Growing Up Sick & Strong-Willed


The things I knew were instinctual to me, I grew up a certain way and that's just how it was. I looked the same as the other kids, I could do the same things they could at a young age - with maybe a coughing fit or two thrown in - but I wasn't any different in their eyes. The parents may have noticed I coughed more than normal, but I don't remember much of anyone saying anything until I was older. I wasn't any different in my own eyes either. Cystic Fibrosis was part of my daily routine, like brushing my teeth. Also similar to most children, I would fight it.. "I don't want to go to bed, I don't want to brush my teeth, I don't want to do my treatments." I'm sure my mom could tell you more about that than I could, I remember being a delightful child. (I wasn't.)

Starting a few years into my schooling career I was made fun of a little bit for being small. I remember kids calling me shorty or small fry.. At the time, in my mind, it was almost an insult to be called something different, it felt like I was being challenged - maybe I was. "You're so small." So my back would get up - I was a constant coil pressed too tight ready to spring, I was a cobra ready to strike, it didn't take much to make me insecure at the time. I would stand my tallest, meet the other person eye to eye, give them my toughest face and say, "You want to see just how small I am?" I would look at them until their eyes dropped and their excuse was, "I was just sayin'.." I would usually have some smart-ass comment to make them think twice about mentioning it next time. Pointing out that them being bigger didn't make them any better.

Around the same time kids started commenting on my coughing. Not wanting to play so they wouldn't get sick. That was a bit tougher because I'm not sure I really had a good grasp on why I coughed and they didn't. I remember telling kids that they couldn't catch what I had, but I wasn't very nice about it.. so they probably didn't want to play with me anyway. It took awhile for me to understand enough what was wrong with me so I could explain it to others. I didn't like being different, I remember coming home from school and coughing and coughing. I would say to my mom, "I didn't cough all day, why am I coughing so much now?" She told me I probably held them in around others. I don't even know if I did it consciously, I don't think I did. The more I understood my disease, the easier it was for me to explain it to others, so I asked all the questions I could think of. If I knew all the answers to the questions I asked, I would be able to answer others when they asked too.

I was always kind of primed for confrontation when I was younger. If anyone asked in a tone I found insulting, it didn't take much for me to be a smart-ass. If they were flat out rude, I was often mean. I think I had to prove to myself I could handle the tough guy. I wasn't going to be pushed around by other people who thought they were more than I was. I also learned from an early age, that I didn't like anyone else being bullied around me either. I couldn't help but stand up for the person being picked on if they weren't able to stand up for themselves.

Being picked on and standing up for myself taught me some early lessons. Just because someone is bigger doesn't mean they are stronger. Just because they have more degrees doesn't mean they are smarter. Just because they think something makes them better than you, it doesn't automatically make it true. Maybe I was narcissistic, maybe I was too proud, but I always knew I was good enough. I knew if someone was judging me on something they didn't understand, that was on them. I knew that I could do anything they said I couldn't.. and if you said I couldn't, I very much was going to prove I could - again, ask my mother. I got diagnosed with oppositional defiance disorder, a diagnoses I personally think is bullshit. My doctor just said, "of course you would think so". My mother laughed and that didn't sink in until sometime later. So out of sheer stubborn will I have forced myself to stop doing the opposite of what everyone says. I'm still not very good at it.

As a child I often did what I was told not to, just to see what would happen. Maybe I wasn't trusting, maybe I thought I would defy the odds, maybe I was just stupid.. but I was always pushing boundaries. I believe my stubbornness gave me something I could have never got otherwise. It taught me that with sheer willpower, you're capable of more than you think. If someone told me why I couldn't, I was going to figure out how I could. I didn't know this was a characteristic people recognized until recently when I started talking more about my childhood illness. Apparently being a stubborn, know-it-all is somehow admirable. It's gotten me this far in life, maybe it will keep helping me move forward. Now that I've learned when and where to use my stubborn-attitude, and now that I am wise enough to know when to and not to be an asshole.. I think I have a good grasp on how to do what I think needs to be done.

Of course life is subjective, so I know I'm often crazy, and wrong, and misinformed, but I try to think about when someone tells me those things. I try to self-reflect, to grow, to change. It's not easy to take criticism or do something someone else says, but if you are honest with yourself, you will use what others say to help you move forward and be your best self. I'm not very good at this world, but I continue learning everyday. I continue trying everyday, and most importantly, I never give up.

I don't believe I would be alive right now if I hadn't pushed myself harder than others pushed me. If I wasn't my own biggest critic I wouldn't have done half the things I've done already in my life. My family wanted to hold me back, to protect me. I often defied them because I understood from early on, living a half life was no where near as satisfying as living a whole one. I wasn't without empathy though. I often felt guilty for going against what those I loved asked of me, but I knew listening to sooth them was not a way to live. You cannot live life hoping to make others happy at the expense of making yourself unhappy. I took calculated risks and when things did not go my way, I fought hard to fix them. I have been more careful with my life lately because I am more fragile than I used to be, but I still do more than many think I should. I have told those closest to me that I have to live my life a way that makes me feel fulfillment and happiness. The older I get the better I get at communicating, my red hot emotions don't get in the way anymore so it's much easier to think about what I want to say and figure out how to say it. It doesn't always work, but when I mess up.. I apologize and try to move on. I think that's all any of us can do in life. Try, learn, mess-up, admit it, apologize, and try harder next time.

If you're stubborn like I am.. you won't give up. You will keep trying until you find your happiness like I have. You will keep trying to live and fight another day.