This week, despite recently having the best few days I’ve had in several years, my OCD came roaring back, worse than it’d been since 2014. I started ticking again, too. People would say things to me, but their words made no sense. All the symptoms that I thought were gone returned to taunt me. Just as you think you have the upper hand with this disease, it can swoop in to tear you apart all over again!
And unfortunately, I had to take a test this week, and I sat at my desk choking back tears of frustration the entire time because of how difficult it was to concentrate and understand the instructions. I knew the material, but my mind felt empty, yet completely full of distracting, unwanted thoughts. So of course, I was the last person to finish the exam, ending up alone in the lecture hall with the professor.
As I was packing up my things, staring at the floor and sulking over the bad grade I probably got, she interrupted my ruminations:
I froze, still holding my laptop halfway in my backpack. My heart began to pound as I remembered how ill I was when I took another class she taught three years ago. I remembered falling asleep and zoning out in the middle of so many lectures—even in the middle of answering a question once. I’d hoped she’d forgotten all about me and how “crazy” I was back then, but now I felt sure that she was going to ask what was wrong with me. How could I even begin to answer that?
“I heard about your internship this summer. Tell me more!”
I looked up, and suddenly, upon thinking about what I accomplished a few months ago, it was as if I could finally see myself clearly—who I am without PANS and Lyme—for the first time in I don’t know how long. As I started to relay my summer experiences to my professor, my present challenges no longer seemed so powerful. For just a few minutes, I remembered who I was and all the dreams I had before I became so ill in 2014—and who I could still become.
Despite the name of my blog, over the past three years, I’ve most often done my best to avoid dreaming about my future, because I’m either too afraid that I’ll never be well enough to have one, or I’m so depressed that I can hardly stand to think about tomorrow. So I live in each moment, without looking up or looking forward, in order to never feel the pain of lost dreams.
However, on the outside, it looks like I have kept everything together and am just as passionate about my goals as ever, because I keep succeeding in spite of all my challenges. My professor has no idea that I’m still facing the same disease as last time I took her class. She doesn’t know I’m currently fighting five mental illnesses—and feeling like a complete disaster most of the time. All she sees is the best of my life: my gifts and talents and all the good things that have happened for my career recently.
But you know what? Talking about what I did this summer and being forced to think about my dreams for a few minutes this week made me realize the truth: all the problems that seem to comprise my entire life at this point—they are not who I am in the present, and they will not define my future. I am not PANS. I am not Lyme. I am not OCD. I am not Bipolar Disorder. I am a human being with many good qualities and every reason to believe that I can have a good life—and in fact, that I already do in so many ways.
That day that I talked to my professor, she helped me remember that I am so much more than an illness, no matter how bad things may seem right now. The real me is still here, and the real me is the person who hopes and dreams, even if only as whispers somewhere in my spirit. My diseases may have changed me, but ultimately, I’m the same person as I was before I got sick. So maybe, just maybe, I can dare to keep dreaming the same dreams.