I am flipping through my Grade 8 yearbook. Every photo I find of myself I notice I am smiling, not a polite smile, but a big, genuine smile that lights up my eyes. I come across a summary of each student in my Grade 8 class. I read, “Andrea is the most proverbial happy face”. As I see these photos and read these words, I am actually shocked. For I remember that just a year before I had experienced the shattering of life as I knew it.
Summer of 1990
I arrived at summer camp, joined my close friend and our younger brothers. I had moved from Edmonton to Calgary two years prior, so this was an exciting reunion for Christine and I. During free time one afternoon, a sharp wind appeared out of nowhere. The sky turned dark and it started raining. This was not a normal summer storm. It felt different. Word started spreading that a mini tornado was spotted on the lake. Kids were suddenly running everywhere. Camp Counsellors were trying to gather up all of us kids and get us into the dining hall. Panic and pandemonium was everywhere.
Christine and I quickly made our way to the hall and frantically searched for our brothers. We couldn’t find them. Because we were both older sisters, we felt responsible for the wellbeing of our brothers, so we took off into the storm in search of them.
The wind grew stronger, the rain heavier, and as we frantically ran about, we couldn’t find our brothers. We had been gone for a while and slowly noticed fewer and fewer kids throughout the camp. We realized we needed to abandon our efforts and head back to the hall. As we arrived, we made our way through the hoards of people and eventually found our brothers, breathing a huge sigh of relief.
As we sat huddled together, I remembered that my parents were camping on the lake. I had lived in Edmonton during the tornado in 1987, and I knew that tornados had a propensity for sending trailers soaring into the sky. I was terrified for the safety of my parents, but had no way of contacting them, or knowing if they were ok. That’s when the dread set in. I didn’t know if anyone was going to be picking up my brother and I at the end of our week at camp.
The storm eventually passed, and life at camp went on as normal, except something was different. I was so thirsty that I could not drink enough water to keep me hydrated. I was tired. So tired. I didn’t have energy for the wide games that would normally make me feel so alive, and I was waking up several times a night, because I had to pee.
My parents arrived to pick me up at the end of my week at camp and they were fine, in fact they had no idea there had been a mini tornado on the lake. I was relieved. As we drove home we had to pull over several times so that I could use the washroom. Something still wasn’t right.
Upon arriving home I saw a doctor, had bloodwork done, and was quickly admitted to the Children’s Hospital with a type 1 diabetes diagnosis.
I was so young back then, the age of my kids now, and my sense of security, of health, and limitlessness was shattered. After my diagnosis, I felt marred, different and less than because I now bore a disease.
A Year Later…
As I entered Grade 8, I remember thinking that I was going to prove to myself and anyone who cared to notice that I was not going to let diabetes stop me from doing anything. I made it my goal to win the athlete of the year award. This was how I was going to prove to myself that I was more than a disease. And I did it, with a smile on my face.
Today I Remember
Looking now at the yearbook photos, and holding the medal in my hand, as all these memories flood me, a realization strikes. I remember something I have forgotten.
I am resilient.
The world is still in chaos. Our sense of normalcy, of safety and security, of fun and delight have been shattered. We are navigating our way through COVID, through racial and gender inequality, political differences, and probably will be for quite some time. I feel myself floundering, being tossed around by the unexpected ups and downs of life on a COVID-coaster. Every day seems to bring new challenges that I have no clue how to navigate; I feel like I’m making stuff up as I go.
And yet, I am resilient. I am finding my way through this, one step at a time. It feels like stumbling, but I am still walking. Remembering who I am shifts my perspective, and allows me to see the truth, “I am resilient”, rather than the judgemental commentary, “I am floundering”.
Remembering that I overcome hard things allows me to breath deeper, to relax, and trust that though I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, I know how to make it through this moment right now, and I can do it with a smile on my proverbial happy face.