What constitutes a new beginning? Is it the sunrise that marks the start of a fresh day? Is it the flipping of calendar pages as you spring ahead, trading one month for another? Is it the moment when confetti falls from the heavens and we say goodbye to one year and hello to the next?
What are the markers that distinguish between the past and the future?
A new beginning means something different to everyone. In the traditional sense of the word, a new beginning refers to a variety of life events most individuals experience. It’s signaled by starting a new job, moving to a new place, or the start of the school year.
Sometimes new beginnings aren’t even a beginning at all. Rather, they are masked as endings. Breakups, unemployment, and graduation are all moments of closure and while you may not recognize it in the moment, it is the conclusion of one thing that allows something new to be born.
What I’ve realized since being diagnosed with a chronic illness is that like all other aspects of your life, disease alters this piece, too. The way you understand and experience new beginnings will never be the same.
Over the past year and a half, as I actively battled Lyme disease, I’ve been forced to watch from afar as my peers go through their share of new beginnings. And I’m not going to lie. It is very difficult to watch their lives move forward while mine is seemingly put on pause.
It’s especially true in the context of spring, a season represented by budding flowers. It is a reminder that this is a time of rebirth, of renewal, and the chance to begin again. And all it takes is one glance at my Facebook feed to see friends living the life I wanted. To see them moving forward, with internships, vacations, and the start of the final stretch of the school year. To be reminded that when I say spring is a time of new beginnings, I mean for everyone, but me. At least, that’s how it feels.
Because no matter how much spring cleaning I do, as much as I purge from a growing pile of stuff weighing me down, one fact will always remain. No matter how shiny and exciting a beginning, no matter how far I move, or how amazing my new job may be, each change in my life is no longer a clean slate. I have a new form of baggage and no choice, but to carry it with me.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a spoonie, it’s that as much as I try, I will never be able to fully start over fresh. My chronic illness refuses to go away.
When I was first diagnosed, doctors using the word “chronic” to describe my illness made me very uncomfortable. The word is defined as recurrent, continued, incurable.
To hear at the age of eighteen that I was now living with an illness that would never go away was quite a difficult pill to swallow. Knowing how much pain I was in each day made it hard to imagine the possibility of being sick, of feeling this same pain for the next 70-80 years.
I felt I no longer had the ability to completely start over, to begin anew and reinvent myself entirely. There would always be something to tie me to the past. It was scary to think that I was through with new beginnings.
But I was wrong. Because being diagnosed with a chronic illness has been a new beginning in and of itself.
It was the start of a whole different part of my life, a new path down which I started. It’s one I didn’t choose, but has nonetheless led me to a myriad of people and opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise. So though I don’t experience the same beginnings as a “typical” person my age, even within a chronic illness, I have discovered my own markers for determining what a fresh start means.
There’s the start of a new treatment protocol and the hope that occasion brings, not as a complete redo, but more a restart. A new beginning is also experienced when making the decision to change doctors and is signaled by the relief that comes from finding the perfect fit. It’s felt in the equal parts excitement and trepidation when you finally get to come off an antibiotic and in the feelings of joy when you regain the ability to do something you had lost the capacity to do (I recently showered without help for the first time in over year!).
None of these moments were the events I thought I would be celebrating at this point in my life. But still they are accomplishments and natural markers in the seemingly neverending saga of my health. They help to separate one month from the next and one year from the previous, the details of which can become too easily tangled in my mind, impossible to unknot.
When the days blend together, you suddenly find that six months have gone by without your knowledge. It starts to feel like you’ve lost any semblance of a life.
My advice? Take the time to acknowledge and celebrate your own special, spoonie new beginnings. Realize that even though your illness is and will always be a piece of your journey, it doesn’t take away your ability to start anew. It just reframes it.