Trigger Warning: self-harm.
I suppose it would be unnatural if I didn’t wonder where life might have taken me had I not suffered meningitis and developed chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) as a consequence, even if those thoughts aren’t necessarily healthy. Having gone through this thought process multiple times, and having always drawn the same conclusions, I am no longer ashamed to admit that I’m glad it’s all happened. This might seem odd, but I intend to explain myself fully.
Prior to suffering meningitis I was boring. I lived in a normal house, in a normal family, doing normal things like going to school and watching TV. By no means was that negative and those are memories that still mean a lot to me, but I was completely unremarkable. I was terrified of not fitting in with my peers at school and went out of my way to make myself “cool”, only to start hating myself all over again when I inevitably failed. Some people are born abnormal and I guess it’s with them that I belong.
Then the meningitis hit like a slab of concrete and everything I thought I knew was turned inside out. The majority of those I called my friends turned their back at the soonest opportunity and I found myself unable to forge meaningful relationships with anyone else. It was at this point that I began to notice the stigma surrounding disability and all the inequality that came with it, and I fell into a deep depression. I tried to kill myself. I self-harmed. I decided that if people would only ever hurt me that I’d alienate myself from them. I shut myself in my room, listened to music as the artists were the only people who seemed to understand my plight, and threw all my energy into my studies as a distraction.
The day finally came when school was over and done with and couldn’t have come soon enough. The following summer I had my hair cut shorter than ever before, had my ears pierced and allowed my wardrobe to develop a distinct Gothic vibe. I started university being openly alternative and introduced myself to all the new people as “Mini”, an old nickname and my internet persona. I met my best friend, I met my partner, and I found my studies vibrant and interesting. I grew more and more confident and as I did so, I started to really express myself through my appearance, and then I became brave enough to fight back against the low-level discrimination I faced on a daily basis. A while ago I started “Diary of a Disabled Person” and the reception to my writing has far exceeded any expectations I had, however unrealistically dreamlike. In a matter of years I went from a boring wreck to an interesting one.
Had I not fallen ill I may well have remained trying to fit in with my peers, and may have concentrated on that so hard that my academic work suffered. There’s a good chance that I would have found joy in my music but not have found it as relatable as I do now, and I certainly wouldn’t have started this blog. I might have never developed the pure passion I have for writing that prompted me to write this brutally honest and perhaps slightly arrogant passage. I wouldn’t have developed the fighting spirit that has dragged me through the past few years and my rebellious streak may have remained buried deep down. However, all of these things are insignificant in comparison to the other thing I gained; the ability to forge lasting, meaningful relationships, and the confidence to allow someone close enough to be able to see every last little flaw and insecurity without fearing that they would be exploited against me.
Being chronically sick is rubbish and there are few days when I don’t wake up and think “I just wish this illness would leave me alone”. I will never ignore that, but I cannot ignore the positives either. I’m not being brave or showing an unbreakable spirit by thinking like this; it is reality and I don’t need an alternative one.