Two weeks ago, I walked across a stage and received my master’s degree in Political Science.
It was something that I had worked up to for years. I had known throughout my entire undergraduate degree that I would go to graduate school. And I had believed throughout the majority of my master’s degree that I would go on to do my PhD.
I’ve always been a student at heart, and I’ve invested years of my time (not to mention thousands of my dollars) into pursuing this path. So, imagine my surprise when I found myself walking across the stage, reaching for my diploma, and cringing on the inside.
Instead of feeling proud and happy and relieved to have gotten to this point, I felt like a fraud. I felt like this wasn’t my degree. I felt like there was some giant mix-up and the girl walking this stage was not the girl whose name was on the diploma.
I didn’t want any celebration. I didn’t want any attention. It didn’t feel like my day. It didn’t feel like my degree. I was an imposter in somebody else’s robes, wearing somebody else’s cap, and holding somebody else’s piece of paper.
You see, the girl who started her master’s degree was not the girl who finished it. In fact, the entire path that led to getting the master’s degree was started by someone else. It was started, and mostly completed by, the person I was before I got sick.
The girl I used to be wanted to fix the global system. She wanted to do years, maybe even decades, of fieldwork in Africa. She wanted to solve world hunger. She wanted to run an international NGO. She was a humanitarian through and through, and she was obsessed with saving the world (or at least trying to).
But Lyme disease has changed that. Lyme has taken away some of those big and exciting dreams that once defined me and motivated me.
I will no longer be able to do long stints of fieldwork in Africa. I will no longer be able to travel the globe and live in remote places for extended periods of time. Most days, I’m lucky if I make it through without a nap, or if I can calm my neurological symptoms long enough to get housework done. I am a new person now—in all of the ways that count.
This new me is slower, quieter, more introverted. She has new interests, new hobbies, and new daily routines. Her priorities are different, and therefore, her goals are, too. She spends her money and her time in new ways. Instead of reading books about poverty and war, she reads books about nutrition and medicine. Instead of writing research papers, she writes blog posts. Instead of wanting to study global security and conflict, she wants to study what is attacking her body, and how to fix it. She is no longer the girl who wanted her master’s in Political Science. She is a new person now—in all of the ways that count.
But, while Lyme has taken a lot away from me, it has given me a lot, too. It’s given me a new self. A new direction. A new world. Some days, I still feel really sad about what Lyme has changed about me. I think that is a normal part of the grieving process. Saying goodbye to the life path that you thought you’d walk for the rest of your life is tough. And it’s painful. And it dragged me through some dark and twisty days.
But, every single day—through both the light and fluffy ones and the dark and twisty ones—I also learn more things about this new person. I find new directions for her. New goals and new routines and new ways of living. I find new feelings and emotions. I find new boundaries and new needs. We’re becoming quite close again. Heck, I’d even say we’re becoming friends.
But this girl is not the one who started that master’s degree. They are no longer the same person, and when pieces of the old me creep back into my life, I feel fractured and divided—like I’m seeing visions of what might have been. Sometimes, it makes it difficult to walk this new path. It makes it heavier and more confusing.
But I’m learning that maybe this is a part of the healing process—one not talked about in the offices of doctors and the hallways of hospitals. Learning how to let go of the old you to accept the new. Learning how to navigate this new path with this new person. Having the courage to fully embrace her, knowing her flaws and her new limitations. Loving her enough to introduce her to your friends and your family. All of these things are hard. And they’re unknown.
I still struggle every day with learning about this new girl—what she needs, how she feels, where her strengths are, what her goals are. And I see my loved ones trying to learn about her, too. She’s new, but she looks the same, and this creates a lot of stickiness for all of us.
Letting go of things is scary. Letting go of who we thought we’d be, who we wanted to be, and leaning in to who we actually are requires an indescribable amount of bravery and unwavering faith in the unseen.
But we can’t heal if we’re at war with ourselves. We can’t heal if we don’t know ourselves.
I am a new person now—in all of the ways that count. And she is the one who is walking down this healing path with me. If I turned my back on her, or if I clung to the past me too hard, we’d never move forward. We’d never heal.
And if my friends and family didn’t know her, if I hid her away and tried to pretend she wasn’t there, we’d be alone. No one would really see me—just my representative.
So, every day we keep leaning in. We keep letting ourselves be seen. We are a new person now—in all of the ways that count. And we are healing together.