Life is very strange sometimes.
Most of us walk around this planet, so wrapped up in our trials and tribulations, not sure why we are burdened with them at all. We constantly ask ourselves "Why me?!" As human beings, we are a curious bunch. Always seeking knowledge or reasoning as to why things happen to us. The thing is, we do receive our answers but, maybe not when "we" ask for them. Someone told me a long time ago that our time and God's time are never the same.
This past week, after what felt like an eternity, I believe that I finally received an answer to one of the biggest struggles in my life.
Recap: 6 years ago, I was "officially" diagnosed with having an eating disorder. Along with it came two close companions called Depression and Anxiety. I say "officially" because although it had been going on for years and years, it was the first time doctors sat me down and told me (point blank) that I was going to die if I didn't stop.
I saw their lips moving in conversation, but I couldn't make out what they're saying. It felt like the floor fell away beneath me and I sank into this incredible darkness. My heart was thumping hard and fast within my chest and my stomach felt like it was on a roller-coaster ride.
I have been suffering from panic disorder since I was 25 and to be fair, I already felt like I was dying every day, so this shouldn't have come as such a shock. Regardless of how much damage I had done to myself, I knew that it was time to fight. Fight a little harder than I had been. When you're in a state of anxiety, depression, and disorder it is hard to feel able or capable of helping yourself. You go through long periods of time thinking that it is not even worth it - that YOU aren't worth it. My life was like that for a very long time and truthfully, I still struggle with bouts of these feelings periodically. Thankfully, I had some incredible professionals on my side that believed I was worthy of a better life, even when I did not.
But there's a reason and purpose for everything.
Today, I can confidently say that life is quite ironic at best. Without my mental illness, I wouldn't be the woman I am today, nor would I have accomplished what I have in my life. I became a writer and freely share my journey and thoughts with the world around me. I speak in front of groups, educating and spreading awareness about mental health. This past year, I co-wrote and co-produced a film, that will be used as a tool, to assist in educating others to end the stigma surrounding this disease. I also lead a successful fundraiser and raised 10 K to give back to organizations assisting those with mental health issues. Not too shabby for a girl who wasn't supposed to amount to much due to her illness. At least, that's what those around me said. Society writes you off when you are less than normal ( according to their definition of normal).
All of these proud and wonderful accomplishments made me feel like I mattered for the first time in my life but, little did I know that something magical was about to happen that would trump all of that in a heartbeat. I was about to finally understand the reason I was given this life challenge.
A woman I'd never seen before approached me at work this week and wanted to know if she could steal a few minutes of my time to sit and chat with her about something important. Always wanting to help others, I naturally agreed. She began by telling me that she has followed my writings and struggles about my disorder and mental illness since I came public with it in my workplace, 4 years ago. She wanted to tell me how brave and thoughtful she thought I was to share such a painful (and very private) part of my life with the world. That through my continual blogs of emotional writing pieces about my journey, all my ignite the chat keynote speaking events, and my short film about mental illness, she would never have learned that her 10-year-old daughter was suffering from her own eating disorder. Because of what I was going through, it gave her warning signs and she was able to help her daughter in time before any real damage happened to her young body. She then became very emotional and said that if it weren't for me getting sick and having the guts to go public about it, she may never have been able to save her daughter in time.
I sat there, numb. I couldn't cry because I wanted to be composed and strong for this mother who was coming undone before me. So, I did my best to console her and offer any kind of advice, education and hope I could. We sat there for a short while in silence, both thinking about how ironic life truly was. She offered her perspective on things, sharing that perhaps God gave me this part of myself so that I could be a light shining in the darkness for others in need. She said that it takes true courage to use what you believe makes you abnormal to free others. That those who go through real struggles in life are given the wisdom, compassion, love, and strength to guide the rest of us. That I shouldn't look at my illness as a weakness, but a gift. That I was her gift in this life - a gift that gave her back her daughter. Could that really be true? I never saw my struggle as anything but a punishment.
I cried the entire drive home that day.
"La vita e molto strana" (Life is very strange) Now I know that God was not punishing me by creating this great, big journey I've been on. Instead, He was preparing me for more. I was trusting my pain, rather than his plan.