I’d always heard that it could happen in the blink of an eye. That it only takes a split-second for everything to come crashing down.
I just never thought it would happen to me.
I just turned 15, when unexpectedly my mom passed away. At first, I was in denial. I quickly made up in my mind that it had to be a fluke in the universe. The man in the sky having clearly made some sort of mistake. Nobody’s perfect, right?? This certainly had to be the worst thing that could ever happen to me; or at least so I assumed. It was only days after the funeral that I decided my life had officially been divided into two parts: life with mom, and life without her. And in a way that was true (at least for a while it was.)
Despite the great loss in my life, things had pretty much stayed on track. I thrived all throughout my high school years; eventually going off to college. Even with all the chaos, my post-mom world had somehow ended up being the best time in my life. I won’t lie, there were many moments filled with sorrow and heartbreak. A river of tears shed for the milestones she was missing out on, and sometimes for no other reason except the fact she was gone. They spilled onto my cheeks as I danced for the last time in my first recital without her; they blurred my vision as I picked out my prom dress alone; they flooded my eyes during my graduation at the sight of her empty seat.
But even in the middle of all this grief, the pieces of my life still found a way to come together. It was a beautiful feeling, the confidence that came with knowing I could take on anything after learning to survive without her.
In retrospect this may sound strange. But, since I’d made it through this tragic event (losing my mom), I felt I could make it through literally anything. I’d fallen victim to the idea that I was untouchable. It would’ve been a decent mindset if only I hadn’t been so naïve in thinking lightning couldn’t strike twice. The truth, I came to find is that lightning will strike as many times as it wants.
In my second semester of college, I was the happiest I’d ever been. I’d shaken off my early homesickness by joining the rugby team and becoming close with my teammates. The frequent and physically grueling practices forced us to develop an indescribable camaraderie amongst each other. It was during one of these practices that my life took another turn for the worse after being tackled to the ground so hard I was knocked out.
At first, the only difference I could notice when I came to was this intense throbbing inside my head. After this injury I’d actually been able to continue with my life almost as if nothing had happened. Unfortunately because of the injury I was benched from playing. Instead of sulking I used the off time to become a student of the game, while working on my recovery. It was only when I was cleared to play again that I began to notice the changes in my body.
Something was off… It started with ringing in my ears, and escalated to a full-out fainting spell in the middle of a game. As the symptoms lingered on throughout the off-season, I spent the summer learning to deal with my new reality. The pain continued on and I noticeably began to struggle.
My sophomore year was spent off the field and away from lecture halls, replaced instead by doctor’s offices and hospital rooms. By my junior year, I’d deteriorated so badly that I was forced to withdraw altogether. The day I left campus for the last time was the hardest moment of my life (in my post-mom world.) Trying to stay positive I held onto to a string of hope that I’d make it back the following semester.
*Spoiler alert: I never did.
Months and months passed before I had any sort of answers; eventually being diagnosed with: Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, and Gastroparesis among other things (look it up). There are no cures for these diseases. The treatments are difficult and can come with a lot of side effects. It was during this time that I quickly went from living a life of bliss, to just wanting to die. I fell into a deep depression that was ten times worse than when I’d lost my mom.
Things were spiraling down hill fast to the point where I needed to check into a psychiatric facility. Being strip-searched and sent to a barren, concrete room with nothing but a thin rubber mattress was my rock bottom. It was also the moment I realized that I had a lot of work to do on myself.
When my mom died, I told myself it was the worst thing that could ever happen. It was a defense mechanism I’d used to protect myself, believing there could never be anything worse than the pain I’d experienced losing her. Because of this, I’d held onto the false hope that my illnesses would go away despite my doctors telling me this wasn’t true. I’d chosen to live in a fantasy land rather than accepting my life would never quite be the same again.
It was in that moment of acceptance that lightning struck me again. I was vulnerable and scared until suddenly a new world began to rise from the ashes. A world that was no longer ruled by tragedy or inhabited by a victim.
IN ONE SECOND I LOST MY MOM. IN ONE SECOND, I LOST MY HEALTH
AND IN ONE SECOND, EVERYTHING WAS OKAY AGAIN.
This is what I learned through all of this. We can choose how we want to see the world. We may not have control over the lightning strikes, but we can control how they affect us. Whether we let them knock us down or ignite a fire deep inside of our soul.
The way I’d chosen to see the world after my mom’s death was unhealthy and I didn’t know it. If I hadn’t become sick, I may never found this out.
Looking back now, I can say that I’m thankful for the way things turned out. I’ve learned to accept that everything happened to me for a reason. Much of which I had no control over, but I learned It’s never too early or too late to look inside ourselves and decide to change how we view our world’s. When we start taking back control of our lives, and keeping our eyes wide open to the good things happening in our world, it tends to become a much brighter and beautiful place.
IN ONE SECOND
by Chelsea Bak
Chelsea Bak: 24 year old student studying psychology at Penn State.
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