Appreciate All Life Has to Offer

It was an overcast May day with a piercing chill in the air.  I gazed out at a jumble of concrete headstones, all of which seemed as colorless as the darkened sky.  I was immediately sobered, struck by a deafening silence, which was occasionally punctuated by twittering birdsong.  The solemnity of the moment struck me, even through my sheer disbelief that this was my reality.

Why had I decided to do this?

What had I gotten myself into?

I walked into the cemetery’s office, a cozy building cluttered with a myriad of stray paperwork.  A kind woman, who was to be my supervisor, briefed me on the office procedures, describing my job duties with the sort of jocular enthusiasm typically reserved for those who are not routinely touched by death.

The message was clear: This was to be an ordinary administrative temp job.

But it wasn’t.

It was more than a job.  

It was a lifetime of lessons.

It was often easy to forget that I was surrounded by death, but occasionally, I received stark reminders of my own mortality.  I fielded phone calls from grieving family members.  I alphabetized an entire file drawer of index cards laden with birth dates, death dates, and grave locations.  I filed burial certificates, sifting through long lives and lives cut short, feeling deeply for the loved ones of the deceased.

I witnessed life in that office, too — close-knit families coping together, tears and occasional bursts of laughter.  A somberly beautiful tapestry of life and death.

A reminder to appreciate everything life has to offer.

When I arrived in the snug office on that overcast spring day, however, I was not sufficiently appreciative of my life, my vitality.  I was grateful to be working again — if slightly apprehensive at the unfamiliarity of my surroundings — but I was trapped in a battle against my own mind.  I felt anxious over a bright future that seemed to fade dimmer with each passing day.  I was exhausted, my lust for life gradually dwindling as I struggled to cement myself a place in the world.

But I was alive.  Living.  Breathing.  Laughing.  Loving.  Struggling.  Succeeding.

As the days flew by, I became keenly aware of the beauty of life — and how fortunate I am to be alive.  I realized that tomorrow is never guaranteed, so I decided to savor every moment of every day.  I danced through each day with a gleam in my eye, cherishing the warmth of the sun on my shoulders, the cool breeze against my skin.  The sky seemed bluer, the flowers more fragrant, the grass greener, the world more beautiful.  

I was no longer alive in the way many are; standing on the sidelines, bedrudgingly stumbling through life.  I was truly alive.  I was happily alive.

Three months later, I still am.

Life can be uncertain.  Life can be challenging. Life can be messy.  But life is a gift, full of love and laughter, adventure and opportunity, excitement and joy.  Sift through the trepidation, the struggle, the mess — and discover life’s beauty.  Notice the subtle intricacies of nature.  Savor every flavor, every aroma, every sound, every sight, every feeling.  Appreciate every opportunity, every failure, every success and every defining moment.  Live out your wildest dreams.  Love yourself.  Show everyone around you how loved they are.  

Life is the most precious, fulfilling gift you will ever receive.

Appreciate life for all it is.

Love life for all it can be.

Live.

 

Kelly is an avid writer and mental health and disability advocate with a focus on personal growth. She is passionate about using her life experiences to help others. Her ultimate goal is to make a difference in the world — no matter how small. When she is not writing or educating others about life with disability and mental illness, Kelly can be found listening to music and cuddling her cat.

Turn Adversity Into Opportunity

I lay in bed, unable to walk, gazing wearily at the sterile, whitewashed walls of the hospital room.  My eyes fell on a balloon tied to one of the hospital’s chairs — a royal blue Mylar balloon with a smattering of sunflowers.  “Get well soon,” it proclaimed, in bold, cursive lettering.

Get well soon.

I can’t, I thought.  I’ll recover, and in a few weeks, I’ll be allowed to walk again.  But I’ll never be fixed.  I’ll never be cured.  I’ll be limping for the rest of my life.

In that moment, as a 10-year-old girl lying in a hospital bed, struggling to cope with a lifelong medical condition, all I saw was adversity — a series of obstacles to surpass, a long road ahead.

Little did I know that just over a decade later, I would turn my adversity into opportunity — an opportunity to not only empower myself, but also to help empower others.

I was born 22 years ago with cerebral palsy — a neurological disorder affecting movement, balance, and posture.  Although my disability has long affected me very mildly, I grew up internalizing everything I could not do well.  For years, I could not run as quickly as my peers.  My hand-eye coordination was weak.  My handwriting was sloppy.  Due to my constant negativity, my self-image dwindled, and I could not see the world of possibilities concealed within my circumstances.

But beneath layers upon layers of self-loathing, gifts bloomed out of my challenges.  I was hard-working.  I was determined.  I was resilient.  I had a compelling story to share, one that could empower others.

It took me over 21 years to fully embrace the gifts my cerebral palsy has provided me, particularly the impact my story could have on others with disabilities.  I felt a responsibility to the disability community to share my story — to help others feel less alone — but I wavered.  I spent years terrified of the potential repercussions of deciding to open up about my medical condition.  I worried I would be treated with pity or derision.  So I stayed quiet.

Then, one day, something inside me snapped.  I wanted to share.  I wanted to be free.  I wanted to free others.  I wanted to make a difference.  I wanted to turn adversity into opportunity.

I have spent the past several months sharing my experiences with cerebral palsy with the world.  Using my life story to advocate and educate has not only allowed me to empower myself and embrace my disability identity, but it has also helped others do the same.  Since I began sharing my story, I have received countless messages of support and encouragement from family, friends, and strangers.  I have embraced the disability community and all it has to offer.  Most importantly, I have shown others with disabilities that they are never as alone as they feel, helping them find solace, pride and beauty in living with a disability identity.

I have turned adversity into opportunity.

Your challenges bear down on you, leaving you exhausted.  Your greatest hope is that your difficulties will soon subside.  But within every struggle lies an opportunity — a chance to learn, to grow, to love yourself fully, to empower others.  Seek out the opportunities hidden within your challenges.  Use your life, your struggles, and your story to make a difference in the lives of others.  Your challenges will empower you, and, in turn, you will empower others — sparking a powerful chain reaction.  Use your journey to uplift others and you, too, will turn adversity into opportunity.

 

Kelly is an avid writer and mental health and disability advocate with a focus on personal growth. She is passionate about using her life experiences to help others. Her ultimate goal is to make a difference in the world — no matter how small. When she is not writing or educating others about life with disability and mental illness, Kelly can be found listening to music and cuddling her cat.

Do Not Run, Face Your Fears.

It was 2:00 in the morning, two weeks before my college graduation.  I was sitting on a bench outside my apartment, my head in my hands, tears streaming from my eyes.  I was struck with a paralyzing fear of the future — a fear of abject failure.

I was terrified that I would fail my senior project.

I felt myself surrendering my sense of control as the wind whipped my hair across my face and the night air chilled me to the core.

My future no longer felt like mine.

My future felt bleak.

I wanted to run.

I wanted nothing more than to leave college, to escape the stress and the uncertainty and the self-imposed pressure to be perfect.  To escape my fears.

But there was something luring me back inside my apartment, drawing me back to my senior project — back to my fear.  A force far stronger than the nippy night air.  An energy more powerful than my trepidation over the future.

I wanted to succeed.  To succeed, I needed to face my fear of failure.

I did not run.

I did not escape.

I walked back into my apartment, briefly edited my senior project, slipped into bed, and drifted into a peaceful, dreamless sleep.

Two weeks later, I confidently strode across the stage at my college commencement ceremony.  I graduated with highest honors.

I faced my fears.

I did not run.

I completed my senior project.

I walked in my college graduation.

Your fears snake into your mind, convincing you not to try, convincing you that you will fail, convincing you that you are unworthy.  They persuade you to run, to escape, to hide from anything that could possibly lead to happiness and fulfillment.  But if you run from the harsh whispers of your fears, internalizing the lies they sway you to believe, you are deprived of the opportunity to realize your full potential.  You are stripped of everything that could enrich you — every moment that could transform your life for the better.

Even when rejection seems imminent, failure seems certain, or risk seems unrewarding, stand firm and conquer your fears.  Push through your mental blockade.  Quiet your doubts, your “I can’ts,” and your “I will never’s.” Confront your trepidation with a smile.  Do not run.  Do not escape.  Do not hide.

Your decision to face your fears will enhance your life in ways you have never dreamed possible.  You will develop a deeper connection with yourself, with others, and with the world.  You will gain the courage to undertake any challenge and the resilience to persevere in the face of adversity.  You will recognize your strengths and celebrate your capabilities.  You will believe, beyond any doubt, that you can transform impossibility into possibility.

Go out into the world and do the things that scare you.

Travel to the country you’ve always wanted to explore.

Go on a date with the person who makes your heart skip a beat.

Apply for the job of your dreams.

Finish the project you’ve worked on diligently.

Do not run.

Do not escape.

Face your fears, and you will blossom.

Kelly is an avid writer and mental health and disability advocate with a focus on personal growth. She is passionate about using her life experiences to help others. Her ultimate goal is to make a difference in the world — no matter how small. When she is not writing or educating others about life with disability and mental illness, Kelly can be found listening to music and cuddling her cat.

Your impact matters.

I am an ambitious, determined woman and have long had a clear, non-negotiable vision of my future. Attend law school. Pass the Bar exam. Become a criminal prosecution attorney. Be a young, successful professional.

This past year has thrown my future plans into question and forced me to reevaluate everything I presumed to be true about life. I struggled to find a steady job. I grappled with anxiety and depression. I consciously decided to put law school on hold so I could focus on my mental health. For the first time in my life, I felt left behind — unsure of my future, desperately searching for a new identity, wondering if I could ever make a difference in the world.

Until the day I discovered my own power. Until the day I learned that my words had changed someone’s life. Until the day I realized that positively impacting others is far more important than immediately working towards a successful career.

Two months ago, I wrote a piece on my evolving self-image and my journey to reach complete self-love. When I discovered that my best friend’s mom had sent my writing to someone she felt needed to hear my words, I was elated. But what I learned next flooded me with emotion.

My words had helped someone gain unapologetic self-confidence. My words had helped someone take ownership over her identity. My words had changed someone’s self-perception. My words had left a lasting, positive impact on someone’s life.

Tears formed at the corners of my eyes as I realized the truth: I may have spent months questioning my worth, wondering if I have the power to make an impact as my aspirations crumbled around me, but my writing had helped someone embrace herself. I had helped someone embrace herself. The influence I have on the lives of others — the mark I hope to leave on the world — is far more meaningful than any degree, any salary or any career.

There is a force far greater than living the “perfect life” — using the life you have now to make a difference in the lives of others. Every word you speak, every smile, every small act of kindness has the potential to help someone — to change someone’s life for the better.

You don’t need a degree or a high-powered job or accolades or recognition to make a difference. You don’t need to be at the top of your field. You don’t need to be the best. All you need is kindness, empathy, and love. All you need is to be yourself.

Right now, you might not be where you have always imagined. But if you use your circumstances for good, you will be able to positively impact the world. Know that your heart will spread to so many others. Work to make a difference. Believe in the power of one.

It’s okay if your life hasn’t turned out exactly the way you planned it. It’s okay if you don’t know what you’re going to do next. It’s okay if you have to put your dreams on hold to prioritize your well-being. It’s okay if you feel lost or directionless.

You are powerful.

You will make a difference in the world.

Your impact matters.

You matter.

Kelly is an avid writer and mental health and disability advocate with a focus on personal growth. She is passionate about using her life experiences to help others. Her ultimate goal is to make a difference in the world — no matter how small. When she is not writing or educating others about life with disability and mental illness, Kelly can be found listening to music and cuddling her cat.