Julie Mills, San Francisco

Julie Mills, San Francisco

I am a slab of marble. With each new experience I am chiseled and shaped into something more than just a generic rectangular piece. Sometimes my imperfections and cracks seem to be all that is showing. It is not without blemishes and troubles that the process through which I am fashioned takes place.

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Last week I had low back pain. I felt like I was fourteen again, hobbling around with random spasms and an undying desire to lay down. That’s kind of a weird thing to say because isn’t back pain something that people over sixty deal with? Yeah, I was fourteen when I first had back pain. I was fourteen years old in the therapy pool with a bunch of people over sixty doing the exact same thing I was doing for my back pain. I had a lot of older friends I guess you could say.

Last week was like a blast from the past. It has caused me to reflect on where I am today six years later. When I was fourteen I felt like king of the world. I had a lot of things going for me — sports, friends, activities, the typical junior high stuff. I had amazing friends. I had basketball. I had this fully functioning body. It took a few years of being stripped down to the very core for me to finally realize that it was going to be this draining process that would define me.

I won’t get ahead of myself, so let me explain.

When I was fifteen (one year after the pain started) the pain surged. It was hard to do all the things that I wanted to do. Add chronic pain on the plate of a fifteen year old, and it just seems like the world is going to crash down. That’s how I felt at least. It’s accompanied by another hard thing though too, because at that point friends are everything. Although suddenly you’re in pain and it doesn’t show because you’re not in a cast or on crutches, and your friends just don’t quite know what to do.

I felt like I had no one.

Now this isn’t a boo-hoo let’s-feel-bad-for-fifteen-year-old-Julie party.

Negative! Not happening.

I grew unmeasurable amounts in that year’s time. I grew closer to my parents. I relied more on my belief in God and my trust in His will, and I came to know myself more on a wearied and bulldozed level.

For years, sports were my thing, and at that period of time I didn’t know who I was without them. It was humbling, and eye opening to see myself grow. It wasn’t until Junior year that I looked back and said to myself: “Wow! How did I get here?” Suddenly I was a piano teacher to 18 students of all ages. I was loving every second of expanding my talent on the piano. I was drawing. I was writing. I was exploring these new avenues that were a part of me, but had never been delved into before. Exhilarating is a good way to define that part of my life.

I like to find an explanation for things. I like to dissect, breaking it down into small subsections and subunits in order to understand on a more profound level why it happened and how. So, after all this happening, I did that to myself… how did I get to this place where I seemed to function on a higher level? How did I get to this place where I grew up and was able to handle myself better? How did I get to this place where I empathized with people easier? How did I get to this place where I understood pain and trial on a different parallel?

My answer was found simply within my own pain and suffering.

I had no control over what was happening to me. I had no control over what my body was going to do the next day. I had no control over when or if this was going to end. I think I have a better idea and handle on that now.

For the first while of experience with adversity I felt so sorry for myself. My Dad used to tell me to just paste a smile on because the happiness would come. That never seemed possible to me… until I looked back and saw the person that I had become. Now all I want to do is thank my Dad over and over and over for that teaching (Thanks Dad!) All this growth in my life had come from something so terrible yet I was still progressing, even flourishing… what wasn’t there to smile about?

So after all I’m going to say this: Rheumatoid arthritis and all the pain and accompanying afflictions that come along with it has come to be one of the greatest blessings in my life.

I just heard a bunch of gasps, and some major disagreements. Now hold on just a second!

Even though I think it is a blessing I would never wish rheumatoid arthritis on anyone. I would never wish chronic pain on any fourteen year old. I would never wish debilitating injury on a basketball player who has dreams and aspirations. I would never wish poignant depression on a freshman in college. I would never wish what appears to be insurmountable fatigue on anyone experiencing any walk of life.

I never imagined having rheumatoid arthritis. I never imagined having chronic pain as a fourteen year old. I never imagined debilitating injury as a basketball player with dreams and aspirations. I never imagined having a poignant bout of depression as a freshman in college. I never imagined the somewhat insurmountable fatigue I feel throughout my walk of life.

But it happened. It is still happening, and I’m still here. Right now.

And I’m better than I was then.

And I’m still progressing.

And nothing is going to stop that.

And that, my friends, is a blessing.

And it is simply one of my greatest.

This didn’t happen overnight. Want to chat with sixteen year old me or the eighteen year old that just graduated high school and had an appointment with the rheumatologist? Want to chat with the nineteen year old who just finished her first year of college and was struggling with depression?

I didn’t think so.

It took a lot of “turning inwards” so to say. I wrote a lot of things out in a journal of mine. I prayed a lot. I talked to my parents a lot. I went on millions of drives because sitting up on the hill that overlooked my town made my problems seem so minuscule, and somewhat surmountable. It was with TIME that I was finally able to say, “I’m thankful for this and for what it has turned me into.”

Rheumatoid arthritis has turned me into a compassionate, warm, huggy, empathetic, multi-faceted, human being with a capacity to love and live greater than I ever understood to be possible.

Do I claim perfection? No. Not at all. Last week I struggled to get out of bed, and the demons of depression seemed to be encroaching upon my life. I was bitter, reclusive, with little desire to talk to anyone. There are times like that, so I sat and I talked to my therapist (my husband) and I said more prayers. I owned up to my actions (pushing people away) and I dealt with it. And after that moment I still clutched onto my gratitude for this trial because with hardship, comes greater joy.

Everything has it’s opposite.

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I am a slab of marble. With each new experience I am chiseled and shaped into something more than just a generic rectangular piece. Sometimes my imperfections and cracks seem to be all that is showing. It is not without blemishes and troubles that the process through which I am fashioned takes place. Slowly and with intricate work these weaknesses are mended. With precision and focus these spaces have become areas of fortitude No matter what happens though, they will always make up a part of that once generic hunk of marble now shaped into a masterful work of art.