At the young age of twenty I found myself diagnosed with an aggressive and degenerative autoimmune disease known as Systemic Scleroderma. My disease creates an overproduction of collagen, a protein found in the convective tissue. Collagen is a building block, the framework really, of the human body. Too little collagen and you would fall apart, too much and you quite literally become a living statue. It was as if someone was slowly pouring thick, heavy concrete into my body through an IV, effectively crushing and solidifying my organs, skin, and blood vessels. Upon my diagnosis I often watched the outside world through waiting room windows and hospital beds, wondering how all the people out on the street below could continue to exist unchanged while my life crumbled at my feet.
Photo Courtesy of Chelsey Shaw Photography
Illness can seize your fragile existence in a matter of weeks. It effectively shatters the life you once knew, and the body you have become accustom to. Disease knows no age, no race, and no gender; it strikes without mercy. Suddenly you become a slave to a master you never swore your allegiance to; your life no longer governed by your choices. You are left with no other option than to endure. You leave that physicians office after diagnosis with pamphlets to read, prescriptions to fill, procedures to complete, and a new way of life to begin. A Life drastically altered by new limitations you have never before encountered. Your body becomes uncharted territory, and you alone are left to explore its treachery.
When diagnosed with a life destroying illness changes come about in an individual. While yes, many of these changes are physical, there is something that stirs so much deeper. Trials change you in a way that no one truly understands until they must navigate their own. You emerge someone new among the ashes of your old life; you seem to gain an older soul. A soul with life experience well beyond the young years you have lived. Suddenly the world is in Technicolor, everything is more vibrant, and you can practically feel the existence of those around you. You understand that grudges mean nothing, life last but for a fleeting moment, and happiness should be treasured above all material things. You gain compassion for those around you, and are more epithetic towards the lives of others. You begin to comprehend that time is a precious commodity so many waist in this life. You walk slowly and enjoy the view, sit and chat ten minutes longer, and take the lengthy drive past the setting sun instead of hitting the freeway. You fill with gratitude for the little things others may take for granted. You are grateful for the oxygen tank you most tote for it gives you breath; you are grateful for the tube in your stomach for it gives you nutrients, and you are grateful for the Port that delivers toxic chemicals into your blood stream for it keep you alive another few years.
Even though my body continues to fail me, every fiber of my being feels strengthened. I feel like a new woman, more confident and assured in herself, with a much deeper understanding of the world around me. When I look at that haggard face in the mirror every morning, the tired eyes, and the battle scars, I also see a vivacious woman who refuses to give up though she lives in near constant turmoil. This woman is resilient, fierce, and has a passion for procuring life enjoyment, even in a body vandalized so heavily by disease. While I may not get as many years as I was hoping for in this life, I feel my very soul has lived a thousand years. This old soul, enlightened well beyond my 23 years, understands the true beauty in life so many will never comprehend.