It appears that once again sleep will be evading me tonight: as my mind has decided that a post is apparently necessary before it will grant me the pleasure of sleep. Tonight I want to explore the importance of looking back and acknowledging how far you have come. This has been something I have been contemplating over the last couple of days as I reflect on my current recovery journey and more broadly with my early learning difficulties.

As many of you know I started this blog as a journal, an outlet for expressing my feelings as I come to terms with living with Still’s Disease and to encourage you in your journey. It has been a little over two and half months since I first became noticeably sick. It has been one of the hardest periods of my life, but I am so thankful for where I am today. It is hard to believe that two months ago I was in hospital; having fevers above 39C every night, joint and muscle pain so severe I couldn’t move or turn my body in bed, swelling so extreme I couldn’t bend my fingers and inflammation markers in my blood approximately 400x greater than normal.

The last couples of weeks I have been able to move around the house freely with only aches, my fevers ceased since starting my new treatment a month ago and my inflammation markers are trending in the right direction. I still have a long way to go and I might never return to ‘normal’. We just don’t know. From what I understand the medications suppress the symptoms of my condition and don’t resolve the abnormality of my immune system. This is daunting and scary, something that I find hard to come to terms with. But I have learnt to be thankful for the now. It can be so easy to forget about the improvements I have made and miss out on the opportunity to be appreciative that even though I might not be 100%, I am in such a better place than where I was. Things could go down hill again, but I will rejoice in this day.

“Most people quit because they look at how far they have to go, not at how far they have come.”  

Having a mindset that acknowledges your progress is so encouraging and liberating because it is firmly grounded in the now, and not the acquisition of something in the future. I have learnt during my life that constantly looking ahead can be dangerous.

Writing this blog is a miracle. Writing this blog and receiving encouraging feedback about the way that I write is an even bigger miracle. Many of you would not be aware that I was diagnosed with learning difficulties when I was a child. Specialists told my parents that I would never be able to learn without medication and a teacher’s aid. My frustration at not being able to read and write led to misbehaviour in class as I attempted to distract others from discovering that I struggled with reading and writing.

The combination of my learning difficulties and behavioural problems led many to label me ‘a no-hoper’. I am so grateful for my parents’ tirelessness in not giving up on me. They were determined to crack my learning difficulties without medication. So in 2001, after repeating year one and seeing little progress, my mum and I moved to Seattle, USA for six months so that I could partake in an intensive reading and writing program at Lindamood Bell. During those six months my reading and writing improved dramatically. When I returned to Australia I had the tools necessary to start building my ability to communicate. Throughout primary school I still had to attend extension (extra assistance sessions) but I was improving. Slowly my report cards also began to improve and soon I was finding that A’s were appearing more regularly. I was also moving up into the top classes for each of my subjects and doing well. In year nine I found out about the Year 10 Certificate, a piece of paper with all of your grades printed on it from Year 9 and 10. I set myself a goal, I wanted to achieve A’s in all of my classes for those two years. I pursued this goal intensely.

Struggling through primary school, being labelled dumb and told I was a no-hoper shattered my confidence. I presented a tough and confident facade but on the inside I felt hopeless and vulnerable. Achieving A’s and topping classes gave me a temporary feeling of worth and value. But my attempts at finding lasting worth and value in my work was flawed. Almost no sooner than receiving a grade back and I was already consumed with making sure I got the next A. I always lived in dissatisfaction, focused on what I hadn’t obtained yet. At the end of Year 10 I achieved my goal… but it didn’t fill the hole. So the cycle started again in college and continued into university. At the start of uni I was told about your academic transcript, a piece of paper with all of your grades printed on it. I set myself a goal, I wanted to achieve HD’s in all of my classes. I pursued this goal intensely. The first few HD’s gave me a bit of a kick. The first 100% assignment a moment of excitement. The first 100% unit a new novelty. But very quickly I realised it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t filling the identity and confidence hole. I needed to work harder I thought. Sound familiar?

Over the past two and half months I have been learning to be grateful for the present. To be thankful for where I am and not becoming fixated on constantly improving myself and obtaining things that I perceive will give me worth and value in the eyes of the people around me. Things are temporary and can be taken away from you in an instant. For ten years I have built my identity around my grades and work. Thinking that just maybe if I can do this or that or receive some award I will be happy with myself and that others will accept and appreciate me. That I will be enough. In the space of two months I have had my ‘coping framework’ ripped away from me and I’ve had to stop and look hard at myself, and this is what I have realised:

  • That the temporary things that I thought defined me don’t.
  • That I need to acknowledge how far I have come. There will always be things I can improve on, and it is healthy to desire growth, but I need to acknowledge and be thankful for where I am now.

The reason I shared these thoughts with you is because it is so easy to become discouraged by our perceived imperfections. The world is bombarding us with the message that we’re not enough. As a result, we can become fixated on different things in our life that we think will bring us confidence, worth and value. We set ourselves goals and tell ourselves that ‘if only…’ then I will be happy. The reality is that this coping strategy is flawed and we’re never going to be satisfied if we live our lives constantly trying to achieve an unobtainable and fantasised future. We need to learn to look back, to see how far we have come, and to be grateful for where we are now. We have so much to be grateful for when we take a moment to reflect and posture our heart in a position of gratitude.