In one week I will be twenty-eight years old. At various ages I did not think I would survive until this point, though I have remained hopeful that I will have a long and impactful life even on my most impossible days.
And yet, the last few years when my birthday wanders around once again during the sticky Midwestern summer, my depression and anxiety are quick to follow and cling to me just as my clothes do in this humidity. Suddenly I am sinking, sinking, sinking, until I begin my crying spells that last for weeks, or I become completely apathetic towards my life. Every year since my twenty-first birthday depression has come for the same reason; from my early to now late twenties, I feel that while birthdays are usually something to celebrate, mine is absolutely not, because I have little to show for the fact that I have been alive this long.
In the American society I was raised in, you are told from a very young age who and what you can be. You grow up, you finish school. Then you go to more school. You get a degree, you secure a job to stick with for 30 or 40 years, you get married, you have children, you retire, you hang around for a while, and that’s your life. There are perks to these steps, of course, it isn’t all mundane. People are praised and celebrated for getting that expensive piece of paper that proclaims they know more now than they ever have about a particular subject. First homes and weddings are cause for elaborate, wonderful parties that scream to the world, look at me! I am definitely doing the thing!
Of course, while for many people these things do not come without some level of hardship, the regular life obstacles that many average people go through are on an entirely different level than the hardship people such as myself endure- The hardships that have kept me from building the life I so desire.
A week away from twenty-eight years old, I have no money. I have no home of my own. I have no career, no process towards one, no wedding, and no children (fur babies or human ones). For all the spectacular celebrations my life should have been filled with by now, instead my flourishing has been suffocated with chronic illness, hospitals and ambulances, abuse, and my survival instincts constantly in red alert mode in order to get through it all. I can’t help but feel behind, like a total and complete failure who lost the game of life before I even had my hands properly on the controller.
However, as one of my counselors recently stated, deeming myself a total and complete failure may not entirely be fair. I have survived more than two decades of abuse that I have worked extremely hard to recover from, and I strive to live kindly and compassionately despite my downfalls. I’ve had two decades of unrelenting chronic pain that made me suffer for days, weeks, or months, and at finally releasing me from its excruciating clutches would guarantee it would be back soon, like a demon haunting my insides. There’s been two decades of being unable to contemplate where I may be in five years because I wasn’t convinced I could survive the next five days. Two decades of constant, painful struggle, that I, though it has brought out the weakest and most ugly parts of me, have somehow survived.
But our society doesn’t throw parties for someone who has survived long term physical and mental abuse.
We don’t have welcome home parties for someone who has come home from their dozenth hospitalization.
We don’t post on Facebook how happy we are to have tiny day to day accomplishments than were in themselves hard to achieve because of disability, because in the eyes of others, it might seem completely insane, or worse, trivial.
Our society greatly underestimates the amount of strength it takes to remain alive and functioning when burdened with chronic pain, and they underestimate the type of resilience it requires to still have passion come from a heart that has been fractured more times than any heart ever should. The average person does not understand that while on the outside, I may seem like is an unemployed, lost, exhausted young woman, inside I am a warrior battered from constant fighting and constant losing. My victories that I have won have not come easily and have often been few and far between. I am battered, bruised, scarred, and broken. Many nights I sit at the edge of my bed, screaming through struggling breaths and a stuffy nose that I can’t be like this anymore. I can’t stand to be in pain anymore.
But even still, I do manage take the seconds, and the days, and the years, with every single painful breath. I muster the courage to breathe them in and out and I dare to believe that this life will get better. I may always be chronically ill, but I fight ferociously to have a life that is still long, happy, and meaningful. The kind of life I can be proud of.
We don’t celebrate that kind of courage, either-
But this year, on July fourth, I am going to.