When an illness causes us to be different than those who are healthy, we often take on the perceptions of those who cannot relate to us. We often feel the rejection that being different can cause, especially when we are young. But conversely, we can also feel the kindness and love of those who accept us as we are.
I was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease when I was just two years old. I was well aware of the fact that my experiences were different than the experiences of those who were healthy. By the time I was 50, I had undergone more than 50 surgeries, four kidney transplants, and 13 years of dialysis treatments. It has always been obvious to my peers that my body is different than theirs. I have only reached a height of 4 feet 10 inches. My illness made me feel like I was “damaged goods.”
I was often in and out of the hospital, but when I wasn’t, I did normal activities. When I was in my early twenties, I went dancing with friends from my apartment complex. I would sit on the sidelines guarding the girls’ purses while they stepped out onto the dance floor. While they fantasized about love and romance, I marveled at how I had lived to see another day. I remember feeling that there was something wrong with me. I had not fully accepted the idea that it was an illness that was causing me to be different.
I finally started to come to terms with chronic kidney disease, and once I embraced it, I began to pursue my dreams and goals. I discovered Toastmasters (a public speaking club) and became an active member. That meant delivering speeches! Toastmasters meetings became a safe place where I could develop and grow, mentally and emotionally. I could be comfortable in my own skin in front of an audience and I was embraced for my overcoming adversity attitude.
New opportunities opened up in which I could compete. I spoke about my experiences, and I shared the importance of being an organ donor. I also landed a sales job which allowed me to travel. In that job, my years of personal medical experiences helped me provide insight others did not have. I hosted educational meetings and spoke at conferences and support groups. I was competent and confident in my abilities. I was accepting of my journey and seeing myself as a survivor with a with life wisdom and a story to tell.
One day I was practicing a speech at my Toastmasters club. I was speaking about my health issues and how organ donation saves lives. As I spoke, I noticed someone new in the audience. I learned that his name was Dean. This man had my attention. He was good-looking, but not flashy. I could tell the attraction was mutual, but I couldn’t understand why someone like him was taking notice of ‘someone like me.’ I thought there must be something wrong with him.
In a way, my illness had always sheltered me from potential heartbreak. I had become comfortable in my loneliness.
Dean and I started dating. He was perfect for me, but I was afraid of rejection. He made it clear he was interested in me. That scared me. What if I got too close to him? He could abandon me! Still, he kept calling and we kept dating. I wondered why he could not see that I was ‘damaged goods.’ I tried to push him away, but was not successful! I came to accept that being competent and confident is attractive.
Fast forward to May 18, 2022. Dean and I will celebrate 25 years of marriage! And on the 18th of every month (not year), Dean gives me a beautiful anniversary card.
Each one of us has insecurities. They don’t simply disappear. I still have mine, and they rose to the surface recently when I sustained an injury. Suddenly, seeing myself as attractive and competent had disappeared into the recesses of my mind. It was hard to accept the fact that I now needed help.
I blurted out: “I’m tired of myself!”
Dean replied, “I’m not tired of you!”
I am fortunate. I am not alone anymore; I have a partner. I am grateful for the perceptions of my faithful husband and all the love he has shown me over the years.
Conquer your insecurities. Never stop believing in yourself. You are NOT your disease; you are worthy of love.
Lori Hartwell is the Founder and President of Renal Support Network (RSN) and the host of KidneyTalk™ Podcast Radio. Lori was diagnosed with kidney disease at the age of two. In 1993 she founded RSN to instill “health, happiness and hope” into the lives of those affected by chronic kidney disease. Lori is also the author of the inspirational book Chronically Happy: Joyful Living in Spite of Chronic Illness and is a four-time kidney transplant recipient.
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