If my life were an Olympics hurdles race

I would like to welcome you to installment #376 of random situations that I reflect on, extract a deeper meaning from and then write about. Today’s topic: The Olympics!

Yes, that’s right. This post is seriously inspired by sports and will discuss the unprecedented interest I currently have in sports. If you had told me when I started this blog that I would one day be so excited about sports I would want to write about it, I would have raised one eyebrow at you and said whatever. Okay, I wouldn’t have raised one eyebrow because I’ve never been skilled enough to do so, but I would have said whatever. And then I would have, in spirit, had to pay 25 cents to the bad word jar we had growing up (these bad words, by the way, were whatever, so and but…I didn’t even know that worse words existed).

Anyway.

The point is, I’m not a sports person. I was never super interested in playing them and I was even less interested in watching them. This year, though, I have quite the case of Olympic fever! And when I get involved and interested in something I tend to go all out, which means I’ve watched more sports in the last week than I have in probably the last 10 years of my life.

While this sudden interest in all things Olympics is quite uncharacteristic, my approach is classic me. Every evening I go through the whole schedule for the following day (CBC website and I are besties right now), check all the lineups to find out if any Canadians are competing, and then make a schedule with all of the times of each event. The next morning when I wake up I check the results for the events that have already happened because Brazil is four hours ahead and I’m committed but I’m not THAT committed. Throughout the rest of the day I watch the events I’m interested in, sometimes with multiple screens going at once, and check on results for the events that I didn’t watch.

I can’t believe how fun this all is! I also can’t believe how many fun facts I’ve learned because every time I’m confused about what’s going on or I straight up don’t know what an event is I look it up. For example, now I know what an omnium is, and now I’m not sure how I survived this long without that knowledge.

Side note: I still have unanswered questions! What happens if a judge sneezes and misses a dive? If there is a tie for gold, what determines which country’s anthem is played first? And why don’t the male divers wear slightly larger speedos so that their butt cracks don’t start creeping out the top? As you can see, these are very pressing questions, so if you happen to know the answer to any of them please do leave me a comment.

Back on track (and field), now.

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I’ve never hurdled in my life, but my brother is quite the accomplished hurdler. Well, he was when he was 12. Well, he at least completed one race according to this photo.

Speaking of track and field, let’s talk about the hurdles. I always thought that if you knocked over a hurdle then you were out of the race, but as it turns out, this is not the case. You can be disqualified if you deliberately knock down a hurdle or if you knock one into another lane and interfere with another runner’s race, but if you just don’t fully clear a hurdle and it falls over, there is no penalty. You just keep going. Doing so might mess with your speed and your rhythm, but you get to keep going.

Upon learning this after watching a race and being shocked by the number of downed hurdles, I jokingly said that it’s just like in life where a lot of the time we don’t smoothly sail over the hurdles in our way, either. At first I was just being silly, but then I thought wait, no, this really is just like life.

If my life were an Olympics hurdles race then I’m pretty sure I would not be doing so well. I’m pretty sure I would be getting tripped up by every single hurdle lately, knocking over all of them. A lot of things are slowing me down right now. I’m dragging my feet. I’m sighing every time I come up to a new hurdle because I feel like I’m still trying to get my rhythm back after catching my foot and knocking down the last one.

Anyone else feeling like that, too? Anyone with me, finding yourself in the middle of a race that you aren’t prepared for?

Maybe it’s because the hurdles are too high. Or maybe it’s because we’re too short. Too tired. Too uncoordinated. Too scared. Maybe it’s because we’re too distracted, looking around and wondering why it seems like all the other lanes have lower hurdles, fewer hurdles, and friendlier hurdles.

Whatever the reason, it’s okay. We’re not going to be disqualified. It doesn’t matter if we don’t seamlessly sail over every hurdle. It doesn’t even matter if we don’t sail over any of them. And it doesn’t matter what any of the other lanes look like. All that matters is that we face forward and keep going. Oh, and not deliberately try to slow anyone else down, of course, because we’re all doing the best we can with the hurdles in front of us.

We get to keep going. Let’s do just that.

So here’s to knocking down every single hurdle in our way. Here’s to feeling slow and out of sync. Here’s to finishing the race anyway.

Still learning

There are two things you should know about me. One, I always did well in school. And two, I love getting rid of stuff.

Seriously, there are few things more satisfying than cleaning out a closet or a drawer (or an entire room!) and coming across things you don’t wear, don’t use, don’t need, don’t want etc. and just getting rid of them. It’s fun! Despite this, I’ve never been able to get rid of several binders packed with coursework from a few important university classes. You know, the information that I will need as a reference one day when I go back to school.

More about that school thing.

School photos

When I say I always did well in school that’s kind of an understatement. I was smart from the start. You should see my grade one spelling tests. I graduated high school top of my class and went to university on a full ride scholarship. Even though I got sick one month into my first semester, I became that annoying person who ruined the curve for everyone else. I had a 4.23 GPA, a resume overflowing with work and volunteer experiences, and I was on track to reach every goal I had set. School was not just a means to an end for me, but rather a core part of my being, and my education was not a privilege I took lightly.

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What six year old even knows what precipitation is, let alone how to spell it??

I’m not telling you this to brag; I’m telling you this to help you understand what I lost when I got sick. Well, when I got sicker. When I got sick enough that I could no longer keep up the life I had been living, no matter how hard I tried.

And believe me, I tried. Over and over again, I tried.

I’ve lost count now of how many times I registered for classes, or even just one class, and ended up withdrawing part way through because of my health, usually because I wound up in the hospital for weeks at a time. I did this enough times that the university told me not to start a class unless I was sure I could finish it. Still, not getting a degree didn’t seem like an option. Despite how sick I was, I could not fathom an existence in which I was too sick to go to school. I could not fathom an existence in which chronic illness wasn’t just a footnote in my life, but rather a central theme.

Part of that came from the outside world. Social media is flooded with stories of people overcoming all odds to achieve the seemingly impossible. Messages of “if I can do it you can do it” and #noexcuses are everywhere. It happens in person, too. Instead of listening to my point of view, people are quick to tell me not to give up, that I’m too smart not to go to school, that I’m still young so I have lots of time left.

And part of it originated from my own self-image. I was the one who was going somewhere. I was the one with all that potential. I was the one everyone assumed was guaranteed to succeed.

I didn’t know how to let go of that.

Which is why I signed up for a class again this past semester. A class I had already started and withdrawn from. Twice. A class I thought might go better now that I’m healthier than the last time I tried. A class that would put me three credits closer to being that success story I so wanted to be. A class that I withdrew from for the third time in June. And a class that I was so thankful I had withdrawn from later that month when I found myself in the hospital yet again.

Everything is different now. I used to love school. I loved learning. Retaining information came easy and I functioned well under pressure. School had a purpose because I had goals, goals that didn’t factor in the limits that chronic illness places on a mind and body.

But everything is different now.

The truth is that I don’t like school anymore. Instead of energizing me, it exhausts me. It takes up all of my reserves and all of my resources, negatively affecting my quality of life and my overall health. My body now buckles under pressure. And the goals I had, the driving purpose behind all of my hard work, those goals are no longer realistic.

I don’t like school anymore, and because I don’t like the fact that I don’t like it I’ve wasted a lot of time, energy and money trying to like it again. Trying to do something because I felt like I was supposed to, because if other people could overcome the odds then I had to, too. Trying not to let my potential go to waste. Trying not to let my illness ‘win.’ Trying to be the person that would one day make use of all that coursework I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of.

There are lots of young people out there living with chronic illnesses and disabilities who are overcoming all odds for the sake of their education and because I know how hard it is to do what they are doing, they impress me to no end. I, however, am not one of them. The highlight reel of my success story is not going to include that coveted cap and gown photo.

And I think I’m okay with that. Or at least I’m trying to be. I’m learning to be, which is the whole point anyway. The point is that learning is not limited to lecture halls and labs. The point is that my education doesn’t have to end just because I’ve decided to stop paying money in pursuit of a BSc next to my name.

I am learning that there is so much more to learning than I ever realized.

Let’s go back, now, to all that old coursework I could never get rid of, where my love of learning faces off with my love of getting rid of stuff. All that paper waiting around for the day I go back to school, let’s go back to that.

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Oh, actually, we can’t. Because I got rid of it. All of it! All 17 pounds of paper (not before I weighed it, of course) and all of the stress and uncertainty it held. All those binders and all of the expectations and disappointments that were buried within them.

I was finally able to let it all go because I’m learning to let that version of my life go. I’m learning to broaden my view of success. I’m learning to respect and value the education I’ve been receiving this entire time.

Everything is different now, and I’m learning to let that be okay.

The most important part is that I’m still learning.

And that I never have to stop.

Minding my manners

A few weeks ago, I found myself in the ER one morning after 24 hours with a fever-and-friends (tachycardia, chills, shakes, aches, and a horrid headache). I was pretty certain it was just something viral, but a possible central line infection is not something you mess around with.

Unlike last fall when I was admitted right away and loaded with IV antibiotics only to be discharged 10 days later with a question mark diagnosis, the ER doctor I saw this time was pretty chill. Blood culture results take a few days to come back, but based on my other labs that morning, he agreed that it was probably just viral and he let me go home. Just 24 hours later my labs were a mess and he wouldn’t have let me leave, but at the time it was the right call.

I was appreciative and I thanked him, but I also apologized. I felt bad for raising alarm bells prematurely, for using the ER unnecessarily, and for wasting hospital resources. I felt bad that my mom had to go out of her way to drop me off before work and I felt bad that my aunt had to come drive me home. All this hassle and there wasn’t even anything wrong with me. Everyone assured me that coming in was the right thing to do, better safe than sorry and all that, but self-doubt triumphed to the point that when I got home I actually pulled out my TPN manual and read the pages about what to do if you are showing signs of infection to reassure myself that going to the ER had been the right move.

It had. But still. I felt silly. I felt like a hypochondriac. How could I not know what a virus felt like? Alright, I thought, now that I know what a viral fever-and-friends feels like, next time this happens I can wait it out two or three days before being concerned.

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Okay, so not a virus

And then the next day the hospital called. My blood cultures were growing yeast. I had to come back in to start treatment. I was probably going to lose my line.

There I was feeling bad about using the ER unnecessarily and apologizing for being worried over nothing when in fact there was actually something to worry about. There I was preparing myself to wait it out several days next time when in fact going in early is what allowed them to catch it early and start treatment before things got worse.

I was apologizing for nothing. Well, actually, I was apologizing for reacting appropriately to my situation, a situation beyond my control…so yeah, I was apologizing for nothing.

And the thing is, I do it all the time.

I say sorry. A lot. Too much, honestly, and most of the time it’s for things that are out of my hands.

By nature and by nurture I am a polite, peace-keeping people-pleaser. Let’s be clear here, I am nowhere near perfect, but I genuinely never want to be a bother. I never want to be an inconvenience, a burden, or an extra stress in someone’s life. And yet, I live with an unpredictable chronic illness that requires me to be a bother and to rely on other people to carry the extra load that my broken body can’t bear.

I hate that part. In fact, that might even be the part of this whole deal that I hate the most. I have this unrealistic idea that my struggles should be confined to my own life and that they shouldn’t affect anyone else. Sometimes I even feel bad even asking my doctors for help despite the fact that helping me is what they get paid for.

And so I say sorry. A lot. But they’re not empty apologies; if I say sorry it’s because I mean it. It’s because I respect your time and I don’t want to waste it. It’s because I know you have enough going on without having to worry about me, too. It’s because I wish you could be carefree even though I can’t. Even when I know it’s not my fault, I still genuinely feel bad when my problem ends up becoming someone else’s problem, too.

Very often I feel like a burden, but the thing is, the only person making me feel that way is me. And I think maybe the reason I feel like a burden all the time is because I’m constantly apologizing for being one. People tell me the same thing over and over again, “don’t be sorry,” and so I think it’s about time that I listen. I think it’s about time that I stop apologizing and start saying what I really mean.

And what I really mean is thank you.

When I apologize for needing a ride to the emergency room, what I really mean is thank you for going out of your way to help me. When I apologize for having to cancel or alter plans because I’m too tired or too sick to follow through, what I really mean is thank you for understanding. And when I apologize to a doctor for presenting with a problem they don’t know how to fix, what I really mean is thank you for listening and validating my concerns anyway.

What I really mean is thank you.

Thank you for your patience. Thank you for your time. Thank you for looking out for me and making sure I’m not left behind. Thank you for caring.

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Thank you for making me important to you because you are important to me, too.

I’m an imperfect human in an imperfect body. As much as I would like to be able to handle everything on my own, I can’t, and that’s not something to be sorry for. At the same time, there are so many people in my life who help me carry that load, and that is something to be grateful for.

So I’m going to stop apologizing for my existence, and start thanking other people for theirs. I’m going to stop simply minding my manners and start being mindful of how I mind them.

Less apologizing. More appreciating.

Mind how you mind your manners.

I don’t really know who Miss Manners is, but I’m pretty sure she would approve.