It’s been quite a full year for me. I’m under a year away from being “thirty-something”, I’m touring a play about my life, I’m almost through with my college career, and I’ve officially closed the door on a decade of medical hurdles. Called both a “surgical disaster” and a “medical miracle”, I don’t have a body quite like I’d imagine everyone else’s to be – a feminine figure with smooth flesh, voluptuous curves, effortlessly flaunting tight mini-skirts and throwing on a tee-shirt without worrying if certain medical additions are exposed – at least, that’s how I thought everyone felt about their body.
At 18 years old, I was sucked into an alternate universe of IVs, CT-scans, cutting apart and putting back together, having my body manipulated like medical marionette. Ten years later, it’s hard to remember what my body looked like before the scars, ostomy bags, and IVs became a mainstay in my physical life. I don’t remember what it felt like to sleep on my stomach, or to jump in the pool fearlessly. But in exchange, I’ve learned things about my body – the vessel for the vitality that flows within me – that I will never forget. These lessons have made me who I am.
Mostly, I’ve learned that through my body, I can experience the best of what life has to offer. Sticking with difficult times has allowed me to experience some of the most cherished moments in my life, like my wedding day – even though I’m divorced now, I will never forget how beautiful I felt, even with ostomy bags and open wounds.
Each surgery has taught me some kind of lesson in the power of positive thinking. Here is my dedication to all 27 of them…
1.) Life has many obstacles, many challenges, many blessings, many triumphs — but you only have one body. If you want it to experience the good, you’ve got to stand the bad as well
2.) Emotions are powerful, confusing animals. “Talking things through” or “thinking it out” isn’t always the answer. Some of the most powerful feelings only come to light when you can express them in creative ways — draw them, take a walk, find a song that embodies what you’re feeling. Let your heart know that your mind doesn’t always have to run the show. Emotions are really just arrows in your life. Listen to them. They point you in the direction you need to go.
3.) As long as there is breath flowing through you, you are alive, so wake up. Throw some ice cold water in your face, scream at the top of your lungs. Give yourself a jolting reminder that you’ll never experience this moment again. Do you really want to miss it?
4.) Life is about moving on. But it is not about running away.
5.) You body needs every kind of nourishment — whole foods, a bit of pampering, and a daily open dialogue (body-talk, if you will) to make sure you give it exactly what it needs.
6.) You can’t live a full life if you don’t accept the good with the bad. Only when you can feel the depths of despair will you be able to feel the lightest of joys. I’d rather feel everything than nothing at all.
7.) The magical, quick-fix solution to finding happiness wherever, whenever you are? Gratitude. When I was stuck in the hospital for four months after a disastrous trio of surgeries, I forced myself to keep a gratitude list from A to Z. It wasn’t always easy to fill out, but by the time I reached “Z” every night, I always ended up feeling a bit better than when I started
8.) When you’ve been through a difficult, trying period in your life, a part of you becomes “wounded.” This wounded self will always be with you, even when the darkest times are over. If you are able to listen to this wounded part, honor its story and learn from what it has endured, your life will be deeper and richer.
9.) Laugh — even in the roughest of circumstances. Laugh when the surgeons put your family on lockdown because your parents have unsuccessfully tried to sneak you out of the ICU to go shopping. (True story.)
10.) Things don’t happen for a reason. You make things happen for a reason.
11.) Reframing “Why Me” into “Why Not” has the power to change your perspective and open you up to the possibilities.
12.) It’s been said many times that it’s the journey that matters in life, not the destination. And the more detours your journey takes — the more bumps, hiccups and setbacks — the more beautiful eye-candy you’ll spot along the way. Every little twist and turn in life has made me who I am today. On one level, I wish I never had to go through a decade of medical trauma, but then I wonder if I ever would have the same amazing people in my life, be pushed to explore new ideas and try new things.
13.) You are not your life’s circumstances. Make your life bigger than your present situation. Things pass, but life will always be here.
14.) Life is filled with whatever amount of joy you choose to fill it with.
15.) Surround yourself with the people you love. They have the power to ignite.
16.) When you’re not sure of a choice to make the decision that best supports your aliveness.
17.) Finding yourself is not an “event.” It is a moment-by-moment practice — a practice that has no endpoint.
18.) Children are the best teachers on the subject of “fearlessness,” “openness” and “presence.” Soak in their lessons any chance you can.
19.) Every imperfection and quirk on your body is gorgeous and uniquely you. After my surgeries, I like to think of myself as a beautiful mosaic — broken apart but put together again differently, but still beautiful.
20.) To quote one of my favorite Broadway musicals, Sunday In The Park With George by Stephen Sondheim, “I chose and my world was shaken — so what? The choice may have been mistaken, the choosing was not. Just keep moving on.”
21.) Speaking of musicals — stay true to who you are. Follow your passion, andthat will be your compass back to yourself when you’ve lost your way.
22.) Creativity is more than arts and crafts. Creativity is the willingness to view the world in a different way — to see the world anew. See the world with s bit of creativity and you’ll immediately spot the blessings in your life, no matter the circumstance
23.) Food nourishes your body and invigorates your taste buds. But more importantly, food is a potent connection to your memories, emotions and heart. Because of my surgeries, for six years out of the past decade I was unable to eat or drink. I didn’t realize until I had that first nibble of food once again how being able to savor, sip and taste fills the body with every rich sensations of being alive.
24.) Even when life feels terrible, there will be a time when you say, “Remember when I went through that? I thought things would never get better!” If you wait it out long enough, just as life changes, all things change. Make it a good change.
25.) Hope, faith and trust are more than just pixie dust and whimsy. It is the medicine required for your soul to hold on until things get better. I came out of my coma to hear doctors tell me that I had no stomach, I couldn’t eat or drink, and nobody knew when or if I would ever be able to again. I was given no timelines whatsoever, but I made myself believe that “any day now,” a miracle would happen and I would be eating. “Any day” turned out to be years later, but now that I can eat and drink freely, my “willing suspension of belief” was worth it.
26.) If you feel alone or disconnected, remember that you always belong to the universe. There are cells and molecules in your body, just as there are cells and molecules in every tree, dog or person. We are all one and the same. If you feel something, chances are someone else has felt it before. You are always a part of a larger whole.
27.) And, since you’re a part of something larger, everything you do has meaning. Every word, step, thought, action, or feeling affects someone else. even if you can’t notice it right away. So keep living your best life, even when it seems there is “no” way to — because you matter.
What lessons have you taught yourself this year?
- Originally published in Elite Daily
- Published in Sammiches & Psych Meds
- Published in Huffington Post
- Published on Medium
Amy is currently touring Gutless & Grateful, her one woman musical, to theatres, colleges, conferences and organizations nationwide. See where she’ll be next, and learn how to bring her show to you. All artwork was created by Amy. Learn about her mental health advocacy programs for students, and find out how to take part in the #LoveMyDetour movement, striving to create compassion through stories.