This past week was the 5th anniversary of the surgery that ended my 18-year long battle with health issues. I honor it each year as more of a birthday than an anniversary. It wasn’t always as bad as it got for the last eight and really the last three years. My life’s divided up into segments of before, during, and after. I wish it could’ve been corrected at the beginning, but life doesn’t work like that.
These mini birthdays are interesting milestones to stop and reflect. There is an abundance of enthusiasm for life when you have been close to losing it, but also a shift in who you are. Or maybe it’s merely the memory of who you were coming to the surface. I didn’t feel myself for so long. I floated dizzily through the motions to keep other people happy and at a distance. Never wanting them to know how bad it was. I was afraid they would push me away. Or maybe I was worried that would make it more real somehow if I let them in. When I visited people, it took every ounce of energy to play normal, to stay a part of a conversation. After visits, I slept in my car in parking lots, rest areas, and in strangers’ driveways. Or, if my husband was driving, I slept the entire trip home. I never wanted the people I cared about to know how much it exhausted me to see them.
I didn’t go outside much. Some gardening, a little sitting, napping in the shade. Life happened outside my window as I slept. The seasons passed, and I watched my lilac bush transform from bud to flower, to leaves, to bare, to snow. It’s how I knew when in the world, we were. Time moved slowly as my head rested on a pillow with my strength gathering for work, treatments, family, and friends. I gave them everything I had.
It’s hard to remember how that pleasant and accommodating soul pretended enough that normalcy felt achieved. I can’t comprehend her sadness and pain anymore. I’m in awe of her spirit, strength, and patience. I can’t figure out how she held it together. I still grieve for her and those years. I must remember she is me and to honor myself.
I’ve gained back health, writing, travel, reading, jumping up and down at concerts, meeting people, reconnecting with people and nature. I’ve also lost people as I’ve tried to match up all these loose ends within myself, to feel like a complete person. Maybe not all relationships are supposed to be permanent, even if we think they are.
So as I attempt to honor, love, and respect the sad, tough girl on the left-hand side of the photo at the top, I also celebrate a happy mini-birthday to the girl on the right-hand side with a social distancing walk in the woods.