Gender & Identity, Wellness, Life

Turning 22 was the best thing that happened to me but not for the reason you think

As cheesy and dark as it might sound, I really thought I was going to be forever twenty-one.

I gradually stopped feeling excited about my birthdays after my 13th. It wasn’t anything conscious or negative – it just was. Over time, I stopped thinking of my birthday as a big deal because it was just a day when I received extra affection; I got more love than usual but it just wasn’t extraordinary anymore.

That all changed on my 21st birthday.

I was sick on my 21st. I was constantly in excruciating pain, my joints were too sore for any kind of significant movement, I was rapidly losing my hair on a day-to-day basis, my skin was covered in rashes from head to toe and I was (mostly) running a high fever. Yet I somehow made the effort to deck myself up. I wore nice clothes, put on some makeup and smiled very wide when my parents surprised me and my friends came over.

 I was hurting so bad throughout that I wasn’t even sure of what was happening to me but all I wanted was a chance, an opportunity, to live. I made an effort to enjoy myself, even if I did not want to because I wasn’t sure I was going to live to experience my next birthday.

I just wanted to be able to do the things people did in their 20s. I wanted to plan for my masters, I wanted to get a job, I wanted to complain about a tough day at work whilst catching a drink with my friends in the evening. I wanted things to be normal.

I just wanted to be normal. I wanted anything but to be stuck in the same endless cycle of being sick, being too unwell to do anything and at the same time not getting answers as to why my life was suddenly on the brink. I wasn’t in a good place. I wasn’t in any place. I was stuck in a loop, a really terrifying and dark loop. 

I wanted nothing but to get out of it, and luckily, by the grace of God, I did. I was able to recover with the right treatment, help, and with my sheer will to live. 

And so I got better – physically and mentally. I have been weaned off almost all my meds and I am in good health now. I honestly have never been better, which is why as my 22nd birthday approached this year, I was more excited than ever before. I started recovering a month or so after my 21st birthday so technically, the year that followed wasn’t so bad. But it has taken me a significant amount of time to get back on my feet and I’m so glad that by the time my 22nd birthday approached this year, that’s exactly where I was – on my feet. 

It hasn’t been easy. It’s been the toughest two years of my life since June 2016 when I started falling ill to June 2018 when I have almost made my full recovery.

My priorities last year were simple – I wanted to be physically and mentally healthy enough to be living a life. And thankfully this year, I was. Thanks to getting the right treatment from one of the best rheumatologists in my city and having had to follow an (extremely) restricted diet, my recovery has been swift and quick. It has taken a lot of self-discipline, a constant fomo because my friends and peers were doing all the things I wanted to, this past year, and most of all, it’s been a constant battle with myself because I have come to realize that my life isn’t the way it used to be before this illness happened to me and the fact that it never will be.

Despite that, I was counting down the days as my 22nd birthday approached this year because this was the birthday I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to, last year.

As cheesy and dark as it might sound, I really thought I was going to be forever twenty-one

And it wasn’t something I expected considering the shape I was in last year at this time. So, honestly, it’s a shocker even to me that I lived – I lived to see the day that I got to experience my 22nd birthday. I’m finally doing what people my age should be doing. I have a job I love (most of the time), I have friends I catch drinks with to complain about my (lack of a) love life, I get into arguments with my mom when we have disagreements, I attend concerts and social events in my city, I am going on a vacation after three years, and I am planning my postgraduate studies. I am living lifeI’m doing everything right now that I had only hoped and wished I would be doing last year at this time.

I have been given a second chance at life.

So why on earth wouldn’t I have childlike excitement about my 22nd birthday? I have learned to live again when I’d almost lost all hope I’d get the chance ever again. I’m more grateful than ever before about the fact that I merely get to exist. So every birthday ought to be a big deal now.

I feel like as we grow up, we lose that excitement that we used to have for our birthdays. We stop looking forward to celebrating the day we were born. I don’t know if it’s just a product of getting busier and busier with our lives or a general lack of interest to celebrate our own existence. For me, prior to my illness, it was a mixture of both. But after nearly losing myself to a life-threatening illness, things changed.

My 22nd birthday ended up being my best birthday and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Whatever part of me that had stopped getting excited for my birthdays has a newfound will, and honestly, it’s so worth it.