Ten years ago, I was a senior in high school. I had so many hopes and dreams. I had plans. I had ambitions. I had been dealt a pretty crappy hand in life, but I was determined to make the best of it. I was going to graduate, and I was going to kick ass and take names. I was going to get a job. I knew what I wanted to do in my life. I was young. I was naive. I had no idea what was in store. There was so much I didn’t know. But I knew I wouldn’t let my illness hold me back.
I was confident, and scared, all at once. I was graduating against seemingly impossible odds. I was told how amazing, inspiring, faithful I was while inside, I was falling apart. I was told I had a promising future – I was bright. I was smart. I was bubbly and passionate. Against a world that seemed determined to pull me down, I would prevail.
But that summer, my grandfather died. That fall, I enrolled in college for the first time. Both my physical health and my mental health completely fell apart and I spun so out of control I was asked to leave the college. That was the first time I dropped out of school, and it wouldn’t be the last.
Later on that year, I was admitted to the psych ward for six weeks, going into the beginning of 2007. And then I went to a group home. It was hell. Everything I had hoped for. Everything I dreamed. Gone.
Five years ago, I was transferring colleges. I had dropped out one other time and had finally completed classes. However, the college I was at wasn’t meeting my needs. I was preparing for back surgery before transferring colleges. I wasn’t the person I thought I would be. My career path had changed. But that’s okay – part of life is growth, right?
But that surgery didn’t go as anyone planned. I wound up with more doctors, more specialists, more pain, and eventually another surgery. I was still hopeful. I was still, as I like to say, kicking ass and taking names. I am stubborn and I fight like hell for what I want. This is both a blessing and a curse. My doctors would literally have to threaten me with inpatient treatment if I didn’t skip class because I was so determined to do well. For so long of my life, I had put worth in grades and doing well in school and dammit, this wasn’t something they could take away from me.
But it all came screeching to a halt. Despite modified course loads, despite every reasonable accommodation possible, I dropped out of college yet again. For seemingly the last time. My hope was gone. I was a semester and a half away from graduation. I was so close I could taste it. I could imagine the feel of that diploma in my hand. It was what I had worked toward for so many years… and it was gone.
That brings us to today. I’m sitting at Starbucks sipping an iced Americano. “You Can’t Stop The Beat” from Hairspray is playing in my earbuds. I never imagined that my life at 28 would involve being an activist and an advocate. I never imagined I would find things I’m passionate about. I never imagined that I would still not have that degree ten years ago. I never imagined that my medicine list would be so extensive that I would have a nurse come fill my med dispenser every week because I could not keep up.
But I am living. I am thriving. I have a life that I could never imagine. Because of my autism and disabilities, I have an amazing circle of friends I would never have otherwise. Because I am stubborn, I found something else to throw my passions and love into.
Ten years ago, I was eighteen years old and frankly, didn’t know anything about life. I thought I knew it all and was likely a cocky asshole. I knew I would get that degree. I knew I would do well in college in spite of my disabilities, and I cringe at that language now. I knew that my life would turn out just the way I want it.
As the John Lennon lyric states “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans”. Everything changed. And it is all a beautiful, messy mess. It’s all a part of who I became. And I love it. Back then, I was Angelique – young and naive. But now I am Annora. I am strong. I still have a future ahead of me. I may not be working in the way I thought I was and I may not be making a difference in the world like I thought I would be – but I am slowly changing my own world.
I am living. I am thriving. I have depression. I am autistic. I have OCD. I had PTSD. I have a list of medical disorder’s that is so long that I have to carry a list. I take so many medications that pulse through my body, keeping me alive. I never imagined this would be my life. But you know what? Because of it, I am thriving. Because of it, I have a great life. Because I am autistic and disabled, I have a life that is worth living.
My life is beautiful.
My life is mine. It may not be what I thought it was and even one year from now, it may look vastly different. I’ll look back on this and laugh. But this is what it is right now and it’s good enough.