“It does not do well to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”~JK Rowling
I had a plan. I was going to graduate from high school as the valedictorian (with a truly inspired and amazing speech), attend Harvard as an undergrad and then as a medical student, earning my M.D. and working at Boston Children’s Hospital as a pediatric oncologist. I was going to be married to the love of my life with 4 rambunctious boys, several published books, and live in or near the city. My health was of little or no concern to me. I had always been healthy, save for the occasional stomach virus. I had many perfect attendance awards. Yep, I had a plan and, when I have a plan, it happens. You don’t want to be around if it doesn’t happen. I’m the first to admit that I don’t handle that well. And so it began…
I didn’t graduate at the top of my class. Not by a long shot. But I made some of the best friends I’ve ever had and had the picture-perfect prom night every girl dreams of.
I didn’t get into Harvard. Didn’t even apply, actually, because I would not have been accepted nor would I have been offered the scholarships to attend the school anyway. I headed off to UMASS with my best friend in tow, ready to kick some ass in the psychology department. I was also teaching preschool at this point, which I love Love LOVED. I met another one of my best friends, this one an international student from France who has figured wonderfully into my life even after his return to Europe.
My best friend moved away and my international friend bon voyaged back to France so I decided to dorm on campus where I met some of my best friends in college. I was still teaching and was pretty convinced my future lay in teaching preschool. My psychology degree would help with that and I’d get my M.A. in the CTEP program at UMASS. Not my original plan, but it would work.
The summer before my sophomore year in college, I got my routine check-up, which included the meningitis vaccine. Less than a month later, I got my first migraine which was horrible and terrifying but not something I dwelled on. I moved on-campus and had a great roommate and met a close friend who would inevitably introduce me to the man of my dreams (who is still currently the man of my dreams, all these years later.)
The migraines began to catch up with me but I soldiered on, even when professors suggested I drop out of college because “if I couldn’t handle college, how would I ever handle a job?” I kept on trucking, earning a spot in the selective CTEP Education program, under the assumption that I would pass my final semester of classes. The plan was still in-tact. Until, the migraines got worse and I was unable to pass my final classes, losing my opportunity to enroll in CTEP for the fall. I was told that I could go back, pass the classes, and be re-accepted into CTEP. At that point, I was too sick to return to school.
After taking some time off to try and reign in my migraines, I worked full-time in a classroom of four and five-year olds with two amazing co-teachers. These were two of the hardest and best years of my life and I was eventually let go due to “budget cuts” which is what they say when your health is the issue but they don’t want to get sued.
I went back to school and completed my Bachelor’s degree in English against all the odds and against the majority of my teacher’s assumptions. I had to fight and argue and work harder than I’ve ever had to and be told every step of the way that I should just quit. My parents and one professor had my back. I’m not sure I even thought I was going to make it through at that point. I knew the ER doctors and my PCP and my neurologist better than most of my classmates and several of my teachers. But I finally prevailed. A Bachelor’s degree in…English. My plan had been foiled again.
I began teaching at another school as more of an assistant teacher and was forced to take medical leave as the migraines continued to resist medication or treatment of any kind. I got shuffled from doctor to doctor, from drug to drug, and my position at the school was eventually (you guessed) “eliminated due to budget cuts.”
I was becoming increasingly frustrated. I had an amazing boyfriend, who remains by my side to this day, but my friends were dropping like flies. They said they couldn’t deal with the anxieties and panic attacks that come along with a debilitating chronic invisible illness and so, on my birthday, two people that I had cherished for many years told me that they couldn’t deal with me anymore. I didn’t know that best friends could break up with you. But they can. A chronic illness certainly does test the boundaries of any relationship but it absolutely shows the true angels in your life.
I’ve done some work here and there since then but my “job” has mostly been trying to get my migraines under control. My dreams changed from Harvard and pediatric oncology to only having to go to the hospital once a month, instead of three times a month. Talk about a different plan. But here’s the thing…
If my “plan” had worked out originally, I wouldn’t have met the love of my life. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet my current mentor and supervisor and become the Creative Director of Mindful Universe. I can still have kids and publish books, maybe even get that M.D. someday, if I want to. But there are so many things I didn’t plan.
I never dreamed I’d get to shake Barack Obama’s hand.
Or get a hug and an autograph from James Taylor on my birthday.
I didn’t know who Fitz & The Tantrums or Capital Cities were or that I loved them and would get to meet them.
I wouldn’t have ever experienced Christmas Tree Burning Parties or Shotgun Blues or Six to Midnite or stART on the Street or Burlington Mardi Gras and Skinny Pancakes.
I never would have met David Sedaris or started a blog letting other people know that, even if their illness is invisible, they are not.
I never would’ve signed up for and completed a 5k.
I wouldn’t have met so many amazing and wonderful people, both in real life and online.
There are so many holidays I would have missed and people I wouldn’t know.
I don’t like it when plans change and I certainly wouldn’t have planned this new life…but there’s a lot of it that I wouldn’t give up for anything.