Mark Twain once said, “The two most important days of in your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why.” Although a single epiphanic moment would be nice, finding my purpose is an ongoing journey for me.
I always knew — from a relatively young age — that I wanted to help people and make a positive difference in the world but it was never clear how. Little did I know as a naïve child that my hardest struggles would end up being some of my most powerful teachers.
When my chronic illness and anxiety symptoms began at about age 12, I quickly learned that my life wouldn’t always be easy. Now, I truly understand the capacity of the human body and mind to experience and endure pain. I know what it’s like to feel vulnerable and small every time you to have to put your health and future in other people’s hands.
That level of trust doesn’t come easily to most people, certainly not for me. I know what it’s like to feel like a burden when you’re unable to work and have to rely on others to survive. I know the feelings of sadness, inadequacy, uncertainty and fear that come from all the canceled plans, fractured friendships, postponed dreams and sleepless nights. But it’s that knowledge and compassion I feel for others that guides me as to how I can be of service to the world.
Managing life with chronic and mental illness is complicated, expensive, confusing and even degrading at times. Dealing with all the different health care professionals, blood tests, medical procedures, alternative treatments, medications, vitamins, ER visits, surgeries and therapies can be overwhelming. In my experience, most of the systems currently in place in the United States weren’t designed for people with chronic conditions.
This realization was one contributing factor in my decision to pursue my master’s in public health. Not only do I want to be able to effectively advocate for the chronic and mental illness communities, I want to be able to develop creative programs that address complex problems and bring about positive change.
Right now, I think my purpose is to use the experiences, wisdom and knowledge I have gained through struggle to help people like me. No matter how long it takes for me to get my degree or to be able to apply it, I know I am living my life with purpose. I do it every time I educate others about what it’s like to live with chronic illness. I do it every time I advocate for myself and members of my community. I do it every time I comfort my friends who also struggle. I make a difference — a very small difference — but a difference nonetheless.
Jane Goodall said it best: “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”