Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about my own limitations.
Well, if I’m being honest here, I should really have written that recently I had a moment of insanity in which I tried to sign up for the Peace Corps.
Okay, okay, let me defend myself here, Mom. I would like to point out that most of the truly great moments of my life were made possible through one of my momentary lapses in logical decision-making. If I didn’t sometimes sign on to do something drastic because I felt very strongly, for twenty or so minutes, that I was having an epiphany, then I would have never ended up here in New Zealand! I also would never have taught ceramics as a camp counselor that one summer. Remember all those cool clay pots and friendship bracelets I came home with? Where would I be without those?
Alright. Maybe I will admit that I should have told someone before I locked myself in my room one night and started filling out the application for the Peace Corps. But ever since starting this blog I’ve become sort of obsessed with orienting myself around reaching out to other people, and I thought it would be nice to get to experience that in a hands-on way rather than through a computer screen. I thought, what’s two years, right? Two years is fine. That’s only two Halloweens that I would be missing. We could make those up when I got home- three Halloweens in one year?! Mom would love it! I bet she’s already totally behind this!
I was mentally planning my three Halloween costumes when I clicked the little link entitled Medical Information For Applicants, and my heart sunk. There were a couple of paragraphs explaining how volunteers needed to be in good shape and stating that medical facilities are not aways available in some of the countries. On the second page there was a list of certain medical conditions that the Peace Corps couldn’t accommodate.
I scanned the C’s quickly but found no Crohn’s Disease! I was still in the game! But the G’s caught my eye, and sure enough, emboldened, there is was: Gastrointestinal conditions: Crohn’s.
I ran through the possibilities in my head- I could list Crohn’s on my application and still submit, but they would surely ask follow-up questions. Surgery within the last year? Yes. Daily Medication? Yes. And it needs to be refrigerated. Not to mention I can’t eat anything containing dairy or gluten, and I have to get my blood drawn every three months. There was no way anyone was letting me out of the country to try and help people when I was so clearly unable to take care of myself.
I was pretty bummed out. The Peace Corps had been my dream for a whole twenty minutes. The next day I sheepishly told my mom. She was relieved that I didn’t actually apply, but I was still feeling down about the whole thing, so I texted my friend Mariana who always cheers me up. She mentioned that she was thinking about applying to be on my favorite reality show, Survivor, and I screamed aloud in my room. For the next few minutes I sent her a bunch of rapid-fire texts gushing about how this was by far the most exciting thing to ever happen to me. Finally she sent back a message that read: I’m pretty sure anyone can apply!
I sent back: Not diseased people ! I realized after sending it that I might have been projecting some outside issues onto the conversation given what had just happened with my Peace Corps application, so I added a little thumbs up symbol to show that I am totally cool about everything, always. And then we changed the subject. Mariana, if you’re reading this (which honestly you better be) please still apply for Survivor. I’ve put it on the internet and so now all our friends know and you can’t back out.
It’s possible I didn’t exactly have my heart set on the Peace Corps. To be honest, I hardly know what it even entails. I’ve done the whole “leave your family and everything you know and love for an extended period of time” thing, and to be honest it gets pretty old. I didn’t actually want to leave for another two years. It was just fun to irrationally imagine.
And even if I didn’t have Crohn’s there’s no way that I would ever want to be on Survivor because I’m the least competitive person I know and I would never be able to muster up the intensity to want to beat someone in a challenge, especially if they had a tragic past or needed the money for their dog’s operation or something. But that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t like to have the option. I’m just a normal human being who wants to imagine applying to her favorite TV show or living for two years in a random country where I would inevitably meet a rough-and-tumble young kid who would look up to me, but I would actually have been the one who was learning from her the whole time.
There’s just something I really enjoy about having the freedom to make a ridiculous decision and deal with the consequences of it later. I’m a huge worrier, and I’m generally only ever brave for a few minutes at a time, so my whole life I have tried to utilize that time by making the most of it when it does come around.
It’s probably not the most logical method of determining the trajectory of my life, but it works for me. One night in high school I found out one of my friends would be working as a performer at the Texas Renaissance Festival, one of my favorite places to visit growing up. I came downstairs to complain to my mom about it, and she just said “Why don’t you audition?”
“You know what, I WILL!” I shouted. I ran upstairs and bravely emailed the Festival, and then bravely kept the audition a secret until I found out whether or not I had made it. Because of those brazen moments of extreme impulsiveness I ended up working there for two years during high school, and my memories from Faire are the happiest I have. They were also two of the most formative years of my disease, so I had a lot of diarrhea while wearing fairy wings, but hey. I was in love with the place, so it didn’t matter.
There were a few weeks my first year performing at the Renaissance Festival where I fell very ill and my parents thought I was overworking myself. I went to school during the week and worked each Saturday and Sunday, so I hadn’t had a day off in months. When they brought this up, I refused to quit. “If I get any sicker,” I told my mom “then we can look into homeschooling!”
My mom has always cited this moment when laughingly telling friends how determined I can be when something is important to me. Of course, I wasn’t homeschooled. With a lot of help from my parents I got to stay on at the Festival and live out my dream of being a performer. And even when she would tell that story and roll her eyes, I could tell that it made my mom proud of me. She would joke about it, but I knew she loved my spirit and that I never missed a day of work. I knew she thought it made me strong.
So it didn’t come as a huge surprise to her when I decided to study theatre after high school. The year I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease was the first time I had gotten a part in a “Main Stage” production at my university. I had auditioned the semester before and then wound up in the hospital a few weeks later. By the time the rehearsal schedule was sent out, I had my official diagnosis and I wasn’t sure if I would be going back to school. I remember sitting in my room with my mom, pointing out rehearsals and seeing how they conflicted with different doctors appointments I had. I was supposed to be a dancer in the show, but I was still recovering from recent surgery and scheduled for another in a few months.
I’ve never seen my mom try so hard to work around something before. She negotiated with doctors, pushed appointments around, looked in to different medicines. I was the one who first brought up dropping out of the show. My mom stilled. I knew she was taken aback, and honestly, so was I. But I was so tired, and in so much pain all of the time. We both knew I couldn’t do it. I was weak. I was too weak. For days we went back and forth deliberating on the decision. I worried that I wouldn’t be cast in another show down the line if I let the whole department know I was sick and essentially a big risk. Finally, I told her I didn’t think I could do it. She sat with me and we composed a message for the director, explaining my circumstance. When I sent it out it was like admitting defeat- my disease had reached the one part of me that I thought it would never be able to touch. I was different.
My mom doesn’t tell that story. We don’t ever talk about that play, and I never went to see it. But we don’t need to talk about it. I know that she still thinks it makes me strong.
I’ve written a lot about how much better my life got after I was diagnosed. And while my diagnosis was a blessing from the universe and has been one of the best things to ever happen to me, sometimes I still find it to be restricting. Like it puts me in a box, or forces me to walk around with a sign hanging from my neck that says Warning: High Risk. Why would someone want to take a chance on me if I can’t guarantee how I’ll be feeling the next day?
And sometimes I worry that it takes away from that part of me that I’ve always secretly been thankful for- the part that defies all logic and rationality and makes me do ridiculous and stupid things just because my heart is saying yes.
But then I remind myself that I am writing this post from the other side of the world. I didn’t have to come to New Zealand, but my two best friends were both going off to live out their own respective adventures, and I didn’t want to be stuck at home missing them. So, in a moment of insanity, I decided that I would go on an adventure too. I would go as far as I possibly could. I had to take a chance on myself.
Lately I’ve been thinking about my own limitations, and I’ve been reminding myself of the girl I used to be, before I let people define those for me. I’ve been discovering the person I want to be- one who knows that sometimes my strength shows the most when I am at my weakest.
At no point would I call this adventure easy. But so far it is proving to be worth the risk.