By Megan Wirts
What’s the opposite of aging like fine wine? Stinky cheese?
Of course some people really like stinky cheese, so maybe that’s not so bad.
I am turning 36 this weekend. That’s right, I’m closer to 40 than 30 and it feels a little bittersweet. While I am thrilled to have completed another trip around the sun and look forward to many more, getting older also means less time.
Less time to reach those goals you have been putting off. Less time to lose that last 10 lbs. Less time to add to your retirement fund. Less time with your loved ones. Less time to learn how to play the piano, go dancing or laugh with your best friend.
Time is the most valuable thing we have and one we tend to waste the most. That’s why this year my birthday wish is to spend my time more wisely, purposefully and with people that are worthy of it. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to spend 12 hours binge watching The Great British Baking Show, because sometimes that’s how I purposefully want to spend my time.
In my life, I have seen how little time some of us are gifted and I don’t want to waste the precious amount I have left feeling unhappy. I have spent too much time feeling angry, jealous and unable to accept my own limitations. I want to spend my time choosing happiness for my life. This doesn’t mean I’m going to sit around my house with a grin on my face while folding laundry or smile and remain calm when my kids spill lemonade on the floor, never clean it up and now the kitchen floor is sticky and gross. Let’s be realistic here.
Choosing happiness doesn’t mean that you are going to feel happy constantly. That’s impossible. Life is filled with ups and downs and loads of emotions. Sometimes you are going to be full of rage because of the slow walker in the grocery store and all you want to do is get around her, get your loaf of bread and get out. (Full disclosure, I am that lady and I will squeeze every last avocado to test for its ripeness, and I don’t care.) Other times you are going to be at your wits end because your kids won’t stop shooting nerf guns at each other and running all over the house when all you want them to do is clean the basement and do their homework!
That’s life. It is full of annoyances, challenges, trials and tribulations and not all of them are going to leave you bursting with joy. Some will be those small everyday annoyances, while others will bring you to your knees and leave you wondering how you are ever going to feel true happiness again. Some of those challenges will be so frightening that you will consider just quitting and giving up for good.
Choosing happiness is hard. I’m not trying to tell you to “just be positive”. When I hear that phrase it makes me want to punch people in the throat.
It doesn’t mean you ignore or deny your negative feelings or sadness. It means you acknowledge them and then move on. There is no specific timeline, you could spend 3 minutes or 3 days feeling the opposite of happy, but after that try to get past it. Choosing happiness to me, means feeling all the feelings and using those trials as opportunities to grow and change. It means focusing on the parts of my life that are easy to be happy about and focusing on that. It means loving the things I have instead of being angry about the things I don’t.
It also means asking for and accepting help when you need it. People aren’t meant to live this life alone. Let others in and let them help you.
When I turned 30 years old I remember feeling so excited for the future. I had a career that I loved, a new home, a beautiful family and good health. I had no idea that in just a little over a year I would have my first brain surgery and that my future would feel so uncertain for so long.
They say that your body starts to go downhill after the age of 30, but I had no idea what was in store for me. I figured I would start getting grey hair, a few wrinkles and body parts might head south. I didn’t expect that over the next few years I would have two brain surgeries, lose my “good health” standing, lose my job, friendships, and security.
After the brain surgeries and many specialists, I was finally diagnosed with Dystonia, an incurable neurological movement disorder. I was relieved to have a proper diagnosis and treatment, but I felt as if everything was spinning out of control. I spent many days in bed crying, sad, depressed, angry, afraid and in pain. Emotionally and physically. I would put on a happy face for my children and strangers, but behind closed doors I was a mess.
I was afraid of what my future held. I was terrified of becoming a burden on my husband. I was feeling guilty about not being the kind of mother I wanted to be for my children. I was afraid my friends would abandon me. I felt isolated, alone, frustrated and scared of so many things that I had absolutely no control over.
Through all of that, my sweet, patient husband, family, friends and complete strangers showed me love and compassion. That love and care helped me to dig deep inside myself and start choosing happiness instead of feeling negative and hopeless about my new life. I am the one that had to choose it though. Relying on other people for your happiness is the surest way to never find it. I am the one that had to wake up every morning and live this life and I decided that I didn’t want it to be miserable, regardless of having a disability. I just had to figure out how to do that.
It has been a long process and one that can best be described as a roller coaster ride without end. There will be no ending for me and Dystonia, it will always be here with me. There is no overcoming my illness, only living with it. I can either choose to be angry and bitter about it or I can find a way to turn this pain into something good. That is not to say I won’t have my moments of sorrow or anger, I’m only human after all. I just won’t sit there and wallow in it.
I’m thankful to have another year. Getting older may mean less time, but it also means another year to leave your mark on this world. It means more opportunity to become the best version of yourself you can be.
It means more time to choose happiness.
September is Dystonia Awareness Month. To learn more about Dystonia, go to www.dystonia-foundation.org
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