I have learned so much, and not just in our subject either. Thank you for sparking my thoughts, my learning, and my desire to go do. I hope our paths cross again in the future, and may life provide you with precisely what you need.

a bond forever

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She sat across from me, her eyes cast downward in careful thought. Her lips tugged at the corners. It was my turn to be spoken about and my heart was pounding manically. As a schizoid personality type, being that center of attention is what I dread. When she drew her eyes up and met my cautious gaze, two things happened at once. I saw immediately the shimmer of tears in her eyes and I began to choke up; my hands quickly flew to my mouth to cover any escaping sounds. Then the rest of the room dropped away. The other women in the room vanished, all sounds muted – all that was there was us two.

“In this last year, you have taught me more than any of my mentors ever have.”

Tears began to stream down my face. To hear her say that… Imagine if you will, the person that you look up to most in life, the person who believed in you and pulled you out of the crevasse in which you were trapped. Imagine the person who taught you how to truly laugh again, to see the world differently, to live through seasons of love. Imagine them telling you this. After relying on her strength and guidance for a year, baring my soul to her… to hear her say this shifted my world once more.

For a while I had been toying with the question: “What can I do to ever repay her?”

Now the question abruptly became: “What have I already done?”

The last year for me has been about getting back to ground zero so I can take off. She has helped me gain my footing with a smile on her face, an ear ready to listen, and a heart that is always open. It is because of her that I have been able to stand strong and be truly proud of who I am. I feel as though all I have done is take from her, so my mind reeled as it tried to employ various possible answers to my new question.

We go on walks and talk about psychology, philosophy, and a greater purpose. We talk a lot about viewpoints, and how we see the world and humanity. I believe in the goodness that we have to offer as a species. I believe that every person holds the great potential to change the world. I believe that kindness goes a long way. And I believe in the difference we can make in each other’s lives.

When a person enters my life, I make a point of demonstrating a caring demeanor. I don’t know everything about everyone, and I don’t know what constructs their pasts. Knowing this limitation, I do my best to give each person exactly what they need to move forward. I will always listen, I will always extend a hand, and I will pull someone out of a ditch when they’re ready to come out. Just as she did for me.

One of the things we too often forget is the impact we have on another human being. Further, we often forget what we can do for another human being. And yes, there is a difference between the two. I worked at a summer camp in 2011 and through the course of eight weeks worked with a couple hundred kiddos. A co-counselor and I returned in 2012 for a for-fun visit. When we arrived at our old unit area, we were surprised to hear shrieks of our names and footfalls rapidly approaching. Some of our girls from last year had returned to camp and recognized us!

One of the girls who ran toward us had gotten homesick and really upset at dinner the previous summer. I walked her outside of the lodge where we sat on wood beams, surrounded by the comforting warmth of summer’s air. She got the chance to cry and talk about what was upsetting her. I listened and then told her about some of my troubles with homesickness to assure her she wasn’t alone. We did a few goofy exercises to get smiling and laughing again. She didn’t want to return to the group for dessert festivities, so she ran inside and brought each of us a cookie. We talked for the last fifteen minutes of the meal and had a fun time between the two of us. At the end of the week, she wrote me a little note saying that had been her favorite part of camp.

When I saw her again in 2012, she told me that was still her favorite camp memory. And I still have her note at home. It’s amazing how a 20 minute interaction like that can be so meaningful, isn’t it?

This is why I believe in our potential so firmly. We have such wonderful abilities if we allow ourselves to lower our guard and really experience life. And because of this incredible woman in my life, I have the strength and conviction to act on this belief.

I plan to foster this strength, condition it, and grow it. And when the time is right, I will take others under my wing, just as she has done for me. I realize that I don’t need to rush to “even our ground.” She and I have a long and amazing future ahead of us, and there is plenty of time for us to support one another, help each other see the light, and catch each other when we need to be caught.

I began trying to repay her the night she and I cried across the table. After she said her bit, we all went around and said something about her. As my schizoid self, I immediately began to plan what I would say. Words absolutely failed me. There was no string of words I could construct to convey what I needed. All I could hear in my head was two specific stanzas in my favorite musical, a musical I knew she had seen.

My hands began to shake as I recognized what I had to do. I really don’t like talking in front of others, let alone sing in front of them. Singing is the thing I cherish most. To sing before someone, truly and really sing, is to put myself in my most vulnerable state. She knew this about me, and she knew what the song meant. I had to do it.

My turn came and I told the group I wasn’t ready yet; I needed to go last. While the final person spoke, I reminded myself that this wasn’t for me. This was for the person who gave me so much and showed me how to really love life, to be courageous, and to be myself.

All eyes turned to me. My heart was pounding fiercely, my stomach was a tumble of churning butterflies, and my hands refused to hold still. I met her eyes, and the world dropped away again. The anxiety was gone. I took a breath and began:

“I’ve heard it said,

That people come into our lives for a reason

Bringing something we must learn

And we are lead to those who help us most to grow

If we let them and we help them in return

Well I don’t know if I believe that’s true,

But I know I’m who I am today

Because I knew you

Like a comet pulled from orbit

As it passes a sun

Like a stream that meets a boulder

Halfway through a wood

Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?

But,

Because I knew you,

I have been changed

For good” 

Tears. A warm embrace. And a whisper in my ear: “Way to go Schizzy.”

fallen angel

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When we look at a person, what do we see? We see exactly what we allow ourselves to witness, and we witness what the other person allows us to see – sometimes things that are unknown to them. When I first looked at this fallen angel, he stood in his driveway in his Sounders shirt with the glow that accompanies one who has just finished yard work. When I got out of my car, he embraced me and I felt his lean build against mine. Toned muscles adorned his body, a result of years of high school football and an active lifestyle.

Just by looking at him, one would believe they were looking at a normal 20 year old. Just by looking at him, one might brush past the pain, the walls and guards so carefully installed, the tests so carefully laid to establish solid ground.

After he showered and grabbed a Costco muffin for the road, he grabbed his backpack and we headed out. I asked him why he brought a backpack with him; we were just going to the mall. He told me his life was in that backpack – his birth certificate, health records, passport, everything. He wouldn’t leave it at his house. He was ready to run on a moment’s notice. But from what?

We cruised the mall, drove around, and walked a couple of miles on a local trail. Throughout the hours we spent together he smoked about a half a pack of cigarettes, occasionally smoking one right after the other. He handled the lighter so expertly, effortlessly flicking the mechanism and lighting up. With each cigarette, I watched him puff away seven minutes of his life; this on top of the time he took to actually smoke. Each inhalation dragging carcinogens, toxins, chemicals, tar, poisons into his lungs. Anxiety threatened to grip my heart, but I worked to calm my nerves and seek to understand, not just to see.

His substance use doesn’t end with cigarettes, unfortunately. He’s used several other drugs and he attends raves. Again, the thought of all this made me so uncomfortable, but as he explained it to me I heard his words and I began to understand his strategical use of them. To forget, to ease the pain, to move out of the misery, to seek understanding of and from the world.

His background is smattered with abuse, substance use, and trials that would challenge someone decades older than he. However, he is perhaps the most wise and intelligent person I know. His experiences, though brutal, have brought him wisdom that guides a person to change the world. He has insight that could stun philosophers and the greatest thinkers this world has ever seen. His barriers and defenses are always on guard though, preventing him from accomplishing the things most of us could only dream of in our wildest imaginations. Trust issues are among his demons, yet he appears fearless to show the world his true self.

The thing that I don’t think he realizes though – and maybe he does and does so on purpose –has to do with his fear of abandonment. He carries his life on his back so he can jump ship at any point, ready to avoid the hurt, the way in which he carries himself with his peers… to avoid being abandoned, he abandons so much potential, so much possibility. He won’t allow himself the chance to succeed. My heart aches when I watch him smoke his cigarettes, and my heart bleeds at this prospect of such loss in his future due to fear.

My heart bleeds, because I know how this fear can rule a life. As it does mine.

Here’s me in a snapshot: I’m a Disney fanatic, a lover of musicals, an avid learner, a thinker, and a girl who’s not afraid to allow the music to flow through her body. I appear to be a strong, self-reliant, individualistic young woman who chooses to never drink alcohol, smoke or do drugs, and who is waiting for marriage before having sex. To the rest of the world, I come across as a confident, strong-willed person who refuses to allow anything to stand in her way.

Here’s what most people don’t know about me. Terror runs through my veins on a daily basis. Something is always there that sends me into a tailspin, though I rarely show it. Alcoholism runs in my family and I’ve seen it destroy families and loved ones. My life is a work in progress, yes, but why would I chose to open myself up to potential disaster when I know I have an addictive personality? When I’m around alcohol or other substances, I get really uncomfortable. Fight or flight mode usually kicks in pretty darn fast and my instinct is to flee. I have to steel myself to stay in one place and to not completely break down. This is ruled by fear of an unknown: “We don’t like what we don’t understand, in fact it scares us and this monster is mysterious at least (Beauty and the Beast).”

I am 20 years old and never have been in a relationship. When my dad talks about his future grandkids, he is conjuring up images of my brother’s kids – my brother who is four and a half years younger than me and still in high school. I’ve had the opportunity to date, sure, but I’ve never been able to let myself take the leap. The only two guys that I’ve really genuinely been able to push myself to truly care for have both completely destroyed me with no positive return whatsoever. These experiences forbade my mind from taking the step. Whenever a potential young man comes into my life, I’m able to push myself the first couple of days, and then I completely shut down and withdraw. There has only ever been one person to hold my hand through that initial fear, but he later destroyed me as he used me as his own security blanket. This only made me withdraw further into my shell.

Fear has broken me, and still I yearn to help others. I know that I cannot fix my own quandaries on my own, but if I can help someone else then my agony is all worth it. To see others soar in the face of whatever demons they face is what drives me day after day. What pains me the most right now, is that I don’t know how to help this fallen angel without causing more damage.

How can a fear riddled girl raise up an individual who will change this world in so many wonderful ways? With so much at stake, with so many lives that have the potential to be changed by this fallen angel, I would do so much more damage than good if I get too close. To allow myself to care too deeply would destroy him, because I don’t know how to conquer my own fear. I don’t know how to handle his own demons personally, especially the ones with his substances. If I cannot handle them myself, I cannot help him vanquish his own dragons. And it would be heartily foolish of me to try.

If I knew how to make him see his own potential, I would do so tirelessly until he saw. If I could find a way to give this fallen angel his wings, even at the sacrifice of mine, I would do it without second thought.

One Year Later

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January 24th of 2012 brought an unexpected change into my life. It changed a lot of the superficial stuff – where I went to school, what career I would chose, where I lived. These were frustrating to wrap my head around at first. I wasn’t used to dealing with such limitations, and I certainly didn’t like being told what I could and could not do. Granted, much of these limitations were precautions that my parents and I decided would be wise to take. Still, it didn’t make me feel any better about it.

I felt I had been robbed of my independence. At nineteen years old, I was supposed to be living free, creating chaos with my friends; trying to figure out the world like a crazy college kid (without the drugs or alcohol). I switched majors, I moved back home, transferred to a community college for a nursing program, and begrudgingly handed over my freedom as a child would return a favorite library book.

For a year, I have wrestled with the task of returning what most of my peers enjoy without a second thought. I was completely torn in half. In one way, I was thrown back to the days of high school where I lived with my parents. In another, I was forced to grow up at rapid-fire pace. I tried to build a bridge between the two worlds to create a happy medium where I could exist until I regained freedoms lost, but every time I laid a plank another would fall off and tumble into the ravine below.

Here, on January 24th of 2013, I look back a year. Yes, I have floundered as I made desperate attempts to regain my grounding. It was one heck of a difficult year, I will not deny that. But, I would be a fool to say that no good has come of this experience. There is a lot of positive that has come from this change. It’s been hard to see the good because it lies behind the superficial negativity. It exists in a much more pure form; one that will continue to serve me throughout my life.

My world was changed abruptly, but I dealt with it. I would put a smile on my face whether I really meant it or not, and I faced the long days. Something kept me going, something recharged me to keep me moving in a forward motion. There were multiple somethings. They were the opportunities that found me. Whether those handing me the opportunities knew I needed them or not, I am forever grateful for them.

In this last year, I have worked on a radio show that inspired listeners to go out and do wonderful things for their world. I started working for Compass Outdoor Adventures which forced me outside my physical comfort zone, and showed me that I could get out and geocache and get muddy on the trails. I started a year-long series of courses that broaden my horizons and challenge me to think in a new way. I began volunteering with the local Hospital, and I began mentoring my local high school DECA program. Gracious, I even took college-level Chemistry and got a 4.0!

I think the most valuable opportunity that was presented this year was Team Challenge and CCFA. Team Challenge broke down so many barriers that I have struggled with for years. It helped me overcome my social anxiety and meet new people. Many of these people on the Team I still run with and we’re planning to run more races together, both for CCFA and for ourselves. It taught me that I CAN run. I know I’ve said it before, but I still can’t believe how this Team has taken a girl who absolutely panicked when she was told to run for ten or fifteen minutes without stopping back in high school, and turned her into someone who gets excited to go on seven mile runs for fun.

Most importantly, Team Challenge changed me from someone who says “I can’t” to someone who says “I can.” Instead of asking “why” I now ask, “why not?” Team Challenge, and all of the wonderful people on the Team, showed me that many of the limitations I faced were the ones that I placed upon myself. They showed me this by guiding me to successes that I never dreamed I would be able to achieve; that I was capable of achieving. Over the course of fourteen weeks, I ran miles and miles and I grew and grew. I raised nearly $4,000 for research, and I ran 13.1 miles down the Las Vegas strip. I never would have envisioned that a year ago.

I see the world through a different lens now. I believe in the goodness of the world that I could never see before. I realize that you can’t expect happiness to be gifted to you on a silver platter; you have to go find it. I am now a person that will smile at strangers in the grocery store, a girl who will hug a stranger completely dissolved in tears. I know the power of being there for another human being when they are in need, because this year I was on the receiving end of so much love and care from so many people.

Today, I sit in a coffee shop, about to go to Microbiology. I just came from my annual check in with my GI and received a report with flying colors. I stand strong on my two feet. The ground may shift beneath me, but I know I can steady myself in any situation. I know that I can rely on my family and my friends when I need help, and they know I’m always ready to do the same.

One year ago today, Crohn’s Disease stepped into my life. Today, I proudly wear my blue and orange: blue and orange socks, an orange shirt, my Team Challenge bracelets, and my Team Challenge jacket. Today, I am ready for the future. Today, I am ready to tackle any challenge. Today, I am ready to live my life. And that’s just what I’m going to do.