Up the Down and Peaks in the Valley

It’s often that life is about the journey, not the destination. The journey has different peaks and valleys for each one of us, as does the destination. We learn to rise, fall, succeed and fail on our way to wherever we’re going, but the lessons don’t end there.

At some point, we have to realize a journey can’t happen without a destination. Or at least an idea of where we want to be when the dust settles. We can only go so far before we hit a few bumps in the road. Sometimes, however, those bumps are so big and impactful they instantly put things into perspective, in a way that changes our world.

I don’t think I could have been happier than I was at the end of 2014. I was at a point where I could enjoy life as a writer and genuinely think about my future. It was Christmas time and I found myself thinking about where I would be if I hadn’t repeated second grade, been forced to drop out of college or made difficult decisions along the way.

I don’t think I would have been prepared to help other writers tell their stories. Or continue to send my work to mainstream publication while balancing a life outside of writing – one which still revolved around my cerebral palsy. I simply felt fortunate to not only be working on a regular basis but to also be building upon my career.

As I settled into my new role as Social Justice Editor at The Good Men Project, I started to realize this job – at least this part of it – marked the beginning of the rest of my life. It was an honor that I never thought would be bestowed on me – let alone help me grow professionally as well as personally.

It gave me a sense of peace. It wasn’t the kind of peace that comes with knowing something is finished, like a painter putting final touches on a masterpiece. Nor was it a feeling of self-appreciation for going through the motions to even be in a position to help others. It felt more like breathing a sigh of relief, knowing I was truly moving on with my life in a big way. I didn’t give much thought to what might happen if the rug was pulled out from underneath me – until reality threw a wild punch to my gut I never saw coming.

December 25, 2014, started out as a normal day. I woke up and finished some work from the previous evening, before heading upstairs to spend Christmas Day with my family. The smell of freshly baked cookies was in the air, our house was sprinkled with decorations and I couldn’t remember feeling this happy, content and healthy in a long time – physically or mentally.

Everything was the way it was supposed to be – the way I’ve remembered it for so long. My family sat down for Christmas dinner and separating our gifts into piles according to the name tag on each neatly-wrapped package when we were done eating. We watched T.V. while opening presents from aunts, uncles and other relatives who live out of town. I quietly thought about all of the goals I had set so long ago, and how incredibly far away they once were.

It was a relaxing night. I admittedly needed to unwind and reflect. I went to bed shortly before midnight, feeling like I could conquer the world. The next morning, however, the clock seemed to stop and everything changed as I laid in my bed.

I reached down to uncover my legs and realized my sheets were soaked in sweat. My hand simultaneously brushed against my forehead. At that moment, I felt a rush of heat, unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. It was as if someone had lit me on fire. I knew something was wrong when I kicked my covers off – waiting for the immediate burst of cool air to hit me.

It never came. Neither did the feeling of control. I thrashed wildly in my bed – hoping to land on any spot on my sheets that wasn’t drenched with sweat. With each tiny move I made, heat engulfed my body. I’d stop moving – trying to find some sort of internal balance. The moment I began to squirm or make any movements, however, the cycle started all over again.

This would become verbatim – a pattern led to a cold, flu and many doctor visits. Two months and multiple tests later, in late February 2015, I was officially diagnosed with Graves’ Disease by a thyroid specialist in Pittsburgh, PA. The disease – unbeknownst to me prior to this – causes extreme swelling or a mass of the thyroid due to an overproduction of hormones in the throat. Symptoms range from fevers and hot flashes to tremors in the arms or legs, in addition to being a very temperamental condition.

I can feel fine one minute. The next, however, it can feel like someone has their hands wrapped around my neck – enough that I physically feel pressure. Graves’ Disease can also affect every major organ in the body – including the heart and liver. I wasn’t sure how I felt after hearing the diagnosis. I was relieved to finally have concrete answers, but I was also more scared than I’ve ever been in my entire life.

There were moments in between the onset of Graves’ and the actual diagnosis, where I felt like I was going to die. I had never been so ill, weak and depleted before – all in a matter of one day. I slowly had to learn how to live again and build myself back up from the very bottom. This time, however, I didn’t just have my cerebral palsy to deal with on a daily basis. It was an extremely bitter pill to swallow – and it still is.

I still have Graves’ Disease today, and I’m so grateful it’s being maintained by medication I now take every other day. That’s not to say I’m accustomed to now living with a disability and a disease at the same time. I honestly don’t think I’ll ever get used to it, but I can’t be sad and bitter forever.

My outlook on many things has definitely been heightened because of all of this. I’m much more aware of myself and being comfortable in my own skin all over again. The two months I spent looking and feeling like death were the lowest of the low, but time only made me want to work harder. The next few years would be a delicate balancing act on many personal levels – highlighted by receiving a prestigious honor in my hometown and the true realization of my lifelong dream: the publication of my first book.

It doesn’t matter where you start out in life, or how long your jour journey takes. What matters is you find a light at the end of the darkest tunnel and follow it all the way to your destination.

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