As I walked the halls of the hospital at work the other week, I realized how one sentence has controlled so much of my life.
A little boy in a lime green wheelchair sat not smiling, in a lobby I know too well. I gave him and his family a smile and a subtle wave, because I could ballpark the type of news they just got.
And it’s not fun. I’ve been there.
As I rounded the corner into one specific hallway, my heart rate shot up.
I looked at the train set in the middle of that hallway. I still hate MRIs to this day. I still cry and sometimes panic, once a year in that tube.
At 20 years old, an MRI is still what gets me. My breath gets short and heavy and tears spill as my mind reels over and over, refusing to forget the one or two times that things weren’t okay.
And as a kid, seeing that train set, decorated happily for every season and holiday, was the only thing that kept me calm some days on my way back to the MRI machines.
As I circled back around, I pinpointed exact chairs I’ve sat in beside my family and pastor as we prayed before I headed up to an O.R.
As I left the hospital that day, I saw a bench I’ve sat on more times than I can count. I remember sitting there sobbing into my mom’s shirt, saying one thing:
“I just want to be normal.”
In middle school when I was sitting at home in a wheelchair instead of at school, I cried the same thing.
In high school, I sighed and said the same thing to myself again when I watched everyone getting ready for Homecoming or Prom from the sidelines.
A few days ago, as I went in my garage to do PT for the second time that day, I cried.
And said the same thing.
“I just want to be normal.”
As I walked around the hospital that day, it hit me. So many kids in these hallways, no matter their medical challenge, were probably saying the same thing.
It made me reflect back on how often I’ve thought that sentence and how it has skewed my view of my life, without me even realizing it. I forced myself to think back on the earliest time I can remember thinking that my life wasn’t or never was going to be “normal.”
At 20, I sat in my room, and was suddenly really sad when I forced myself to pinpoint my first “I’m never going to be normal” memory.
I was 10. My second-cousin, who really feels more like a sister to me, was getting married. I was a Junior Bridesmaid, and I was so nervous walking down the aisle.
I just didn’t want to trip and fall.
As I stood at the back of the church ready to go, I’ll never forget the strange feeling of relief I had.
“At least this is probably the only time I’ll have to worry about walking down an aisle like this. People with canes and walkers don’t get married.”
I was 10 and thinking that is still so vivid to me.
I remember just taking it as fact.
I was 10, and I had already started to fully believe things that probably aren’t true about my life. Just because I didn’t think I was “normal.”
A 10-year-old shouldn’t be writing a story like that for her life. But that’s how much my idea of “normal” messed with my head.
When I was 16, I wondered if I’d ever be “normal” and be able to drive.
When I was 17, I hated that I still wasn’t “normal” and couldn’t play soccer.
When I was 18, and I stood across a teacher’s desk as they told me that they thought I needed to go to a small college because of my challenges, I thought: “I just want to be normal. I just want to be a Gator. I got into UF. I want to be a Gator. But can I actually? What if they’re right, what if it’s too much?”
When I wake up every single morning and something hurts, it’s a really easy thing to think.
As all these memories were flooding back in my head, I started to get really mad.
I hated that one word, normal, had controlled so much of my mind and my life.
While this is still something I say in my low points and “being normal” is still a lie I fight away, I know now that there really isn’t actually a “normal.”
Because no two people are the same, and everyone’s got something.
The reason I’m writing this post is for the medically challenged kids, thinking that poisonous sentence right now.
Because truly, honestly, it is one of the worst things you can do to yourself in my opinion. You’ll slowly start to think it at every stage of your life. Trust me. I’ve done it.
It’ll create lies. It’ll drive you crazy.
So, to the kid in a walker, the kid in a hospital bed, the kid who has had more surgeries than years on this Earth:
Take it from someone who has done it all her life and wishes she didn’t. Never say or think “I wish I was a normal.”
Don’t. What even is “normal” anyways?
Sure, some of us don’t walk like our friends. Or we have more doctors’ appointments than anyone else we know. Or we know the ins and outs of a hospital better than our school.
And while those things can really suck sometimes, do me a favor. Don’t let the idea of not wanting your life to be that way, define the way your life actually is and is going to be.
Spoiler alert: I’m a Gator, and I drive a car. I'm getting around not being “normal” just fine.
When you’re stuck in this medically challenged bubble, it’s so easy to instantly hate it and search for a way out. I’ve done it time and time again.
But as I sat across from my dad at breakfast the other morning, one sentence he said hit home.
“I think you know that those crutches have created just as much blessing as they have struggle in your life and ours.”
To the kid like me, wishing that they were “normal,” don’t do it.
Take your life in front of you for the great thing that is. Don’t focus on what you can’t do, focus on what you can do.
Don’t let one word that really isn’t even a true thing, skew how you look at and live your life.
"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well."