When we are kids it seems like most interactions with adults are just endless streams of questions focusing around what we want to be when we grow up. It’s around this time when we start to think about our personalities, what we like and what we don’t like, and what we are capable of. Over the years we develop a distinct personality and we learn what makes us happy; these things begin to define who we are. Most people manage to hang on to parts of their younger selves, but slowly lose their grip on other parts, leading to the dreaded midlife crisis. Most people trade in parts of themselves for a better job, being a good spouse, or to have children; they become the husband, mother, or boss. But what happens when you are forced to focus your energy on a chronic illness? It becomes a defining feature in your life, often taking over completely.
When I was depressed it (obviously) affected my life tremendously, but after the initial few months I was still able to do the things that made me who I was. I still volunteered, I still worked with children, and I still managed to be the centre of attention most of the time. But when I was diagnosed with asthma I knew something was different. I could feel in my gut that my life was changing, this time permanently. All of a sudden I couldn’t go anywhere without planning. I had to carry around my medication with me everywhere I went. I can’t scuba dive, high elevations leave me gasping, and things like camping just got a whole lot more difficult.
For a long time I refused to let it affect me in any way. This was great, except that I wasn’t taking a life threatening condition seriously and my body was only going to put up with that for so long. Gradually my asthma got worse. It started seeping into every aspect of my life. When my thyroid started acting up and my medication side effects got really bad, my life stood still. My health affected my job, my relationships and everything became about my conditions. I lost who I was and I became a patient.
I recently decided that I was going to work really hard to get back to who I used to be. I’ve started putting myself first, and while I still have to take the necessary precautions regarding my health, I try very hard not to focus on it. Last month I started going to a dance class at my gym. I knew it would be fun, but I didn’t realize how much it would affect me. I was instantly brought back to my youth, when I took ballet classes for 13 years. For that hour I felt like I was 15 again, I felt like myself.
It’s so easy to fall into a rut or to let important parts of who you are die. I know I’m not whole unless I’m doing certain things, one of which is dancing. Of course in many ways I’ve changed and developed new interests, but I know I have to keep some of the old ones alive or risk losing the light and energy that I had when I was young. It’s ironic because I am one of the least traditional people I know. I travel a lot, I do not work at a 9-5 job, and my personal life has been somewhat of a soap opera. However, if everyone around you sees you as a walking inhaler, it’s easy to start seeing yourself like one too. A few excuses, a few societal expectations, and a few personal doubts is all it takes to change your life. But I’m done with that part of my life. I’m bringing my 25 year old self back and she’s going to be awesome.