2017 was the year that I realized just how difficult an entire year can be. I wish I could reflect on how awesome of a year this was, but to be frank- this was probably one of the worst years of my life thus far. But before you delve into my story, please know this article is not a cry for pity. It’s my year in words, and not every year is great. It’s hopefully something that can resonate with someone else.
Beginning in January, I was dealing with an illness that no doctor could put their finger on, that destroyed me from the inside out. From there, I encountered situations that challenged me like no other, people that stomped on my spirit, feelings that tore me down like never before, and ups and downs that made me question so many things as the months went by. As January is approaching again, I’m now facing new battles of a completely different genre. Let’s be clear, this year wasn’t a horrible year all because I fell victim to so many unforeseen circumstances. I endured a lot of things that I did not deserve, but I also let that affect me in ways that led me to make mistakes that I take responsibility for. That being said, I can’t help but feel that something good will come out of this upcoming year. There were so many things that happened this year that are almost painful to reflect on, but I can’t help but see a lesson given to me in every single one of them. 2017 was the year I lost myself in the chaos.
2017 was the year I came face to face with not just one, but several chronic illnesses. I’ve wrote about them a lot in previous blog posts, but I can’t reflect on this past year without reflecting on that, because it became the foundation for so many other things that occurred. It was the year I was hospitalized over 10 times, had my first seizure, bounced from WV to Baltimore from doctor to doctor, endured needles, MRI’s, EEG’s, and even more needles, I lost my hair, parts of my education, my dignity, and had precious time stolen out from under me without having any say in it. But it was also the year that I received more support and love than I ever could have imagined. I realized that it was okay, to not be okay. I realized I could have had it a lot worse, and I realize now that although I still deal with remnants of that time everyday, I made it through it.
2017 was the year I said hello to depression and post traumatic stress disorder. With the intense physical illness that hit me this year, so did mental illnesses. I have always had anxiety and some panic attacks here and there, but never to the point of daily panic attacks that would end with me throwing up and debilitation that led to depression. It’s hard not to become depressed when you’re bedridden and stripped of all the things that made you – you. But as I started to get better, I expected that to repair itself just as my hair began to regrow and appetite began to increase. But it didn’t. I found myself wanting to go out and do the things I hadn’t been able to do for so long, but I couldn’t. Chronic illness is a thief. An unpredictable burglar. One who steals things you didn’t even think to hide. Who breaks down doors and punches through your walls. So what you’re left with is uncertainty. Anxiety. Fear. What’s next? How bad will the damage be next time? When will it happen? Because you know it will happen. You just never know when and you never know if it’s going to turn your whole world upside down.
But you can’t, you won’t, constantly live in fear, so you do your best to patch up the holes in the walls. You try to put the doors back on the broken hinges as best you can.
You continue on. Taking it one day at a time. You do pretty well, but every time you get in the car to drive again, your gut clenches. You walk into a big store by yourself and feel a wave of anxiety come over you because you’re somewhere in public by yourself for the first time in months. You wonder if it’s going to happen again. What was that weird feeling? Is it danger? Is it a seizure going to come on? Or am I just a little dizzy from skipping lunch? You wait. Heart beating faster and faster. Mind racing. Trying to figure out what you’ll do if the burglar has come back. Desperately hoping they won’t damage anything that is structural and essential to the integrity of your house.
You have very little control and the burglar that is PTSD makes sure to remind you of that every now and then. Without control, what remains is hope. Hope that the burglar will someday leave you alone. Hope that one day you can make plans to go out and not carry a pulse-ox, epi-pen, inhaler, and assortment of medications you won’t need with you, embarrassingly, or google the nearest hospital from wherever you’re at incase something happens. You have to find your strength. And sometimes, especially right after you’ve been robbed of it, it’s a very hard thing to do.
But I learned that it’s possible. Somedays are harder than others, but with the help of a lot of great people, i’ve made baby steps to regain what my illness took from me. It may have taken me months to step foot in a grocery store by myself, travel out of state by myself, or sit in a doctors office without going and throwing up in the bathroom, but I did it. That’s only the start.
2017 was the year I said goodbye to friends that I thought I would have forever, but drew others so much closer. Earlier in the year when I was very sick, I remember writing a blog post about how many friends came to be by my side when I had lost my hair and when I was going to the hospital every other week. How many people reached out to me, posted pictures with me, and wanted to come see me and be close to me. Which was true. But what I didn’t realize was that while I appreciated their support, that didn’t make them true friends. Truth be told, I had a lot of attention on me for a good amount of time this past year. A sorority girl at a huge university loses all of her hair and for whatever reason, everyone wants to know her. To latch on to some of that attention. I associated “friends” being there for me so intensely during that time to be the real ones. Because they stuck with me through the “hard times”. But honestly, those weren’t the hard times. The hard times are after. When you go through periods where you’re an anxiety-ridden mess, when you make mistakes, when you try to return back to being normal. It’s crazy to see how many “friends” you have then. “Through thick and thin” doesn’t mean much to a lot of people nowadays. You don’t turn on your friends. You don’t follow the crowd. You stand by what is right and what is wrong. It’s incredibly sad that this world has become one solely based on looks and reputation, and the basis of friendship usually derives from fear of loneliness – not what type of person you think someone truly is. But what a lot of people don’t realize is that college is only temporary. The parties are only temporary. When you graduate and are thrown out into the real world, the people that you thought were your friends will dwindle off and based on who you chose over the years, you may not be left with any at all.
As I went through more difficult things this semester, I realized who my real friends were. People that saw and knew what kind of person I was, and what kind of friend I had always been to them. The comforted me during the most difficult of times, and those are the people that I know will be here 5, 10, 50 years from now.
2017 was the year I realized that your beauty and worth derives deeper than Instagram likes or how many guys are blowing up your phone. I never in a million years imagined losing my hair at 20 years old. I never imagined gaining and losing 20 pounds in a matter of months over medications, breaking out in hives every other week, or dealing with a sunken in face and scars that makeup can’t even hide. I had lost so much of myself because my usual appearance was stolen out from under me. I didn’t recognize myself anymore. I wish I could say that I flaunted my bald head for all to see, to raise awareness, but the day after I said goodbye to every last bit of my hair I went out and spent over 600$ on a wig to try to look no different. Although my hair has now grown out a considerable amount, I’ve still wore that wig almost every single day since I lost my hair. I am still incredibly self conscious of my hair, because I don’t think any 20 year old is prepared for that type of change. It’s traumatic. But what I did realize was that I didn’t feel any more beautiful wearing my wig. Sure, I felt more normal. I wasn’t stared at or felt the need to explain to everyone how I lost my hair. But it wasn’t the same. I still couldn’t have a guy run his fingers through my hair. I could’t throw my hair up in a bun like I was used to (that is without a lot of manipulation and glue). I still felt like something was missing, because it was. But instead of letting that knock down my self-esteem, I sought out ways to feel beautiful that went beyond looks. I tried my best to build a beautiful soul, and fill that void. I was there at any time, any place, for someone that needed me. I studied the bible more than I ever had. I made intricate personalized baskets for people’s birthdays, no matter how close we were. I donated to charities, I raised money for Epilepsy Awareness, I volunteered at the hospital, I tried to care more about others than myself. I did a lot of things that a lot of people may not even know about, and that’s the point. I did things for other people, but they ended up doing way more for me. I still have my days where I won’t go out without my wig, or get down in the dumps about my appearance, but I know deep down that the heart that I have and the kindness that you should show others is something that should be flaunted.
2017 was the year that bullying became personal. Rumors. Slut shaming. Anonymous text messages. Harassment. Threats. Things that I had always knew that happened, but never in a million years imagined that it would happen to me. One of the large group of girls that took part in bullying me for an entire semester once told me “Words are just words Jordyn, you need to grow up and realize that”. But I’m here to tell you that words are not just words. Words are everything. Words have the ability to tear you down or build you up. Words have the ability to make someone that is incredibly resilient, feel helpless. No matter what you do, what you say, no matter what courtesy you show others, some people will always find something to mock, criticize, and demean you for. Words, especially in large numbers, have the ability to cause emotional trauma that leaves a mark. Words are debilitating. Words can kill. They are not to be taken lightly, and the sooner we realize that, the sooner we can put an end to things that I had to endure and spend our time building each other up. While you are still going to be held accountable for the sake of other people you may encounter throughout your lives, just know that I forgive you. I forgive you for being heartless, cruel, mean girls. Because in order to truly hold you accountable for what you’ve done to me and others, I must practice what I believe is right. Empathy. Understanding. Kindness without reciprocation.
2017 was the year I noticed that mental illness can change who you are entirely. It can strip you of your kindness, your patience, your creativity, everything that makes you- you. Depression, anxiety, and PTSD aren’t just “happy or sad”, “panicking or content”, “upset or feeling fine”. These things are not just feeling sad and rocking back and forth. They aren’t just staying in your bed all day. More than often they present themselves in so many different ways. Anger, impatience, random attitudes, avoidance, overthinking, isolation, OCD, fast-talking, not talking at all, stomach aches, headaches, fatigue, and so much more. People will get angry at you for having a short fuse, but its because your mind is racing with torturous thoughts that you can’t control. People will get annoyed if you can’t come out and do something, but it’s because your mind is filled with suicidal thoughts that day, not whether you want to eat at Panera or Applebees. You’re just trying to get through the day. However, i’m not saying that dealing with mental illness is just an excuse for you to act however you’d like because you’re going through something. Everyone is going through something. But before scrutinizing someone for their actions or how they may come off, first try to understand if something else could be going on and attack that problem, not the person. For some, something is obviously going on but its far beyond the realm of their understanding so they refrain from trying to understand. For others, they get it. They show you unconditional love and support. They try to understand. For those people, you made this year so much easier for me. You made it survivable, so thank you.
2017 was the year that I realized that the support of your family is vital, and on that note, it has the ability to hinder you just as much as it can help you. My best friend recently told me something that really stuck with me. She said “blood relation doesn’t give someone a pass to continue to harm you and bring toxicity into your life”. Toxic people are like leeches. They drain you of your happiness and thrive on creating drama. There could be a million reasons for this, but most derive from immaturity, instability, jealousy, or selfish resentment. Just because someone is family, does not mean that that person deserves forgiveness because they are family. Everyone deserves forgiveness in this life, but the belief that family members deserve forgiveness or special treatment because they are family is considerably illogical. Blood relation should not be a reason to keep toxic and harmful people in your life, and you can forgive someone without allowing them to continue to wreck your wellbeing. It may be more difficult, it may come with more baggage, but sometimes after years of emotional trauma its necessary for certain people to be removed from your life until they can make changes within themselves to stop hurting others so intensely.
2017 is the year my parents showed me the true meaning of unconditional love. Family is built on the foundation of unconditional love. That means to love one another despite any condition. Sickness, distance, addiction, rough patches, mistakes. Through it all, the majority of my family have shown me that, and it’s made life a hell of a lot easier through one of my hardest years. It’s been an exhausting year of it “always being something”, but not once have the people that I consider my family complained about that. I’m very thankful for those that have stepped up and dealt with the relentless ups and downs that this year has shown me. They often say that when you’re suffering, it hurts the people that love you even harder than it’s hurting you, and i’ve seen that. So to those that I consider my family, especially my parents, thank you for taking on that hurt for me all year. I am in no way perfect, in-fact I know just how difficult I’ve been to deal with this year, partly because of things that have happened to me and partly because of mistakes that I’ve made. I lost myself this year, hell I can genuinely say I lost my mind at times. However, the people that have never made me feel bad for that while still guiding me into a better direction, those are the people that are family.
2017 was the year that I stared death in the face. It took my uncle, and not even days later it took my childhood best friend. At times it almost took me. Up until this year I had never lost anyone close to me this way, and it came as a huge shock. Losing someone close to you for the first time is overwhelming. The grief is an unexpected cascade of treasured memories intertwined with feelings of incomplete, unexpressed emotions. You hear everyday that “life is short”, but I feel like it never really clicks for you how short it is until you endure the pain of losing someone close to you for the first time.
I can’t even begin to imagine those who have lost a parent, a best friend, or a sibling. I can’t imagine anything more painful in this life than that. That thought is something that saved my own life.
2017 was the year that I no longer want to live anymore.
What does that feel like?
It feels like the pain inside of you has so far exceeded your threshold, that your only option left is to give up and give into it. You’ve already been drowning for so long and your fighting to swim to shore isn’t getting you anywhere closer, just wearing you out, like you’re swimming the wrong way in a riptide and drifting further, screaming at a shore of people who can’t hear your words or tell that you’re drowning. But no one gets it. No one takes it serious enough. It’s one thing after another. It’s overcoming a debilitating illness and finally being “better”, but not being happy and not knowing why. Its writing and burning countless suicide notes. It’s one bout of bad news after another that feel like the whole world is crashing down no matter how small. It’s handing your dad a bottle of pills you were minutes away from taking. It’s driving to your grandparents house to say goodbye to them without them knowing. It’s landing yourself in the hospital and spending 5 days in a unit where you’re stripped of everything and forced to just think. You feel incapable of bearing the pain or fighting a long fight anymore; you feel like all you have left in you is the few minutes of fight and ‘courage’ to make it all stop. After all, you think the world and everyone in it will be better off without you anyway, and that they will all quickly forget your existence. Struggling briefly to force yourself underwater and give into its darkness feels so much more surmountable than the seemingly endless, futile struggle of trying to reach the light of the shore instead.
It’s shameful. It’s confusing. It’s uncomfortable to talk about. But it needs to be talked about. I spent over 2/3 of my days this year I’m sure thinking about suicide. But it’s something I only talked about with less than 5 people. One of those people happened to have saved my life. 2017 was the year that I was told that life will go on, with or without you, but you get to decide how it continues on. As much as I didn’t want to live anymore on so many days, I knew that the confusion and disappointment that I had in my life was still not more powerful than the love I had for people in my life. I may have not wanted to live anymore because I didn’t want to be in pain any longer, and sure committing suicide would have put me out of that pain. But the catch was that it would pass it on to those that love me. And no matter how much pain I found myself in, I still couldn’t bring myself to knowingly put those people in the pain that I was in, because I knew how it felt. I still have days where I feel this way, but it’s something that will heal with time.
Amidst all of this, 2017 was a year that I learned way more than I had ever imagined.
I know what I deserve. I know what kind of person I am. I know what kind of person I want to be. I know what’s in my heart. I know what I can offer this world. I know what mistakes I’ve made, and what changes I need to make to better the person that I am. I am stubborn. I make mistakes. I am sensitive. I suffer from a mental illness. However I am strong. I am selfless. I am kind-hearted. I am creative. I am beautiful.
While 2017 was one of the worst years of my life, it’s going to make 2018 that much better. I’m ready for new beginnings. I am ready for a life filled with the support of the right people, and the health I deserve. I am ready for fresh starts. 2018 will be the year that I realize just how much better a year can be.
Cheers to a New Year, xx