Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Uncertainty of Tomorrow

Today is #BellLetsTalk Day, a day in recognition of the importance of mental health where Bell is donating 5 cents to mental health programs every time the hashtag #BellLetsTalk is used. Mental health is a problem that many live with, but if we all stand together we can work to solve the problem, to end the stigma that goes along with getting a mental health diagnosis.

I don't live with a mental health diagnosis, but I do experience some anxiety. I live with the unknown, an uncertainty of what tomorrow will bring. I live with a few chronic illnesses, like Crohn's Disease, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), and problem's with how my heart works. It makes planning into the future very challenging, as I have no idea how my health will progress in the future.

I have the perfect example of the anxiety this causes - This week is my "High-School Transition Planning Week" or in other words, a week of a lot of meetings, and information overload. Where I live, we have to basically choose whether we are going to go to University or go to College as soon as we're given our course selection stuff. If you want to go to University, you need to take a minimum of the advanced level requirement courses. If you want to go to College, you can take the "easier" level courses. Well in order to know whether you should go for College or University, you pretty much need to have some idea of what you want to do with your life.

There lies the problem. It's hard for me to look into the future and imagine what I am doing because all of this health stuff that I live with daily fogs up the picture. It's like an abstract painting, you know the image is in there but sometimes in looking at it, all you see are parts of things with no clear connection. Right now, the Crohn's Disease is mostly controlled, but I'm dealing with a lot of issues with dehydration, overheating, and the pain from my joints from the EDS. Standing longer than 5 minutes is painful, walking and stairs are just as brutal. I have the physical stamina of a sloth - I move and then need to rest from moving. My physical health does nothing to help ease my worries about the future!

In thinking about the future, we also look at the past in order to try to predict the outcomes of whatever choices we're making at the time. If I look at my health history, I've spent more time with doctors and medical staff than most other significant people in my life, over the past almost 5 years. I haven't been able to attend school regularly. If I base my future on how my life has been over the past few years, I worry about the challenges that missing a lot of highschool days could bring. What happens if my Stelara fails, I go into a Crohn's flare and miss a month of school? What if like this year, I just don't have the energy to be able to make it through full days? What effect will this have on any plans I do make?

I try to deal with this anxiety in the same way I deal with all the other hurdles in my life, with positivity and taking it one step at a time. I know what direction I want to go - University - and now I just have to take it one baby step at a time to get there. I could let the worry overwhelm me, it is an overwhelming thing to have to think about. And sometimes it does get overwhelming. But then I take a step back, breathe and figure out what the next step is. Overcoming the fear is a daily process, some days you win, other days, ... not so much. But there is always hope, because there is always the possibility of a tomorrow. And so long as there is the possibility of tomorrow... there is hope for a new beginning.

So where do I see myself in the future? I don't have a specific job in mind, but I want to do something in Science. I want to research, discover, come up with new scientific theories, work with quantum and nano physics, chemistry, biology and genetics... And of course, continue to inspire and help make a difference in this world.

So let's talk today about mental illness. Become part of the movement, be part of the solution. Use #BellLetsTalk and help tell the world that mental health is nothing to be ashamed of. Because, let's face it, sometimes we all need that shoulder to lean on and that hand to help us up.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Love, Time and Death - The Trio of Life

Yesterday I saw the movie Collateral Beauty. It's about this guy, Howard, struggling with the grief from losing a child and his search for meaning while trying to put his life back together. In his search, he writes letters to concepts - Love, Death and Time, the three things that connect us all.

It's a movie that makes you think. Can there be beauty through pain, suffering and loss? Can we really take tragedy and see light within the darkness? Is there such a thing as beauty in ugliness?

I think so. Love is within everything. It's the passion, it's the motivation, it's the inspiration. Love is the creative force in this world and everything is created out of love. Love is the main reason for doing what you do. But love is also in the struggles. Love gives us a reason to keep going each day, a reason to get out of bed.

Living with Crohn's Disease is ugly. I've had 15 sets of gastroscopies, colonoscopies/ileoscopies, proctoscopies, all with biopsies. I've had my colon removed and now have an ostomy. I have a permanent/long-term feeding tube. I've had to live through severe side effects caused by Remicade, then Humira, and then allergies to a list of things longer than I am tall. I've had some pretty painful procedures like rectal ultrasounds, skin shavings and skin biopsies. I've had a few nights where I wasn't sure if I'd wake up to a tomorrow, such as when I had my hypertensive crisis episode and collapsed at the Train concert. Or when I had pneumonia and aspirated into my lungs. It's ugly. Yet, there is still love to be found in all of this suffering. Love is what lifts me up to keep me going each day. Love are the complete strangers that reach out with little notes of encouragement. Love are the little rays of light in otherwise very long, dark days.

Time gives us a chance to use our love, to transform the ugly into beauty. Time is the hope for tomorrows, the hope for a better future. Time is an opportunity. No one knows what tomorrow brings, the only time that we have is now. Time and Love give us the opportunity to create a lasting impression on the world. We have this moment to make a difference, we can make this moment matter. I'm very aware that our time here is short, and can be much shorter than any of us could have dreamt of. I want to leave something beautiful behind when I die. I want my life to have meant something. I want to be remembered as the kid who did something positive to make this world a better place.

Death. We fear it. We want to run and hide from it. But death isn't necessarily to be feared. To me, I think of death as the beginning, the point where your old life is going to meet a new life, just possibly in a new form. And that's exciting since it means that there never really is a final "goodbye", that we're connected together even after death. It's the beautiful side of death that is often overshadowed by the grief death creates. Even out of the pain of death, beauty still exists. Proof of this can be found in any of the deceased transplant donors, or in the charities that are created after the death of a loved one.

Everything comes down to acceptance, which also comes over time and with love. You accept that things change. You accept the reality of your situation for what it is. You accept your personal limitations. You accept your life for what it is - a journey filled with possibilities but not without challenges as well. Acceptance is necessary to truly live, if you don't accept the positives and the negatives in your life, you spend so much more energy fighting back against them rather than spending your energy moving forward. I accept that I have multiple illnesses that I will live with for the rest of my life. That doesn't mean that I am happy to have Crohn's Disease or Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome but I have to accept that these will be in my life as part of my path to happiness.

So the next time you're faced with a crisis, stop, breathe, and try to look for the beauty, look for your opportunity to turn the ugly into something beautiful. Make today matter.