People think I'm fiercely independent. People tell me I'm brave. People praise my strength and resilience, especially when they see my accessed port hanging from my chest or see me force down multiple pills at a time. However, are these qualities that people so greatly admire actually a part of my nature, or are they characteristics I've adopted because I have no other choice? Lately, I've started to think that the answer is probably the latter. Let me explain.
I've grown up with the idea that I need to be independent. I rarely accept help from people outside my family and am wary of trusting others, afraid that if I stretch out my hand for help, people will reject me. I've had a few run-ins with people I thought were friends but in actuality turned their backs on me when I needed them most. While I've forgiven them of all the hurt they caused, those experiences drove me more toward independence. I've gotten really good at handling my own problems by myself and keeping them hidden deep down. Yet the truth is, I can't live life on my own. I need God with every fiber of my being. I am wholly dependent on Him. I pray to never forget this fact. Even with God, I could still say I'm independent of other people. Notice I said, "I could". You know what is hard for me to admit? I need people, as well. I need physical hugs and encouraging notes. I need people to help me when I'm sick and when I can't take care of simple tasks because it expends too much energy. I need people for community, not just for my own wants and desires but also because I can meet the needs of others. Am I really as independent as people think I am? Yes and no. Yes, I'm great at looking and acting independent. Yes, I am fine if I need to take care of myself or if no one else is around. No, I'm never quite as independent as I seem. No, if I've come to trust you, I'll start letting you in. I'm beginning to learn that asking for help isn't such a bad thing.
Now about the whole bravery thing. What is bravery, anyway? Is it the ability to put one foot in front of the other, even when the future is unknown or scary looking? Is it the skill to carry out the small things in life and to focus on what really matters, despite chaos and disaster spinning the world out of control? Is it found in the ordinary, everyday events of life? If these things are true, then I'll agree with you--I'm brave because I do what needs to be done and do not live in fear of the future. However most people tell me I'm brave because I've had more needles stuck in me than I can keep count or because I've had way more surgeries than the average 21 year old. Do I really have a choice, though? My options are to either take care of my health, even if it puts me through temporary pain, or have absolutely horrible health and let CF take over my body, which wouldn't let me enjoy life at all. If others were in my situation, I'd be willing to bet they would act the same way I do. I'm not brave because I endure breathing treatments and hospitalizations and surgeries and stomach pains and lung aches and shots and needles and port accesses and surgeries. That's called managing CF. No, I'm not brave because of what I am put through. I'm brave because I persevere, because I try to stay positive, because I still give my best to everything I do, no matter how I'm feeling, because for the most part, CF doesn't control my life.
I could ask the same question about resiliency and strength--what in the world makes me strong? I can guarantee you I don't want to be known as strong because of what I've gone through. Similar to bravery, I am strong because I never give up and don't use CF as an excuse in my life. Even though I could easily choose the "I'm too sick to do anything" route, at this point in my life where I am healthy enough I decide to push through challenges and see where God takes me. That, dear friends, is strength.
The way I handle my "hardships" because of CF isn't unique. I live like I do because I have to. CF has a way of making its people leery of true friends and of making CFers seem braver and stronger than the average person. Don't be fooled! If you were in my shoes, you would act the same way I do. But you're not, and I am still in my own size 5 1/2 shoes. So call me independent, strong, and brave if you want. I'm going to just keep on being me and putting one foot in front of the other, enjoying (or trying to enjoy) every step I take.