As a teenager, I was one of those student-athlete-volunteer-homecoming queen-class president types from a waspy suburban Philadelphia high school, who shipped off to an Ivy League college with a forecast for a bright future. (In the photo above I’m giving my high school graduation speech.)
Soon after starting college, despite being in the best shape of my life playing on a Division I field hockey team, I experienced clinical depression for the first time and began wrestling with physical health issues, both harbingers of the formidable number of stigmatized challenges that would radically derail my adulthood, like chronic urogynecological pain and more than a handful of other quality-of-life-reducing chronic health issues stemming from early childhood medical problems, continued depression and anxiety, losing a brother to suicide, facing childhood sexual trauma, not being able to have children, and losing my mom to cancer.
The sum total of these losses, especially living with difficult physical symptoms on a daily basis, regularly brings me to the farthest edge of my endurance, requiring a constant recalibration of my adolescent definition of success, which had always meant a meaningful career, marriage, children, travel, and good health. Now at mid-life, my health has cost me these dreams.
But my dogged, unrelenting quest for peace and healing persists, even when I don’t know where the stamina is coming from. Part of that healing is to write personal stories about taboo topics because struggling silently keeps us all unwell, and writing is how I reclaim my power, strength, and leadership. Most importantly, speaking up is my anti-shame activism, to companion, inspire, and lend hope to people who are still suffering alone with stigmatized issues, and to expand our narrow cultural definition of what it means to be a strong but vulnerable human being.
On August 17, 2007, I lost my brother, and best friend, Jeff, to suicide. He was the kindest, smartest, funniest person I knew, and my most cherished confidante. For the thirty-four years I was lucky enough to overlap with him in this world, Jeff was my biggest fan, urging me to never stop mining for the power, health, and vitality that he knew lived inside me. He believed that my long fight for healing was an inspiring story, worth sharing.
Because my stories and life are filled with an excess of heartache and loss, I’ve often thought I shouldn’t write until I have a happy ending to balance the intensity. A friend recently pointed out that the so-called happy ending may be that I wake up each day, and despite enormous hurdles, I stay in the race, and keep searching.
By revealing my truths, my hope is that it will inspire and embolden you to share yours with people you love and trust. And in doing so, you begin to break the isolation that is endemic to deep, chronic struggle.
To all you gutsy, beautiful, complicated humans, especially those of you fighting hard, long invisible battles, I’m with you, and rooting as hard for you as I am for me.
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P.S. You may see references to Laughing in Traffic in the comments on this blog. That was the former name of Gutsy Beautiful Complicated.