Most of my friends are at least a year older than I am. As I've been a part of many birthday celebrations over the last few years, several of my friends have made jokes about avoiding membership in the 27 club. I was tempted to do the same -- the opportunity appears only once in a lifetime, after all -- but it seemed unnecessarily macabre in light of recent events. Had just a few details of my car accident in March of this year been altered slightly, I could have been severely injured or even killed -- a thought that has alternately terrified me or allowed me the freedom to consider restructuring my life completely, depending on my mood.
But let me backtrack a bit: In July of 2011, while sitting innocently in a lawn chair on a friend's patio, I had my first grand mal seizure of my life. I regained consciousness in an ambulance soon after, but I had no understanding of where I was or why. I couldn't speak, I couldn't think clear thoughts, I couldn't move; it felt like one of those surreal dreams that result from slipping into the shallowest of sleep. I understood on some level that the EMTs were asking me questions, but I couldn't figure out what exactly they needed from me or how to provide it. As the hours went by -- hours that felt like minutes to my confused mind -- I regained the ability to process information and form coherent sentences, but only very slowly. Even toward the end of my ER visit, about five hours after the seizure, it took a few seconds for me to bridge the gap between the doctor's questions and my answers. I was unsteady on my feet and completely exhausted. I felt almost drunk or high, but it was incredibly disorienting and frightening. Once all the basic tests had been administered, the IV drip had done its job, and my heart rate had fallen to a normal pace, I was released -- with no insight as to what had gotten me there in the first place.
Over the months that followed, I endured many medical tests -- some draining, some embarrassing, some merely inconvenient, and all rather expensive. The day I turned 27 -- the same day a nasty storm plowed through Massachusetts -- I began my day at Mount Auburn Hospital with a brain MRI. Eventually, my neurologist flatly told me that sometimes people have one seizure and never have one again, and that that was probably the case with me. We agreed to schedule another check-up down the road, but he seemed quite confident that I was just fine and dandy, and maybe my body had merely had an unusually strong response to stress or sleep deprivation. He gave me the green light to resume all my normal activities -- exercise, swimming, driving, and so on -- once six incident-free months from the first seizure had passed.
Fast forward to late March 2012, during the week when it was unusually hot, in the mid-90s. Then-boyfriend TJ was out of town; I was taking Memphis, the dog, to visit my friend Jen at her apartment not too far from mine. The location was just far enough and the weather just hot enough that I opted to drive. I remember the dress and shoes I was wearing that day; I remember that I was chewing peppermint gum; I remember the feeling of the humid air swooshing through my windows; I remember approaching the intersection of Temple and Broadway in Somerville, where I was preparing to turn left. What I don't remember is the impact of rear-ending an MBTA bus, demolishing the front end of my car and scraping the tops of my feet beneath the brake pedal. (I found out a few days later that the car was totaled.)
I awoke for the second time in less than a year on a stretcher in an ambulance, motionless and completely baffled by the circumstances. I remember freely shedding enormous tears, frustrated at having been rendered mute once again by the misfired electrical pulses in my brain. The EMT, a young woman, showed immense patience as she tried to coax information from me: Where was I going? Who was I going to see? Who could she call to come get the traumatized (but unharmed) dog from the scene of the accident? Somehow I conveyed to her that we should call Jen, but when Jen answered her phone, I was still too out of it to explain what was happening. Somewhere in all this, a very angry police officer stomped into the ambulance, thundering at me about how my license would be revoked. My heart rate was stuck at a whopping 160 beats per minute, so I ended up with another (ultimately inconclusive) trip to the emergency room.
Adding to my feelings of helplessness and utter frustration, two weeks after the car accident, TJ and I broke up. A few weeks after that, I moved out of the apartment we shared, and in with Craigslist strangers; meanwhile, my job moved from the South End to middle-of-nowhere Newton, dragging out my commute to an average of an hour and a half each way. Many friends were also going through big life changes, but positive ones -- weddings, babies, home purchases, grad school, and so on -- and I felt completely out of sync with everything that was happening around me. I struggled to adjust to the sedative medication I was given to control the seizures -- medication that was eventually doubled in dosage when my doctor decided that what he once thought were panic attacks were, in fact, minor seizures. I oscillated between an odd sense of manic relief at the possibilities provided by a fresh start, and the feeling that my entire world was crumbling, far beyond my control.
The late spring and summer had that contradictory and impressionistic feel to it -- somehow simultaneously insanely fun and horrifically depressing, assembled from smears of dulled colors and unfamiliar sensations, blurred by the new chemicals coursing through me as well as too much alcohol, made complicated by too little sleep and disturbing dreams of ex-boyfriends and lovers. The energy at my new home was unpredictable, and I felt compelled to stay out late, overindulge in rich foods (after initially losing my appetite completely for about a month), skip showers and much-needed trips to the laundromat, leave mail in unopened piles on the floor. I spent more time socializing than I had in many years -- maybe ever -- yet I was suffocated by a ruthless isolation.
Gradually, some sense of balance -- or at least a more urgent need for it -- crept into my life. I celebrated my 28th birthday on August 27th, a perfectly warm and blue-skied day that I spent away from my office, basking in glorious sunshine and the company of dear friends. Now, as fall settles in and everyone is slowly returning to their tamer routines, I'm attempting to prepare myself for transition. I've spent most of my life analyzing everything to death but rarely acting on my instincts. I have been in a constant state of doubt, letting other people's opinions slither into my world view until I forget which ideas originate within me and which are infiltrators. I think I'll always struggle to conquer my anxiety over potential failure, but I'm wearied by the equally heavy burden of all that I could have done by now and simply haven't.
In the aftermath of all that has happened over the last few years -- and especially the last six months or so -- I've realized that I'm so much stronger and more capable than I ever dare to give myself credit for. I know myself better than anyone else, and the vast majority of the time, I know what the best choice for me is -- I just don't always listen to myself closely enough. Year 27 was extraordinarily difficult for many reasons, but the truth is that nothing has gotten in my way as much as I (and my unrelenting fear of rejection) have gotten in my own way. I can feel my perception of my future shifting, allowing me to see the many different directions in which I can go rather than all the lurking obstacles. That need for validation is slipping away and revealing something better: myself, as I have always been and always will be.
I've been reading a really excellent book that frequently refers to Michelangelo's belief that every block of marble contained a statue, and it was his job to chip away and "set free" the work of art that already existed within it. I see myself this way -- that is, a store of potential confined by the weight and restrictions of everyday life, waiting to be liberated. The difference between me and Michelangelo's block of marble is that I am both art and artist, the instigated and the instigator, the idea in need of emancipation and the emancipator. I think maybe I have been waiting all this time for someone else to chip away at that exterior, that fear, when I have had the power to free myself all along.
One week from tomorrow, I'll begin classes at Cortiva Institute and thus begin my journey to become a massage therapist. I hope it's just one step toward a better life, a happier one, a life that is defined by my terms and my goals. I know it will be hard for me to tune out the static of doubt, but as I said to a friend early in the summer, I feel more like myself now than I ever have -- and that should be more important to me than the other (mostly arbitrary) markers of adulthood and/or success to which I have previously held myself and inevitably fallen short.
This is my year. I know it. I feel it in every cell of my body, vibrating with anticipation. There will be struggles, as there always are, but I'm ready.
"The greatest danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low and achieving our mark."