This must be it.
I think those words to myself so many times as I lie limp in bed. Crippling muscle spasms and full body cramping so bad my name should have been Charlie Horse.
I grab my chest tightly, hoping that pressure will stop the sharp pain spreading over my ribcage. My lungs aren’t doing much better; every breath is labored, shallow, and it is difficult to breathe in deeply.
All I can do is nod my head to the person standing to my left witnessing this scary episode, because it is far too difficult to speak. My system is in complete shock from the lack of blood flow. My circulation slowed, my body is no longer in balance. The tears roll down my cheeks and let this episode run its course.
That was six years ago. That was last year. That was last week.
Six years ago, when I first became sick, these episodes where happening at least four times a month. Calling the ambulance became a normal routine for me. It seemed like every emergency room doctor I saw was an a**hole, not believing I was sick and treating me like I was crazy, not important, or both.
Feeling left in the dark about my diagnosis—and my future—was normal.
When I was first trying to accept my new normal, I made friends with a new pal named fear. This new friend invaded my mind, convincing me I wasn’t capable of doing everyday tasks, nor big things like traveling the world.
How was I going to shop at the grocery store or stand over the stove to cook dinner if I had a condition called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), which gave me symptoms anytime I changed positions?
How was I going to be able to clean my house or carry my laundry basket full of dirty clothes to the washing machine if I suffered from dislocations and severe pain thanks to Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), a connective tissue disorder?
How was I ever going to meet friends for dinner and drinks if my body hates my guts (literally and figuratively) when food hits my stomach thanks to Gastroparesis?
All of these worries began to pile up, and I became trapped by my own fear.
I chose to listen to those around me, and all the noise in my own head, instead of accepting my new normal and adjusting. All of my self-confidence vanished. I believed I was on a path of solo misery, because I was a single woman in my 20s, living with chronic medical conditions. I thought I was destined to be a hermit.
Every morning when I lifted my clouded head off of the pillow and accepted consciousness for the day, I stepped out of bed and into my coffin of fear. Every day for years, I wore a heavy cloak of insecurities, worries and fears.
One evening, I was bawling to my best friend on the phone about how depressed I was. I thought there was no way out of the dark hole I called life. With a few simple words she changed my mind:
For the next few days, I meditated with her simple, nonjudgmental sentence. I realized that all my actions were my choice. The outcome of my life was in my two hands, so was I letting fear steer my ship?
What is the worst that could happen if I tried something that scared me?
I was already at the lowest point in my life.
From that day forward, I made the conscious decision to change the choices I was making. Instead of being stubborn and refusing to utilize tools that could help me (like a motorized scooter at the grocery store or assistance from friends and family with my everyday tasks), I was going to surrender with humility and accept help. Instead of being in one bad relationship after another in fear that nobody would want to love my ailing self, I was no longer going to settle for someone who did not fulfill my needs.
Instead of sitting at home every day and missing out on adventures in fear of being a burden to others, I was going to push my chronically ill vessel as far as it would let me.
I learned that if other people have an issue with my limitations that is not my problem, but theirs.
I am in control of my consciousness. I have the power to look fear in the eye and say, “there is no room for you here, take a hike.”
The difference between two and a half years ago and now is that fear only creeps back into my mind maybe 10 percent of the time. My soul is no longer consumed by the damaging effects of fear all day every day.
Now, when fear chooses to rear its ugly head, I stop what I am doing and internally acknowledge it by saying, “I hear you, fear, but I do not have to listen to you.” After a few deep breaths, the noise dissolves, and I continue on to whatever adventure or wild idea I was brewing.
Fear now rides in the backseat of my life—instead of shotgun. I discovered my internal strength; I dropped the heavy cape from my shoulders and took steps to live my life fully.
I am not a porcelain doll that will break easily; instead, I am a strong, brave woman.
All of my scary episodes, surgeries and terrifying moments of “this must be it” have only made me resilient. Before, I thought these scars were a sign of weakness, that I had a failing, no-good body, but I realized through meditation that they actually represent all that I have overcome.
It is amazing what life has gifted me since fear moved out. I now travel any chance I get, take road trips, have fallen madly in love, am able do more daily tasks, and my health has actually improved.
I am proud of my inner strength.
I am Kirstin, a young woman who can conquer anything.
Author: Kirstin Larkin
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Toby Israel