It’s Day 16 of the challenge and today’s question is:
Life Goal: What’s one thing that your 10-year-old self thought you would do? Can you still do it? How would you approach it to make it happen? #HAWMC
A few months ago, I tried on this pink dress that I wore when I spoke at my college graduation (I introduced the keynote speaker, attorney and TV correspondent, Rikki Klieman). I was pleasantly surprised to find it fit me! But, I also wanted to give it away.
I felt a twinge of sadness when I saw it because when I was 22-years old, I felt like the future was ripe with possibility. I was diagnosed with bipolar 2 as a freshman in college. But, I still graduated cum laude from Northwestern University with two majors. I traveled the country almost every weekend with the Speech Team and won twenty titles. I did all this while batting bipolar disorder and polycystic ovarian syndrome. At my college graduation, I felt like I had conquered the beast (depression) and now nothing could keep me down. (Contrast that to another experience: When I delivered my high school commencement address, I got a standing ovation but I remember this nagging feeling inside of me hoping that my darkness, the depression, wouldn’t come again. That was pre-bp diagnosis.)
What I Wanted To Be When I Grew Up
I recently found a paper I wrote in the third grade about what I wanted to be when I grew up. My answer: a Sunday School teacher and Toys ‘R Us employee so I could get discounts on Barbie dolls. Ambitious, right? I cringed when I read that. But a few years later, in my sixth grade yearbook, I answered the same question with a detailed map of my life including everything from when I wanted to go to law school, my plans to become a politician, and the age I would retire. Looking back, if I said my goal was to have five diseases by the age of 30 and spend half my adult life bedridden, then I would be wildly successful. Mission accomplished!
When Life Changes In An Instant
My life changed when I was 24-years old. My goal up to that point was to see my book for young adults with depression published; I started writing it at the end of my senior year at the encouragement of a professor. Then, go to law school at 24 or 25.
But, one day, while I was climbing up this long flight of stairs at work, I couldn’t feel anything below my legs. I kept falling and falling. My mind was yelling, “Get up!” but my body wasn’t listening. And I couldn’t speak. Lying on the stairs while students walked over my limp body, I knew I had a neurological disorder. A few weeks later I was diagnosed and hospitalized with myasthenia gravis, MG, a rare neuromuscular autoimmune disease. MG’s symptoms are often confused for multiple sclerosis or ALS. I spent over a year bedridden and had many medical procedures. Because of MG, I also developed asthma and later psoriasis. Everything that happened pre-MG feels like a thousand years ago to me.
Success Comes In Different Colors
In addition to the daily pain and fatigue that make it hard to finish anything, when you’ve had a disease that’s almost killed you, your mortality is something you think about. Losing a friend to muscular dystrophy reminded me of this–she only had one goal in life, to see her book published. And that didn’t happen. (In 2013, I came very close to getting the book published and I will pitch it to the competing publisher this year.) A few years ago, my friend, Brittany, told me,
“I graduated summa cum laude. You were cum laude. Remember this: Your greatest accomplishment in life is being alive and surviving Myasthenia Gravis and all your illnesses. There’s nothing else that you have done or could do that is greater than that.”
Today, I am a contributor to The Huffington Post. Psych Central named me a Mental Health Hero. I won Second Prize in the National Council of Community Behavioral Healthcare’s Awards of Excellence, and MSNBC did a documentary on my life. But the future is still uncertain. I’ve learned that some of our greatest accomplishments don’t appear on resumes. They aren’t (always) met by applause and standing ovations. But they appear in the lives we touch. They happen when we take a shower and brush our teeth after being bedridden. They happen when someone says, “I was feeling terrible yesterday. But then I thought, if you could do it, I could too.”
I’m not throwing away my pink dress, after all.
Tomorrow (and all-month long), I’ll be answering questions from WEGO.
–Your Stylist, Jessica Gimeno