I can remember when I was younger, I spoke to a young man who had moved to an English speaking country from Germany. I so admired this young man for his courage and commitment to changing his whole life and daring to make another path for himself. He CHOSE to make this fresh, bold, scary start and even more remarkably he left behind his family and friends and moved at a very young age!
You might think his youth and ignorance of all the challenges probably helped him. Maybe. But he did it. And he is still doing it today, which to me is the truly remarkable part. Words can’t describe the admiration I have for some people I have encountered on my journey but boy do they stand out in your memories!
I was talking to him one day and I asked him “When you dream, do you dream in German or English?” He smiled and answered “Early on, I would dream in German, now I dream in English.” This fascinated me. Dreams are such a strange and integral part of the human experience, and so much time and effort has been devoted to its study and what they mean. A real mystery. As I fast forward my mind to today, to last night, to now, even after nearly a decade with these illnesses and disabilities I still dream as a healthy person would, in a healthy, working body! In my dreams I walk, run, shop, move, dance and do everything without a hint of my illnesses. Although a lot of my dreams are not happy ones anymore and the majority of them are themes of struggle and nightmarish in nature. Its strange how none of them have a wheelchair in them, or any of the other walking aids I use.
I also remember talking to the same young man years later about his upcoming, and long overdue, return trip to Germany to see his friends and family after many long years away. To my surprise he was nervous! Nervous of how much things may have changed and what he would find and if he would remember how to speak German as he once did. Amazing! For me it was an interesting and powerful reminder that life changes us and in a short time we can be become almost completely different from the person we once were.
I am reminded of these parallels when I think of my own journey with illness. Becoming very sick, it took me to a place both very scary and daunting, with unimaginable challenges and hurdles. I went to a very different and unknown world, leaving behind all that I was confident in and all that I knew. I felt alone. I felt a stranger in a strange world of doctors, medicines and painful and frightening symptoms. It took me a while to learn the ‘language’ of chronic illness and autoimmune diseases. Now, after nearly a decade in this land, and facing a lifetime of being here, if I was ever told that I could return that ‘other’ life, the life amongst the well and able bodied, I am sure I would find myself changed, almost completely from the person I was when I left. I would find it daunting to re-enter thinking as differently as I do now and feeling as differently as I do now.
When we go through a significant life change we are not just changed temporarily, we are changed completely. Sometimes we change for the better and see the things that we were previously blind to, appreciate the things we took for granted. Feel things in completely new ways. Sometimes, if we aren’t careful, we can be changed in negative ways. Where we go and what we become can come down to, chance, choice and experience. Who we meet in these strange new worlds are what makes the journey interesting. Finding our way is a journey in itself.
I often think of my friend, more than he realizes and I think of the parallels in some of our experiences. I used to think what a brave, courageous and strong young man he was (and still is) and I hope that I have taken on these qualities myself in my own journey.
As for where this journey will take me and if I shall ever return to the world I once lived in… well, we can but dream.