Saturday, July 17, 2010

In Fifteen Years

I can remember a day when I was 15 years old, sitting on my bedroom floor and writing in my journal. I was upset about something I can no longer recall; no doubt some kind of teenage-related angst that would seem terribly insignificant to me now.

As I scribbled out my frustrations, I remember stopping for a moment, closing my eyes and leaning back against my bed. I envisioned myself 15 years into the future. I would be 30 years old. I would be an independent woman, capable and confident and free to make my own decisions. I would have finished college and graduate school, and would be well into the start of my career. Hopefully I'd be married, perhaps even with a young child or two. My life would be filled with travel and adventure, as well as the mundane but simple things that make life so spectacular. I'd wake up excited to go to work each morning or stay home to care for my children. My husband and I would be sharing in the pride of our new life together. We'd be celebrating holidays with friends and family in our own home, making new traditions as we created what was sure to become an abundance of cherished memories.

Perhaps, in my somewhat young naivety, this vision of my future was a bit overly simplistic in its perfection. Certainly, my life would not be without problems. However, I still can recall the tremendous sense of peace that vision gave me. Whatever troubles I had in the present moment would then be long forgotten. Life would be sweet, and everything would turn out fine.

Unfortunately, though, that's not quite how things happened. At 30, not only was I not married with children, but I wasn't dating. I was not establishing myself in my career, but instead was forced to apply for long term disability. Far from independent, I required assistance with virtually all tasks of daily living. I had already been ill for six long years, and essentially bedridden for nearly two. I could barely speak above a whisper. The only traveling I did was making short trips to the bathroom and kitchen a few times a day, and those few steps were quite a feat for me (they are steps I can no longer take). The memories being created were not of cherished moments, but of struggle and frustration within the four walls of my small apartment as I lay in solitary confinement.

I often wonder now, what I would have thought had I known in that moment, at 15 years old, the truth of how my life would turn out. What would I think now, if I knew the truth of where my life would be 15 years from this moment?

When I think of that young, sweet, innocent 15 year old girl, full of hope and longing, with endless goals and dreams, I want to tell her I'm sorry. I want to tell her I'm sorry for what she did not know would become so many lost opportunities, so many lost dreams, and so many lost hopes. I want to tell her I'm sorry for all the pain she would soon endure, the endless days of sickness that would grow into months and years without a single moment of genuine reprieve. I'm sorry for the paucity of answers that would be offered to her, the absence of a real treatment for any of her symptoms, and the overwhelming frustrations she would face in battling such an all consuming, devastating, and invisible disease. Perhaps most of all, I want to tell her that I'm sorry I couldn't do anything to protect her.

Of course, I want to tell her, too, that despite things not unfolding how she planned, some parts of her story did turn out okay. She still found love with an extraordinary man. She still has many things she can list as accomplishments, even if they aren't the types of things she'd have previously realized or appreciated as such. She still has countless memories and blessings to cherish, close friends and family, and many things about which she can feel very proud. Even when severely limited, life can still have its moments of joy. It can still be fulfilling.

It's now been eight years since my 30th birthday. It won't be long now before I'm 40. If you were to ask me how I envision my future 15 years from today, I would admit I'm not quite as confident in what I see. Life, I've learned, is uncertain. But somehow I still hold that same vision of myself I conjured up so many years ago, and I remain hopeful it is a vision that will someday fully become a reality. It may come much later than I had anticipated, but it may still come. That 15 year old girl still lives inside me, and she is not yet willing to let go of her dreams.


  1. My dear Laurel, it must have cost you a lot of courage and tears to really go through these feelings, and to compare harsh reality to the optimistic and ambitious dreams of the young girl Laurel.

    I can still see that little girl in you. It shines through every little thing you say and do and the world is a much better place with her. Don't you ever let her go.

    Love, Nina

  2. Dear laurel
    You got me at "I want to tell her that I'm sorry". You have nothing to be sorry for & I know u know that but I can totally relate to this post. This wk I turned 35 & 35 was always my cut off date for having children. I imagined at 15 that I would be working successfully, married with children by the time I was 30. Getting ill at 29, changed my goalposts dramatically & yet I've kept thinking by 35 I would have all of those things, 35 has arrived & I am without & I feel your sadness & ur apology to that 15yr old girl who is trapped inside myself also. The grieving for the life we dreamed of, but I still dream laurel & u should too! That 15 yr old laurel has now grown up & should be very proud of what she has achieved despite her illness. I know this 35yr old is proud of you! Xxxx

  3. It's really hard to take stock of our lives when we see how long we've been sick. I went through (or am going through) a really hard time right now and I've only been sick 8 years!!!! I just turned 40 and I always thought I'd either have or adopt kids so that's hard. I think despite what you've lost it's great that you are able to see the good "pearls" in the life you have had. I think we only learn what we learn by going through stuff. It's good our 15yr. old selves didn't know what was ahead.

    Thanks for helps to know I'm not alone in trying to process this stuff.

  4. That is heartbreaking.

    A friend of mine recently passed on an observation made by a friend of his: we grow in layers. The 30-year-old doesn't replace the 15-year-old, she merely adds to the whole person.

    A lot of people talk about how important acceptance is. I suppose they have a point. If you can't break down the walls by beating your head against them, you might as well not break your head. But I think it's also important to acknowledge the part of yourself that says no, this ISN"T the way life was supposed to be. Nothing ever changes otherwise.

  5. No don't let go of your dreams one day I hope they will be your reality.

    What a beautifully written post.

  6. Beautiful post, Laurel, speaking a truth many share. It is hard to face the truth of our circumstances and do so without letting go of our desires to be healthy, but we are all prisoners of hope. There is hope...
    Sending gentle hugs your way and gratitude for sharing these insights with us.

  7. This really tugged at my heart. It can be so hard to look at all that we've lost with this illness, and accept the reality of what is. Thank you for the courage of facing your healthy, 15 year old self and acknowledging her losses(and thus the losses of your current self as well). And yes, you are right.. despite things not turning out as you planned, you still have many things to find gratitude in. I hope all your dreams indeed come true, and soon.

  8. Laurel - my heart goes out to you. I so understand the 15 year old girl dreaming of her future while the 38 year old woman hopes for the future she dreamed of years ago.

    I, too, hope with you a new day for each and everyone of us.

    Sending you a huge hug and all my love.

  9. You all are the best. :) Thanks for all the lovely comments.

  10. Hey Laurel.

    A little present for you:

    I couldn't get your email address to work?


  11. Laurel, Wow. Tears are sliding down my cheeks. What a beautiful,with your fifteen year old self, with such love and compassion. I feel deep sadness for her dreams unfufilled, and such awe for the woman she has become.

    In spite of what you have endured and continue to, you move us, affirms our feelings and inspires us with your spirit and your words.

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful piece, which I will think of for a long time to come.

    My fifteen year old self thanks you as well. You've brought me right back to her...

  12. I have read this several times and every time, I have to turn away to stop myself from crying. Beautifully written.

  13. Beautiful beautiful piece, Laurel. Your courage and optimism and brightness is so inspiring. I agree that your young spirit shines through in your writing.

    My birthday was the same week as yours (I turned 36). Your post really resonated with me. I didn't get sick until my early 30s and as of the time I got sick, I had what I always thought I wanted - the graduate degree, successful career, a new relationship, the financial power to make decisions about my future (I thought I had many more years to have children, with the right person) - and it all vanished in front of my eyes within a few months of getting sick. Never did I imagine a disease like ME existed and that I could succumb to it so fully and that it could take away as much as it did.

    I've been sick for a shorter time but I believe I've made progress in adjusting my world view and feeling happy about the small-but-big sources of happiness that I still have in my life. Though I still struggle to reconcile it with the absurdly charmed life I had up to the moment I got sick....

    Everything you write is a very big help for me, and obviously for many others too. Thank you.