When Everything Changes – A Story of Recovery

Dr. Suess’ book “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” inspired me when I was at a place in my life where I wasn’t sure how to move forward. My story, like the one in the book, begins with a specific approach to life; I was a go-getter, a leader, a stubborn mule and everyday I told myself; “Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So... get on your way!” At 18 years old, I was a busy bee, high achiever, sports enthusiast, and social butterfly. If someone had told me my life would change dramatically by my next birthday, I wouldn’t have believed them. Why would I want or expect anything to change? Nonetheless, change it did. “I'm sorry to say so but, sadly, it's true that Bang-ups and Hang-ups can happen to you.”

I was happily embarking on year 12 of school – the equivalent of senior year in high school in the United States. I was working as a lifeguard, playing high-level soccer and basketball, volunteering, and enjoying my social life, and suddenly my body decided it had had enough. I went from playing 90 minutes during soccer games to hardly being able to get out of bed. First, I was diagnosed with post-viral fatigue, triggered by Glandular Fever (which I didn’t even know I had). Then, I crashed. “Out there things can happen, and frequently do, To people as brainy and footsy as you.” My condition worsened and eventually I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

My recovery has been a slow journey (it took me a year to go back to school, and about three years to feel close to “normal”). My first task was simply gaining the strength to point and flex my toes. Then slowly, I worked my way up to being able to walk four minutes a day. Eventually, I was able to go back to school to finish year 12, and begin an exercise routine (though one that was nowhere near what I was able to do just 1 year before). I have had innumerable symptoms – headaches, pins and needles under my skin, gut-wrenching nausea, rashes, and allergic reactions that flared up and ranged in time from three hours to three weeks. “Onward up many a frightening creek, though your arms may get sore and your sneakers may leak.”

Dr. Suess once again clarifies the learning process that was integral to my recovery; “..remember that life's A Great Balancing Act.” In trying to recover many things had to change perhaps the hardest part of recovery was becoming me again – something I couldn’t have done without encouragement and accommodation from family and friends. I had friends who spent every birthday at my house so I could be part of the celebrations, a brother who practiced his violin in the garage (even during winter) because it was too loud for me to hear, a best friend who sat and talked to me when I was too sick to respond, and countless other instances where the people in my life helped pull me back up. During my recovery process, I stumbled upon a CFS online program and support group run by Toby Morrison, who also helped me get back onto my feet (quite literally). Recovering from CFS, for me, has been a lesson in will power. I had to learn not to push too much, to rest, to relax – and even to laugh at my dad's terrible jokes.

Sometimes it’s the simple pleasures that help pave the road to recovery. When I was sick, I spent a lot of time watching television – not something I'm particularly proud of. I know The Mentalist back to front, and am a closet (well I suppose I’ve just out-ed myself) Gilmore Girls fan. While I was recovering, I also took great pleasure in planning for the future. I planned and planned and planned. I had plans coming out of my eyeballs! Some of these plans have come to fruition: I have completed year 12 with a great university entrance score, I have a part-time job, I have finished a certificate in fitness, and I have stayed overnight away from home. Some plans are still in the organizing stages, and a trip to Europe is on the horizon, but I’ve learned that motivation is the key to recovery from CFS, as the illness is debilitating both mentally and physically.

In the Dr. Seuss book Oh the Places You’ll Go, he writes, “When you're in a slump, you're not in for much fun. Un-slumping yourself is not easily done.” Whether you have an ‘invisible’ illness like CFS, or have just had a bad week, taking time to focus on the small and special things in life, like having a good laugh with your dad, sharing a dance around the kitchen with your mum, or making dinner for your family as they shower you with praise, can help you out of that slump.

Now, three years after I was diagnosed, I have reached a new phase in Dr. Seuss’s book: “You have brains in your head you have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” This year I am off to Europe with my best friend, where we will abandon the comforts of home and the memories of my last few years of sickness and recovery. Next academic year I will finally begin my life as a university student. I have successfully recovered from CFS. I have found balance in my life. I enjoy simple pleasures and I take the time to reflect and learn from my past.

One thing I’ve learned is that wherever you are in the world, and wherever you are in your personal journey, don't doubt that you will succeed. You might not end up where you intended, but in every journey there are lessons to be learned along the way, detours made and train rides skipped. In the end, you must live by the words of the infinitely wise Dr. Seuss, “And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.) KID, YOU'LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!" So go move your mountain. It’s never too late to get started.

When she's not accidentally giving the wrong directions to tourists at Made in Tasmania, you can usually find Casey making delicious raw food recipes and dancing around her kitchen. Despite her "alternative" sense of direction, Casey enjoys rambling through the wilds of Tasmania, capturing moments on her camera and enjoying life in the slow lane, for a minute or two. Casey will begin her studies at an Australian university in the next academic year.

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