I really was dreading this day.
A year ago at this time, I was all caught up in the fact that I wasn’t married yet. That I didn’t have any kids yet. That I didn’t own a home, and I still had like a bazillion dollars in student loans, and sometimes the timing of my bills would work out so that my cable would get shut off for a few days each month.
And I was feeling like I hadn’t done nearly enough in the three decades of my life to deserve the milestone that is 30.
Then I got sick.
And everything changed.
Six months ago, I woke up feeling like I had a broken rib.
As one of my friends described it, it was if a tornado came down and destroyed everything, and I was left to pick up the pieces.
Suddenly, all the things I thought I needed didn’t matter at all anymore, and I was just trying to survive.
Suddenly, I was having days where the pain was so horrible that living through a single hour was an incredible accomplishment.
And making it through the night without killing myself was a huge win.
The new pain also came with very demanding limits.
No longer could I push my self to the brink of exhaustion to get everything done. No longer could I stay up all night to finish planning for the youth group, and then work at the church for 13 hours on a Sunday, and then wake up Monday morning, drive 1.5 hours to work, do my other job all day, drive 1.5 hours home, read a week’s worth of Bible study homework in a couple hours, and then spend 2.5 hours in Disciple class, then go home and wake up and drive 1.5 hours to work again.
Nope. Not anymore.
Now, just getting through a one-hour youth group service on Sunday mornings meant that I had to go lay on a couch for 30 minutes to re-group.
And if for some crazy reason, I did try to push myself past my body’s new limits, I would end up in bed for two or three days unable to function because of insane amounts of pain.
So everything changed.
And suddenly, so did my perspective.
As recently as last Friday, I seriously thought I was going to die. But I didn’t.
I’m here. Alive. Celebrating 30 years on this planet.
I may not have a husband, or kids or a white picket fence thingy. I may have just quit one of my jobs and moved in with mom. And, I may have only done five of the 14 things on this list of things I wanted to do before I turned 30.
But I can breathe. And, thanks to the miracle that is hydrocodone, sometimes it doesn’t even hurt that much when I do it.
So yay for 30. I’m just happy to be here.
So, ya, the move was pretty stressful.
I mean, I didn’t really think I was getting stressed out or anything, but I guess my body was stressed because on Friday night, just 12 hours before I was supposed to pick up the U-Haul, my “intercostal neuralgia” pain was seriously the worst it has ever been ever.
I’m talking stabbing pain that felt like a machete inside my right ribs, mixed with the feeling of being dropped off the side of a moving train and landing on a field of jagged rocks.
Horrible, horrible pain.
I was laying in my bed at about 10 p.m., trying to figure out how many hydrocodone I could take without running out before I was due for a refill, when I realized that all I really wanted to do was kill myself.
And then I started thinking that the pain that I was in, right then, was literally Hell.
That all I wanted it to do was end it. And that if dying was the only option, I was ok with that. In fact, I was sort of in favor of that.
So, I told my mom and my brother that I should probably go to the emergency room. And then I said many, many swear words.
Pain does that to you.
They took me to some ER in Joliet.
I refused to go to the ER right by my house, because the doctor there was the one who originally misdiagnosed me with an ulcer and wasted a month of my life telling me I couldn’t eat tomatoes and giving me the wrong treatments, and what with all the pain I was currently experiencing, I thought I might punch him in the face if I saw him.
So we drove about 20 minutes south to go to the Joliet hospital.
As soon as I got there, they hooked me up with a wheelchair, which was awesome because standing up was killing me.
When they called me in though, they took me to some weird entrance exam area, where there was a whole bunch of patients sitting by computers getting their blood pressure checked and being asked how much they weighed.
I was in too much pain to fight them on that question, but I overheard some other lady tell the nurse, “Enough.” As in, “How much do you weight?” “Enough.”
And then the nurse was all, “I’m really sorry, but we need to know exactly how much you weight because we’re going to give you an antibiotic treatment, and the dosage is going to be based on your weight.”
And she was all, “Well I’m going not to tell you while he’s in the room.” I can only assume it was her boyfriend or her husband. But I suppose it could have been her son. Or maybe even her dad. Who knows.
And then the other nurse was all, “Why don’t you just write it down on a piece of paper and hand it to us?”
And then she grumbled and something else happened and then my pain continued to try and kill me and then somehow they ended up talking about her weight into kilograms and so I never did find out how much the lady weighed because MATH.
Anyway, after the initial check in, they didn’t even bother to put me in a room, they just had a doctor come over and examine me right there.
And she only sort of pulled the curtain back half way before she asked me to lift up my shirt so she could see my ribs.
I was in too much pain to care who I was flashing though.
I screamed in agony when she touched me. I’m pretty sure it was that and my large blue and purple medical binder full of my health information from the last six months that convinced her to give me a shot of dilaudid — a pain reliever the internet says is 6-8 times stronger than morphine.
Yes, it burned going in, but let me just tell you that shot was the best thing to happen to me since I first ate Taco Bell.
Seriously. I have not been that pain free since ever. Really, I cannot remember ever being that pain free.
I want that life back.
I know I had it at one point.
I have faint memories of living and doing things where I could function without horrible pain dominating everything I did all the time, but it’s been so, so long.
I was told the shot would last about 8 hours, but I got a solid 10 out of it.
When it wore off though, I thought I was going to die again.
It’s crazy how quickly the suicidal thoughts come back.
Seriously. It takes about three minutes of pure agony before I’m ready to quit life.
The pain is just insane, and nobody should ever have to endure such a thing. I took two hydrocodone and cried for the 45 minutes it took for them to kick in.
And then I prayed that Walgreens would fill the hydrocodone prescription I had in my wallet a day early.
And they did. That is how I know there is a God.
I used that and the effects of a 20-day low-dose steroid pack my neurologist had prescribed me over the phone Friday afternoon to make it through moving day.
But actually, I just ended up carrying things like pillows and blankets to the car every once in a while, and then feeling the pain of death cover my body whenever my medications would wear off. And then I would suddenly lay down wherever I happened to be, and wait for another dose of medications to kick in.
I spent a bunch of time on the kitchen floor and on the grass next to the U-Haul truck.
The ER doctor told me I need to have a conversation with my pain specialist about going on stronger medications, except of course, my former pain specialist was a horrible, horrible person, and I don’t have a new one yet.
So I’m just taking hydrocodone so that I can live through each day. And I’m relying on a few more than the 4 a day I’m supposed to take.
You can judge me all you want, but when you feel like your ribs are trying to stab you in your heart, you do what you gotta do.
Because it’s either that, or kill myself.
On the upside, we did end up making it to Byron. Sometime around 10 p.m. Saturday night.
At least it didn’t rain. Moving in the rain always sucks.
Editor’s note: Today, Sunday Aug. 11, 2013, was my last Sunday as the youth leader at Crossroads of Faith United Methodist Church. Below is the letter I read to the youth for our final youth group.
Dear youth group,
I feel the need to start by telling you that I love you so much.
I know. I know. I tell you guys that all the time. I’m always blabbering on about how I love every single one of you. How I pray for all of you, all the time. How I love you all individually.
But the reason I say it all the time is because it’s true. It’s so, so true.
I love you all. Every single one of you.
I also want to tell you that I hate that I have to leave. I really, really hate it.
I ask God all the time, why he’s taking something I love so very much away from me. And sometimes, I question whether God is even there to hear my question.
I tell you that for two reasons.
One, so that you’ll know I seriously tried every single thing in my power to stay in this role. Seriously. I feel like I clawed at the edge of cliff, until, finally, my hand slipped off and I couldn’t hold on any longer.
The other reason I tell you that is so you’ll know that as you go through life, horrible, unexpected things will happen to you, and they will make you question your faith. They will make you question your beliefs. And they will make you question the very God you pray to.
And that’s OK. The questions are good. They are normal and healthy and as long as you keep asking them, everything is alright. It’s when you stop asking questions that you should be worried. Because it means you’ve given up. Don’t give up.
Also, don’t be afraid to fail. Imagine how many things you could do today, if you’re weren’t afraid to fail? You could ask that hot guy on a date. You could write a poem. You could make a YouTube video. You could write a song. You could start a band.
Now project that out into your life. There are so many things we stop ourselves from doing every single day because that little voice in our heads tells us that we might not be good enough, or we might not finish it, or we might not do it better than the other guy.
But that voice is stupid. Do it anyway. Chances are you probably won’t fail, and even if you do, it won’t be nearly as bad you think it will be. Also, you will have succeeded more than if you had never tried at all.
Have a plan for your life. You don’t have to stick to it, but you do need to have it.
It will help you keep your priorities in order. It will help you make huge life choices. And it will help you get to the next step.
I started out wanting to be a teacher, so I went to college. Than, I thought maybe I could try the writing thing, so I started working for the school paper. Then, I ended up being pretty good at it, and now I work for a candy magazine. I never became a schoolteacher, but imagine if I had never taken the first step to go to college?
Know which rules to keep and which ones to break. Maybe you need to miss a week of school to go to Europe. Do that. Maybe you need to finish all your homework so you can graduate. Do that. Maybe you need to play a clip of Zach singing “I like Big Butts and I cannot lie” in the mission trip video, for the whole church to see. Do that. Maybe you need to wear your yellow Mission trip shirt when everyone else does, so that everyone matches, and it looks awesome. Do that.
Serve others every chance you get, whether it’s opening the door for your mom, or painting a house on a mission trip.
Go on every mission trip you’re invited to go on. I promise it’s always more important than whatever else you have going on.
Read the Bible. Every day.
Brush your teeth twice a day.
Never text and drive. Never drink and drive. Always keep at least a car length of space between you and the car in front of you when you’re in heavy traffic.
Say please and thank you.
Don’t check your phone when you’re on a date.
Go to church every week. Even if you don’t feel like it. Especially if you don’t feel like it.
I confess that one of my biggest fears right now is that I will come back in six months and this entire youth group will be gone. I pray every night for that not to happen. Don’t let that happen. You are the group. No matter who comes in as the new youth leader, you are all the people who make up the youth group. Every single one of you. And as long as you keep showing up, you will all continue to have the wonderful place to come to every week to share your souls with each other.
Take your hat off when you pray.
Donate lots of money to lots of things. Give money to the church. Give money to the homeless man on the street. Give money to your mom. Give money to your friend. Give it away like you can’t take it with when you die, because you can’t.
Never, ever, wear navy blue with black, or brown with black. Just trust me on this one.
Buy the cheap gas, and the expensive deodorant.
When you are old, remember what’s it like to be young. Remember how crazy this time is for you. How emotional it is. How scary the world seems. And have compassion for those who are younger than you.
When you heart is broken, take the time to cry.
Maybe you need five minutes, maybe you need five months. Either way, give your heart time to heal before you date again. It’ll make finding your next love much, much easier. And yes, there will be a next love. I promise.
Start by forgiving your parents for all the stupid things they did to you.
Then, forgive your best friend every time you have an argument, and your least favorite teacher when she gives you 10-page papers to write. Forgive the guy in traffic who cuts you off, and the boy who never calls you back, and the college that’s too stupid to accept you. And then take a deep breath, let it all go, and move on.
Ask for help.
I have gone through some extremely dark times these last few months, while I’ve been sick. And I’m not afraid to say that on some nights the pain was literally too much for me to handle. And I would think about things I shouldn’t have. And the only way I got through those nights was by picking up the phone and calling Eric or my mom or my friend Terri and having them answer at 3 a.m. and listen to me cry.
I would not have made it through the last few months without the help of my friends and family.
If you can ask for help, you can literally make it through anything.
Live your whole life with passion. If someone asks you to lead a youth group, don’t just show up on Sunday morning. Instead, plan an out-of-state mission trip; start a night group and then personally ask every single kid, every single week if they’re coming to that night group; decorate the room with the kids’ hand prints; serve pizza and Taco Bell and McDonald’s, respond to every single one of their text messages immediately; and pray for them all individually all the time.
Remember that you are always setting an example. People will do what you do. If you jump during the “Waves of Mercy” song, everyone else will too. If you are a hard worker, those around you will become hard workers too. If you care, everyone around you will start to care too.
Love your neighbor.
Youth Leader, 2010-2013