What Is Independence?

What does independence look like to you? I would imagine every one of you has a different answer. But I would bet it all revolves around being able to support yourself and your lifestyle and yourself. I’m sure it involves everything from feeding yourself to personal care.

For me? It looks a little different. Yes, I want to be able to support myself as much as possible, but it’s also me being strong enough to realize that I need to rely on others. It’s being able to do what I can for myself without jeopardizing my health.

Do you think about planning out your showers? My guess is no. You don’t have to plan your shower around someone else’s ability to help you with the entire process of a shower. You probably don’t think twice about wiping your butt, but guess what? That too is planned in my life. Personal care isn’t so personal for me… but it’s still apart of my independence.

Most people have no trouble running an errand on their own— for me? It sends me into a huge anxious state. What if something happens? What if I fall? If a stranger tries to help me, they could hurt me more. I need to know that I have someone that knows what to do if something goes wrong. Having that security blanket is part of my independence.

Although I love being alone, it’s hard for me.. What if I fall? What if I need to reach something? What if I need help wiping my butt? The what if’s are endless.. Does it suck that I have to limit the times I’m alone? Yes. But guess what? It’s my reality and I’m just thankful for the independence I still have. And I will continue to grow that independence as much as I possibly can.. without harming myself or my health.

Thankfully, technology continues to allow me to grow my independence. My Apple Watch allows me to let someone know if I fall hard & don’t move afterwords. It also allows me to make calls from wherever I am. It allows me a security blanket of a human, without physically having a human with me at all times.

Does it suck? Abso-freaking-lutely. But guess what? I don’t have a choice. My choice is to make it apart of my definition of independence— which includes the daily tasks I need help with & all the times I can’t be alone. And I’ll continue to consider myself independent, as long as I have the freedom to plan my day, my way, with the help I need.

I am…

I am rare. I am rare, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

I live with one of the most debilitating diseases known to medicine. I am literally growing a second skeleton and turning into a living statue. I have Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva or FOP for you weaklings who can’t pronounce it (I’m with you because it’s a mouthful). And yet here I am, living my best life.

Are there things I wish I could change? Absolutely, and maybe (hopefully) one day, there will be a treatment that allows some things to change. But don’t mix that up, I wouldn’t trade my life. I was given this mountain to show others that it can indeed [and will] be moved.

Is my life hard? Yes. Am I constantly in a sh*t ton of pain? Hell yes. All. The. Time. But, this is me. I’m not going to mold to your stereotypes. I’m going to fight my way through life and show you that I am more than my disability. I’m not going to sit back and let you walk all over me or tell me what I’m going to do or how I’m going to do it– try me, I dare you. FOP will never define me. I will fight it with every second of every day. I’m living in a world that wasn’t built for me, but here I am thriving.

Without FOP, I wouldn’t have met the amazing people & families that deal with this beast of a disease. I wouldn’t get the chance to film with Barcroft Media to educate the world about FOP (stay turned for the release date!!!). I wouldn’t have met the most amazing team of doctors fighting to free me from my own body. I wouldn’t have my service dogs or met their amazing puppy raisers & getting connected with Canine Companions for Independence. I also got some pretty cool opportunities because of my disease like a Make-A-Wish trip to the Bahama’s or meeting Kelly Clarkson.

I am rare, but I am more- more than the disease, more than the stereotypes, and more than your opinion of me.

I am sassy. I am loving. I am a fighter. I am optimistic. I am silly. I am picky (very picky). I am caring.

And most importantly… I am more like you than you [probably] think.

My Body Is Failing Me

 

I can’t do the things I used to do. It’s definitely stressful (that’s an understatement) and it’s becoming easier and easier to become resentful of this fact. It’s a hard pill to swallow that at the prime age of 22, my body is failing me.

I used to be able to walk across campus of my High School that was bigger than some small colleges. Now, it’s hard to walk around the grocery store. I used to be able to walk to the kitchen without a problem, now when I do, I’m gasping for air. I used to be able to function 6 AM- 10 PM, now I’m lucky if I can make it 5 hours without laying down & taking a nap. I now have to take my wheelchair almost everywhere and ask my friends for help constantly, and I hate every part about it. I hate it so much, that I’m letting it control my life.

It’s easy to ask the question; why me? What did I do to deserve this? The answer is not a damn thing. But I do have to live with it. I have to fight every day; through the pain and fatigue, through the challenges and curveballs. The sick reality of having a progressive disease is that it won’t get better, no matter what I do or try- in fact it will only get worse & harder.

I’m fighting a losing battle. My body is going to betray me, the function of my body is going to weaken, and that’s just something I have to live with. Every. Single. Day. There will always be a little devil in the back of my head saying “today maybe your last day with function of your elbows. Maybe tomorrow you won’t be able to walk at all *evil laugh*”

With all the negative things going on with my body, it’s easy to be resentful. It’s easy to stay in bed and attempt to ignore the pain and on-going struggle.  I’d rather get lost in the world of reality tv than try to decipher if there’s a new flare-up, a side effect of the medicine/ disease, or if I died yesterday (Thanks Dr. Google).

Most days I want to cope by staying in bed and ignoring the world. But, I don’t get a choice. Just like you, I have things to accomplish, a to-do list a mile & ½long, 10 loads of laundry, and taking care of my fur babies. I don’t get to sit a wallow in self-pity. Every day I have to fight to accomplish the ever-growing list, but not do too much or I’ll end up in bed for a week. It’s a balance I’ll never be able to figure out. As much as I want to, I can’t accomplish the entire list and I have to take [long] breaks just to maintain a fairly- normal & tolerable pain-level kind of life.

I live to fight and I fight to win. But my body is betraying me. It’s a tougher battle every day, so some days the monster wins. Tomorrow’s a new fight, a fight I’ll hopefully win.

Different Life, Different Goals

If I had a normal body, I dream that I would be a runner. It would be my release. The burn would help me escape from my thoughts, but the routine would also help me sort them. I dream that I’d play softball on an adult Sunday team, with no stress, just the fun of hanging out with friends, burning a few extra calories, but also consume them in beer & junk food. But, that’s a life I only get to live in my dreams.

My goals are different than yours, as is my reality. Or let me rephrase my goals have to be different than yours. No matter how hard I strive, my body can’t do the things yours can.

It’s definitely something I [still] struggle with daily. I hate that I can’t push my body has far as you can. I hate that I have to work that much harder to accomplish simple everyday tasks. But I have to remind myself that it’s okay and I’m doing the best I possibly can.

Due to my chronic illness, I can’t workout or walk the recommended 10,000 steps a day or get in 30 workout minutes in a day. Heck, most days it’s a struggle to stand 12 hours a day. I have to remind myself that the goals that my smart watch recommends are for the able-bodied population; a population that doesn’t include me. I have to adjust those goals to fit something that I can accomplish daily; even if it is a third of the recommended goal- that’s okay, because that is pushing my body to its limits. My limits are different than yours & so is my body.

It’s okay because it’s the absolute best I can do. It’s better for me to adapt than to push myself too far. I have to remind myself that if I did somehow accomplish those goals every day, it wouldn’t be healthy for me and my body would rebel. And that rebel would send me in a downward spiral; a spiral I try my hardest to avoid.

I can’t run or play a contact sport or reach ‘normal people’ goals. It’s something that I work every day to adapt to. I haveto listen to my body. I haveto set goals that I can reach, and I have to crush them- because dammit it makes me feel good.

But, I have to remind myself that somedays (most days), chronic pain is going to win, and that’s okay too. Some days you win, others you lose, but as long as you’re doing the best you can, that is all that matters.

Not only am I adapting my goals, I’m adapting my mindset. I’m learning that it’s okay to have different goals. It’s okay, because it’s my personal best. I’m doing the best I can, and I have to accept that; and day by day, I’m learning to be okay with that.