Different Memories of School Days

This summer I attended a high school reunion for the first time—20 years! Time has flown and I was amazed to realize that I had not seen most of my fellow classmates since graduation day.

We had a good time catching up on lives and families. We reminisced and I realized that my perspective of high school was very different. Sure, everyone has unique memories and viewpoints. However, during high school I was struggling not just with teen years, but with rheumatoid arthritis, joint replacement surgeries, and a long recovery.

I remember time with friends, being a goofy kid, and days spent in class. I was in marching band and played at football games and went to after parties. But my stronger memories relate to doctors’ appointments, physical therapy sessions, and surgeries.

In some ways, I was in a parallel universe. I worked hard to experience those normal teenage rites of passage. I treasure the connections I made and the memories I have that resemble normalcy. I wanted to fit in as much as possible, but always felt a little outside the circle.

To me, it’s like being a spy. Your real life is something different than what you try to portray to others. I was grappling with serious health issues in my daily life, yet my focus was going to school, excelling in my studies, and participating in activities that took me away from doctors, medications, therapy, and the rituals of rheumatoid arthritis treatments.

My real life was much harder to cope with. Physical therapy was both painful and exhausting, and I wasn’t convinced that it was even helping with my RA. Plus, the disease gave me chronic pain and interrupted my sleep. It was during these years that the damage really increased.

With my painful slide into a worsening condition, we accepted doctors’ recommendation to have both my hips and knees replaced. While the long term results were positive, including greatly improving my pain level, the short term experience was very difficult. My recovery took much longer than expected and essentially it was several years (into college) before I was back on my feet.

As I approached the end of high school, my goal was to walk at graduation to receive my diploma. My physical therapy was increased and an aide helped me to class and with the extra exercises. In my mind, my senior year was focused on recovery and high school fell to a distant second place. Moments of fun with friends felt special because of their rarity.

I achieved my goal, with a lot of hard work and uncertainty. I will forever remember the anxiety of those steps to cross the carpet and take my diploma. I was shaking and willing my feet to bear my wait.

Through the fog of time, I see that my focus during high school was very different. I understand my outsider feeling better and see that the circumstances were out of anyone’s control. I know that it would be impossible for my peers to understand my experience at that time.

Although my teen years were an especially hard time for me, I am grateful for the good friends and memories I have, despite my illness. I was lucky to find people that didn’t dwell on my difference, but embraced my friendship. We went to movies and parties. We had an epic trip to a Jimmy Buffett concert. We danced at school dances and rode on carnival rides.

My memories may be different, but I still enjoyed my teen years. I am thankful for all these experiences and for the person I have become.

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