Support in Unlikely Places
A very interesting thing happened to me a few weeks ago: I attended my 10-year high school reunion. First of all, I am not old enough for this reunion. Second, where has the time gone? If you’ve read my previous articles you’ll know the answer – I spent most of it asleep! (Embrace the nap – I certainly do!)
I was worried
I worried for months, days, hours leading to this one three-day event. I’m sure there were much better uses of my time but I couldn’t help it. The logical side of me knew I’d have a blast reconnecting with old friends. The emotional side of me was a different story. I thought I would be a decade behind my peers. Through the rose-colored glasses called social media, I saw my friends starting relationships, finishing graduate schools and beginning careers. Me on the other hand, deferred school, withdrew socially and started from scratch with work.
But first, let me paint you a picture because sure, I have had my triumphs and I am proud of what I have accomplished despite everything; yet, on paper it doesn’t feel like much…
I went to a highly competitive private school. Read: an all-girls school. We were closely affiliated with a major religious institution and lived on the same campus as the co-ed elementary and brother school. The girls competed heavily against each other for grades, extra-curriculars, and relationships which basically made everything a contest. We were taught our educational degrees, our awards, and our recognitions made us successful. We needed to be top of the pack in everything.
Time for the reunion
So, ten years later, I was about to re-enter the lion’s den without anything to offer except a debilitating illness. Compared to my peers I was a failure.
I used my cane the first night because it was a long event and there was quite a bit of walking. I put extra effort into my appearance and hobbled in with a smile. I know I could have walked better without the assistance but I was thinking ahead.
I didn’t expect people to jeer at me or show pity. I’ve known the majority of my classmates since I was five years old (and they know how I feel about pity)! That being said, I didn’t expect the overwhelming amount of support I received from almost everyone. Sure, people looked at the cane curiously and asked a few questions. But, mostly, people congratulated me on what I had accomplished in spite of the Rheumatoid Arthritis.
At the end the day we are still young. From what I’ve experienced (and please don’t take offence) young people are ignorant. In our 20s we think everything should be fun and carefree. Rheumatoid Arthritis, well, any autoimmune condition, is not exactly a stroll in the park (maybe pun intended). Twenty-somethings don’t want complications. We don’t understand disability or the hardship because we just haven’t lived long enough.
I learned a lot from this experience
First, I can’t control how others see me. I can do the best I can and hold myself to a high standard. Second, we are almost 30 but we are still trying to figure things out. None of us entered this weekend saying “my life is all set”. Our 20s are for exploration and learning about ourselves. After all this is the first time…ever? we may not be in school!
Third, and most importantly, even though my path is different from my classmates I am by no means falling behind. In a matter of months my life changed dramatically. Everything I thought I knew was ripped away and I had to start over. Given I only had eight years to come up with something great I think I did a fabulous job! And hey, maybe someone is looking at my social media and saying “Wow… Look what Monica has done with the past 10 years!”
When was your last flare?